Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (17:51): I rise to speak on this 11th statement on closing the gap. My seat of Grey has around seven or eight per cent Indigenous population, and around 40 per cent of those live in remote communities, in many cases where English is not the first language. All of the remote Indigenous communities in South Australia are in the electorate of Grey. I was elected in 2007 and I have become a very regular visitor to pretty much all of these communities. Over that time I made a lot of friends and looked at the change. I must say the improvement in infrastructure over that period of time, which roughly shadows the period since the apology, has been very significant. In many of these communities the infrastructure is first class, whether that be housing—sometimes we need a bit more housing, it must be admitted—the quality of the shops, the health facilities or the schools. They are schools that parents anywhere in Australia would be happy to take their children to on the basis of the facilities. As we speak, we are constructing a $106 million road into the main access road into the APY lands in the north of my electorate.
We’ve done many things. We’ve implemented a school attendance program. It’s had mixed results, it must be said. School attendance programs work very well when you have good leaders on the ground, a bit like schools themselves. Where you have a really good lead person in the school attendance team, we get very significant results. One of the downsides of that, of course, is that it’s only part-time employment. Once somebody shows that they actually have some goods, someone else will offer them a job and then you’ll have to find someone to replace that very good person. So it’s patchy. The government has announced that we are providing funds to continue that role and, in fact, will expand it in my electorate in the main town of Ceduna so it will apply to Ceduna Area School and the Lutheran school there. It’s been running 30 kilometres away at Koonibba.
All of those things are improving, but on many other things—as the Closing the gap report shows us—the indices are not improving. You have to ask yourself the question: why?
We are spending a bit over $40,000 a head on Indigenous Australia at the moment. When you get into the remote lands, the APY lands, we’re at over $200,000 a head. And you have to ask yourself: why aren’t we seeing a dramatic improvement in the outcomes of the people? We’ve got dramatically improved infrastructure, but the programs do not seem to be delivering the results. And yet, when I go and talk to these program deliverers on the ground, whether they be NGOs or government employees, they’ve got a good story to tell: ‘We’re doing this. We’re doing that. We’re teaching the women how to cook. We’re showing the fellows how to repair their car.’ Whatever the program, they’re doing a really good and important job. They’ll convince me they’re doing a good job. They are convinced they’re doing a good job. Then I’ll go to the next provider and get exactly the same story and I’ll be convinced again. And then I’ll go to the next provider and I’ll get exactly the same story and be convinced again. I say to them: ‘How come, if you’re all doing such a good job, the place is not getting better?’
One of the complaints that I hear is: ‘Well, we just started this program. We thought we had it up and running well, and then the funding changed.’ I’m not a great subscriber to that theory. I think we don’t examine the programs hard enough in the first place. We don’t have hard enough benchmarks put in and we don’t ask the programs to justify their existence. I say: if the program’s no good, it’s no good, and that money should be reinvested into something that works, quite frankly. We’re doing the best we can, but it’s not good enough. We’re spending a lot of money, but it’s not making enough difference. So we need to keep examining those programs.
In urban Indigenous Australia—I said 40 per cent of the Aboriginal population live in the remote lands; 60 per cent, by definition, live in the more urbanised areas—progress is better. One of the great advantages they have in these communities is that English is generally the first language. They speak English at home and they speak English in the school. It’s such an enormous advantage. I don’t know how many wars the English won around the world, but they won that war—the war of language. English is the commerce language of the world. It is the thing that works. It unlocks the future. So we’re seeing better results, particularly in the school area, and I celebrate every Aboriginal child that reaches year 12 level. I celebrate everyone that goes on to higher levels of learning. I celebrate everyone that enters an apprenticeship. May they keep doing it!
I’m very pleased to report that the South Australian government is supporting Clontarf to come into South Australia, a place where they weren’t welcome before for other reasons. I won’t get into the politics of it. But they will be there, and I think they’re doing a great job in getting Indigenous boys to school all over Australia—thousands of them. So we need to back that program.
That brings me now to the cashless welfare card, which the member for Warringah touched on. It is an outstanding success. Ceduna was the first community to sign on. We know we’ve got lower domestic violence rates. We know we’ve got lower levels of alcohol content in people admitted to the drying out centres. We know that people are spending more money on groceries. We know that the place is just better. As a young leader said to me: ‘I know all that. I’ve seen all the statistics. I know what it is. But the place just feels a whole lot better!’ We know that they’re spending less money on poker machines. It’s a great outcome. It’s a great program. It needs to be extended. I think it needs to be extended to more communities around Australia. But in fact it’s a finite program that’s running out on 30 June.
The legislation to extend this trial for another 12 months was introduced into the chamber last week. It hasn’t been debated yet. I understand that the minister is seeking the Labor Party’s support. I dearly hope they give it. Let me say to those opposite: please, please support the continuation of the trials. Support it for the women and children that need the vastly improved environment in which they are living in. Don’t just lap up the things you are told by people who don’t know. I extend the invitation to anyone on the other side of the chamber—and I don’t just mean this chamber: if you want to come to Ceduna and meet the people and witness the results, I will take you there any time you like. I’d be very pleased to do so. So that’s my plea at the end of this. I think we are making progress in that community faster than we’ve ever made it before. It is a quantum change in behaviour. Tourists have noticed the difference. The place is calmer. The program is now stretching—it’s just starting to unroll in Bundaberg. I’ve said all along that I think Bundaberg is a very important marker in this trial. We’ve had Ceduna and Kununurra, or East Kimberley, which have large Aboriginal populations. We have gone into the Goldfields, where there is a very significant Aboriginal population. But now it’s in Bundaberg, where the Aboriginal population is much more like the mainstream make-up of the rest of Australia.
I’ve always said that the cashless debit card is not about aboriginality. It is about the failure of those on long-term welfare to spend money on the things that the taxpayer has given them money to spend on: to spend it on their families; to spend it on education; to spend it on housing, on heating, on clothing and all of those things—to spend it on entertainment—but not to blow the majority of it on alcohol, on drugs and on gambling. I am always reminded of what the former mayor of Ceduna told me when I asked about the way it was going down in Ceduna. He said: ‘I’ll tell you the people who really hate it; the people who really hate the cashless welfare card are the drug dealers. The drug dealers really hate it, because there’s no cash for the drug dealer.’ I celebrate that. What a magnificent win that is. That is a fantastic advance.
As one who has walked with that community and congratulated their leaders on the strong moves they’ve made, and told them that in fact they are showing Australia the way, I implore this place to support the continuation of the trials and to look seriously at rolling them out further around Australia. It’s not a silver bullet—I understand that—but I believe it’s a very valuable tool in closing the gap. We must stick with it.