2020 Closing the Gap Report

12 February 2020

First of all, I'd like to acknowledge the member for Barton and the minister for their comments. For the record, I consider them two of the finest parliamentarians we have in this place, and I thank them for their input. I want to acknowledge, to start with, not only the Ngunawal and Ngambri people on whose lands we are speaking but also the Dharawal people of my own electorate. In particular I'd like to acknowledge the Tharawal Aboriginal Medical Service, led by Darryl Wright, and my medical colleagues and the other staff there, who are doing a wonderful job to close the gap and to improve the health and other outcomes for our Indigenous population. I'd also like to mention Uncle Ivan Wellington, a senior Aboriginal elder in my electorate, and the wonderful job he's doing, particularly with the younger people in my electorate.

The handing down of the Closing the Gap report is a significant event in our national calendar. It's already been stated that tomorrow will be the 12th anniversary of the national apology. Since 2008 we've been recording and reporting our progress in closing the gap. I know there are many good things that are happening in Aboriginal health, but the Closing the Gap report is certainly extremely disappointing. Even the targets that are on track are fairly modest ones, and those that are not on track are not just a hiccup; they are shameful.

Before going on to the Closing the Gap targets, I'd just like to point out the fact that, in 2020, there are Aboriginal people with diabetes who have no access to power to keep their insulin at the appropriate temperature and Aboriginal people who require dialysis who don't have access to clean water, and rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are seen almost exclusively in our Indigenous population. This is absolutely shameful and should not be acceptable on any level. If it were in any other population in our country, it would be seen as a national emergency. The fact that we have had an epidemic of syphilis in northern Australia and it is not seen as a national emergency—we've actually had babies born with congenital syphilis—is absolutely disgraceful in 2020.

The failure to meet the majority of the Closing the Gap targets is symptomatic of a government that is failing to act. The results before us are beyond disappointing, and they serve as a stark reminder of how far we have to go and that we must all actively and aggressively pursue change in this area. In my electorate of Macarthur, we have the Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre. Although Indigenous people make up only around three to four per cent of our population, overwhelmingly the population of Reiby is made up of Indigenous children, and that is shameful. As the Leader of the Opposition remarked, this day cannot and must not add up to nothing more than sentiment and fine words. We can and we must do better. The reality is that the coalition government has failed to close the gap, and the report is proof of that. Also, some of the speeches that have been given by those on the other side have been remarkably paternalistic. The fact that they support the cashless debit guard and they don't support the Uluru statement or constitutional recognition is demonstration of their inability to understand the importance of this issue.

Today we have again been told we're not on track to address the gap in life expectancy. In fact, for remote Indigenous people the gap in life expectancy is even bigger than it used to be; it can be over 15 years for Indigenous men in remote areas. That is disgraceful. It's upsetting that we are also far off achieving closing the gap in child mortality. Again, this is something that is shameful. These are our children. We must make sure that we close the gap in these areas. It's a crying shame, and we should not leave such an atrocious legacy to future generations. This day, this report, provides a valuable voice for our First Australians, and we must act. It's a sad voice and a reminder that we have a long way to go. It's not a day for political opportunism; nor is it a day for us to pat ourselves on the back. In many ways, the Closing the Gap targets that we've met have been led by Indigenous Australians, and they've done a fantastic job. But we must do better.