Response to Ministerial Statement: 2018 Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap Report

SPEECH - FEDERATION CHAMBER

WEDNESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2018

Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (12:04):  On Monday morning, I was privileged to attend the Deadly Fun Run, organised by the Indigenous Marathon Foundation's Indigenous Marathon Project to acknowledge Closing the Gap Week.

The fun run was organised by Nadine Hunt of Cairns, Elsie Seriat of Thursday Island and Adrian Dodson-Shaw of Broome. Plenty of Canberra and Queanbeyan Deadly Runners showed up, including Cara Smith from last year's Indigenous Marathon Project squad. Cara is now leading a beginning running group in Queanbeyan which has proved extremely popular with local women and children who are looking after their own health and supporting Cara in her attempt to run the Berlin marathon in September. We were joined by Minister Scullion and Senator Ketter, and it was a pleasure and a privilege to run a lap of the lake with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. Other Indigenous runners who attended were 62-year-old Rhonda Woodward, who began running last September and is now aiming to complete her first 10-kilometre in April; 32-year-old Emma Towney, who started running to help deal with mental health issues and hopes to complete her first marathon this year; and William Poi, who has lost over 15 kilogram after joining Canberra Deadly Runners.

I've been a strong supporter of the Indigenous Marathon Project for several years now, since running the New York marathon with the squad in November 2015. I've been proud to wear the Indigenous Marathon Project supporter singlet in the Tokyo, Berlin, London, New York, Sydney, Canberra and Gold Coast marathons, and always feel that donning the IMP supporter singlet makes me run a little faster. It puts a little more energy back in tired legs.

I acknowledge the squad from last year who ran the New York marathon. The 10 runners, who completed the race on 5 November 2017, were Luke Reidy of Perth, Zane Sparke of Port Macquarie, TJ Cora of Cairns, Roy Tilmouth of Alice Springs, Scott Cox of Broome, Layne Brown of Warilla, Allirra Winmar of Perth, Natasha Shires of Karratha, Maletta Seriat of Thursday Island and Cara Smith of Queanbeyan. As Head Coach Adrian Dodson-Shaw said:

I selected these men and women for IMP because I saw in them the qualities of strength and resilience and the ability to lead by example.

I'm so excited for them. They've completed one of the hardest things you can put yourself through. It's very rewarding to see how proud and happy they are.

I recognise, too, the leadership of Rob de Castella, still the Australian marathon record holder with his extraordinary 2 hours 7 minutes, Lucy Campbell, Nadine Hunt and Kellie O'Sullivan, who has recently finished up at the Indigenous Marathon Project. I thank them all for the important work that IMP does in order to work on closing the gap.

But, overall, the picture on closing the gap is not a pleasing one. Since the Closing the Gap targets were formed in 2008, there has never been moment in which a majority of those targets were on track. I seek leave to have incorporated into Hansard a table which shows from 2009 to 2018 whether particular targets have been on or off track.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows—

Year

Targets on Track

Life expectancy

Child mortality

Early childhood education

Literacy and numeracy

Year 12 or equivalent attainment

Employment

School attendance

2018

3/7

Not on track

[pg. 104]

On track

[pg. 37]

On track

[pg. 42]

Not on track

[pg. 58]

On track

[pg. 64]

Not on track

[pg. 76]

Not on track

[pg. 51]

2017

1/7

Not on track

[pg. 81]

Not on track

[pg. 23]

No data available

[pg. 26]

Not on track

[pg. 38]

On track

[pg. 43]

Not on track

[pg. 53]

Not on track

[pg. 35]

2016

2/7

Not on track

[pg. 42]

On track

[pg. 9]

Renewed target

[pg. 12]

Not on track

[pg. 19]

On track

[pg. 22]

Not on track

[pg. 27]

Not on track

[pg. 15]

2015

2/7

Not on track

[pg. 6]

On track

[pg. 8]

Not met

[pg. 10]

Not on track

[pg. 14]

On track

[pg. 17]

Not on track

[pg. 18]

New target

[pg. 11]

2014

2/6

Not on track

[pg. 7]

On track

[pg. 8]

No recent data available

[pg. 9]

Not on track

[pg. 10]

On track

[pg. 11]

Not on track

[pg. 12]

 

2013

3/6

Not on track

[pg. 18]

On track

[pg. 22]

On track

[pg. 23]

Not on track

[pg. 24]

On track

[pg. 26]

Not on track

[pg. 29]

 

2012

2/6

Not on track

[pg. 15]

On track

[pg. 17]

Limited data available

[pg. 18]

On track

[pg. 19]

Not on track

[pg. 22]

Limited data available

[pg. 23]

 

2011

-

Limited data available

[pg. 12]

Limited data available

[pg. 13]

Limited data available

[pg. 14]

Limited data available

[pg. 14]

Limited data available

[pg. 16]

Limited data available

[pg. 17]

 

2010

-

No data available

[pg. 13]

No data available

[pg. 16]

Limited data available

[pg. 19]

Signs of improvement

[pg. 21]

Signs of improvement

[pg. 25]

Not on track

[pg. 28]

 

2009

-

New target

[pg. 11]

New target

[pg. 12]

New target

[pg. 13]

New target

[pg. 14]

New target

[pg. 16]

New target

[pg. 17]

 

Dr LEIGH:   I thank the member for Fisher for providing leave on this occasion. This table shows that for the period in which there were six targets up to 2014 we at best had three of the six targets on track. Since then, since the school attendance target was added in 2014, at best we've had three out of seven targets on track. Last year only one out of seven targets was on track, and that was the target to halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 or equivalent attainment rates by 2020. This year, we have three out of seven targets on track but, as the House will note, the target to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five by 2018 is only just on track, given that it was off track last year.

The target to ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities by 2013 is on track this year, but there was no data available last year. Throughout the period that it has been a target, the target to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2018 has not once been on track. The same is true of the target to close the life expectancy gap within a generation. Either it has not been on track or there was no available data.

So, as a nation, we have performed poorly in closing the gap, and it is only right for Indigenous Australians that we acknowledge this underperformance. The right response to that is not to lower the targets. As the Leader of the Opposition said in speaking to the Deadly fun-runners as we were about to set off on Monday morning, you don't deal with a tough race by moving the finish line a little closer. The marathon is an extraordinary effort, but no marathon runner worth their salt should be saying: 'Well, 42.195 kilometres is a bit tough. I'm feeling the pain in my legs. I think we'll just say 35 kilometres makes a marathon.'

An honourable member:  As much as they would like to.

Dr LEIGH:  As much as they would like to, as the honourable member notes. As my friend Andrew Dodd likes to note, there's no such thing as a full marathon; there is simply a marathon. There is no such thing as lower Closing the Gap targets; there should only be the Closing the Gap targets.

The member for Lingiari, in addressing the issue of life expectancy in his speech, noted the most recent Indigenous life expectancy figures, published in late 2013, still show a gap of 10.6 years for men and 9.5 years for women. The reduction in the gap between the periods 2005-07 and 2010-12 was only small: 0.8 years for men and 0.1 years for women, suggesting that that gap still remains at about a decade, suggesting Indigenous men and women still die a decade before non-Indigenous men and women—that they enjoy 10 fewer Christmases, 10 fewer birthdays of their friends and family, 10 fewer years on this planet—and that's simply not good enough. Chronic disease remains the leading cause of mortality, with the second-highest leading cause being cancer, of which lung cancer is the leading cause of cancerous death. It is rising and the gap is widening.

The opposition announced that we will put in place a national healing fund, applying to ACT and the Jervis Bay territory. The announcement made by the Leader of the Opposition, along with the member for Barton, Linda Burney, Senator Pat Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and the member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, was that a Labor government would provide stolen generations survivors in the Jervis Bay territory and the ACT with one-off ex gratia payments of $75,000, and $7,000 for funeral expenses. This is clearly an important announcement for my constituents, as I represent half the ACT and all of Jervis Bay. These are communities of great strength and resilience, with a legacy that is almost unimaginable to descendants of European settlers. We should honour and treasure that legacy, and these payments are an appropriate response to the trauma that was inflicted through the stolen generations.

A national healing fund will be set up to deal with intergenerational trauma caused by childhood dislocations, with a summit held on first nation children. As the Leader of the Opposition noted:

The traumatic effects of forced removal and separation from families, communities and culture have been severe and long-lasting for the Stolen Generations and their descendants.

The fund will be administered by the Healing Foundation—an Indigenous-run organisation that supports the ongoing needs of the Stolen Generations with services such as counselling, family reunion, return to country, and support for elderly survivors.

I have covered a range of topics in this speech, but closing the gap must remain a core focus for any Australian government. It is a vital performance metric, and the Closing the Gap targets must never be weakened.


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