Speech by The Hon Sussan Ley MP

Address to the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Group

Location: Parliament House, Canberra


I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and elders of the Ngunnawal people on whose land we are meeting today.

I also welcome Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues including Opposition, Democrat and Greens spokespeople on youth and Indigenous affairs and the secretaries of Australian Government departments.

Attendance here today by senior politicians and public servants stands testament to this Parliament and the Howard Government’s strong interests in Indigenous affairs and their determination to get things right.

I also welcome members of the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Group 2004-05 and acknowledge the absence of group members Dora Nona, Cody Morris and Jacinta Mack, who were unfortunately unable to attend.

Our Governor General, His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffrey, was also unable to attend but has requested I pass on the following message:

“I am sorry that I am not able to join you today during the final meeting of the 2004-05 National Indigenous Youth Leadership Group because of a prior commitment interstate.

“I commend you all for your values-based approach to leadership, for your desire and resolve to promote practical solutions to some long-standing challenges, and for your willingness to put forward ideas.

“Whether your personal interest lies in say, education, health, cultural awareness, or policy making, the NIYLG shows how much can be achieved by working together and by learning from one another’s experiences and wisdom.

“May I stress to you the importance of being role models?

“You have proven already that you are outstanding young Australians with intellectual skills and great promise and I hope you never underestimate the powerful influence for good your example can have on others.

“Build on your reputation for hard work, delight in the rewards this brings, but also find scope in all you do to be mentors – to make your personal mark on the world; to pass on your knowledge and experience.

“Congratulations on your achievements so far. May they continue into later life for the benefit of all Australians. I wish you success and happiness in the choices you make.”

I am sure you would all like to join with me in thanking the Governor General for his words.

May I add, it is a great pleasure to be with you on this special day when you have an opportunity to send a message to the Australian Government on behalf of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths.

Your report to Government, including the findings of last year’s national survey on issues of most concern to Indigenous youths, will be given serious and proper consideration and will help shape our future decision-making.

I would also like to pick up on the Governor General’s message regarding the importance of mentoring.

Mentoring is just one of the classic features of the cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders which has enabled your peoples to survive from the earliest generations.

Mentoring is a key part of the traditional Indigenous way of life, which has transmitted and maintained your languages and cultures and the key principles of family, contribution and kinship.

It has emphasised learning such as stewardship and accountability for land, individual rights and responsibilities and strict adherence to cultural protocols such as avoidance of trespass.

I would like some discussion on how we might expand Indigenous mentoring to include all young Australians who might need it.

Such a mentoring program would help demonstrate to disadvantaged youth, including Indigenous youth, that there are good choices to make in life.

It could help youths with decision-making processes and to continually look for ways to find future direction, purpose and fulfilment.

Reflecting as you do the skills, talents and diversity of your peoples, members of this Group would be ideally placed to take on mentoring roles as you move on in life.

As workers, community leaders, activists, students of medicine and other disciplines and as parents, you have knowledge and skills, which can be passed on to help others help themselves.

The Australian, States, Territories and local governments are now all working a lot more closely together, and with, Indigenous communities.

We are achieving this through the 30 Indigenous Coordination Centres (ICCs) strategically placed throughout Australia, and the negotiation of the Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs), which tailor government interventions to local needs.

These agreements mark the beginning of a new relationship between the Howard Government and Indigenous peoples.

I know some may still have misgivings about developments leading up to the new relationship.

But the reality is that key Indigenous issues such as health and mortality, jobs, education, family violence and substance abuse were not being adequately addressed under previous arrangements.

Your report goes to these issues affecting Indigenous communities and more.

Moreover, the past progress was just too slow in turning around the long list of social and economic indicators of Indigenous misery.

These were key reasons why that the Howard Government brought in its new arrangements in Indigenous Affairs.

As the Parliamentary Secretary for Children and Youth Affairs I am determined to ensure these new arrangements produce better results during the crucial early years of childhood and beyond.

And with 40% of the Indigenous population under the age of 14 years the Howard Government has an ideal opportunity to work with Indigenous people and make a real difference.We want to overcome problems, tackle cross-generational disadvantage and turn around, for example, premature deaths caused by chronic diseases.

Certainly one of Indigenous Australia’s most significant current leaders, Noel Pearson, is right behind the changes being brought about by our Government.

He reportedly described the Prime Minister’s address on the Government’s Indigenous policies to the Reconciliation Australia conference last month as representing a “tectonic” shift.

Mr Pearson also said Mr Howard’s statements opened the way for “an understanding on both sides that both symbols and practical change have to go together”.

This National Indigenous Youth Leadership Group structure and the Prime Minister’s National Indigenous Council are also important vehicles for achieving understanding and partnerships for action.

All of us here today are attentive to Australia’s future but what do we say to the next generations of Australians about our nation’s prospects?

I would say that we already live in a good country but, as shown in your survey, we can and should make it an even greater country.

And we can make it so — if we were all prepared to really understand our shared history, if we were to really understand and practise our democratic freedoms, and if we were really to believe in a fair go for all.

Your participation in the NIYLG has been most welcome and indicative of a strong desire to move further forwards in achieving the goals of reconciliation and a truly cohesive nation.

The product of your hard work and the efforts of groups and individuals such as yourselves now and into the future will help give shape to a better nation working in harmony with all of its peoples.

I thank you and wish you all the best with your future contributions to our nation’s betterment.