News Parliament

Federation Chamber - MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS - Closing the Gap

In parliament this week, the tenth annual Closing the gap report was delivered, revealing that four of its seven targets to improve Indigenous health and welfare were not on track. Whilst there has been some progress to acknowledge, it needs to be said that there is also a palpable sense of disappointment. This year, the categories of progress include the target to halving the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020, halving the gap in child mortality by 2018, and having 95 per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025. Those are the targets reported to be on track. The areas the report declares to be off track include school attendance, literacy and numeracy, employment and the key target of closing the 10-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2031.

In Calare, I consider myself fortunate to be representing an electorate that is, from border to border, Wiradjuri country. It has been a privilege to get to know the Wiradjuri elders in the various communities of the Central West. I've known some for a number of years and I've worked with some more recently, since coming to this place. One of the inspiring things about all of them is that they constantly look to the future, striving to make life better, not only for Indigenous communities but all in our country towns and cities. I could tell this House of many remarkable people working to close the gap in central western New South Wales. They are the teachers in our schools; the men and women of the Clontarf academies and girls' academies; doctors, nurses and allied health professionals; sporting coaches and service club members; lawyers and community workers—the list goes on, and it is as long as it is distinguished.

After a decade, we all know that there is no easy answer to closing the gap, no panacea. However, I'm grateful that in our communities the work by so many unsung community heroes goes on. In the work that they do there are challenges and there is difficulty. There is tragedy and sometimes even heartbreak. But through the efforts of these people there are success and triumph as well. I've seen it. Time doesn't permit me to speak today of all of their individual contributions to closing the gap, but they are out there in our communities today, even as we speak, working in so many different ways. Today, I express to them the thanks of a grateful electorate and region.

While we all acknowledge that there are no simple answers, I mention Stan Grant, who said this week:

Clearly there is a need to create meaningful links between Indigenous communities and individuals and the mainstream Australian economy.

I think it's a point well made.

The overall findings contained in the Closing the gap report are unsatisfactory. The gaps in key areas still exist and, in some cases, they're getting wider. In the Australia of 2018, it's not good enough. It's not good enough by a long shot, and all of us here need to recommit ourselves to closing those gaps. I thank and acknowledge all in Calare who are working so hard to do just that.