Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:29): I welcome this motion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. It does give us a chance to talk about a very important issue. Eight per cent or thereabouts of my electorate of Grey is Indigenous, and I have made it a core part of my workload, since I came to this place, to try and bring about a better outcome for them and their families. I note the comments of the Leader of the Opposition. Quite rightly, he raises the issue that only two of the components of Closing the Gap were met last year. But, in doing so, he also indicated that maybe he doesn’t have a full grasp of the issues facing us, because he said, ‘It’s not good enough; it should be fixed.’ If it were easy to fix, it would have been fixed long ago. The fact of the matter is that these are deep, multilayered and complex issues. The reasons that Indigenous Australia has not met the societal and health levels of the rest of Australia are complex, and it is not through lack of trying on the part of the government.
I was very pleased that last year the agreement was reached with the state bodies to form a joint commitment to Closing the Gap. It makes sense, because issues of housing, education and policing, for instance, are primarily the responsibilities of the states. It’s not to say that the federal government may not contribute to these financially, but we don’t run them. On the other hand, the issues of health care and income support are primarily the Commonwealth government’s, even though the state may employ some of the workers. So it makes sense. If we are to make commitments in this place, we need those rock-solid commitments at state level. I was very pleased we reached that point of view.
Through my 13 years in parliament, I have come to realise there’s a large difference between urbanised Indigenous Australia and remote Indigenous Australia. The key issue here, I think, is English as a first language. Where I see English as a second language, I see a disconnect on so many levels and the struggle to reach attainment in education. We’ve run programs. The school attendance program is a good program. It works when you’ve got an inspired leader on the ground and an engaged school principal. If you haven’t got both of those, it doesn’t work; it falls away quickly. Quite often the leader of the program is the most talented person in the community and they get poached into another program.
But that is a bit of an aside. The Productivity Commission estimates that we spend around $44,000 a head per year on Indigenous Australia. We can’t really get a precise handle on it, but it is closer to $250,000 a head in remote communities like the APY lands in my electorate. I don’t bark about the money. We’ve got inequity there and we have to try and face it and we have to try and find answers. But it just shows that these answers are not easy. But I don’t think it can be claimed that there is a lack of interest in it. It should be producing better results. In my time, there has been an improvement in the physical infrastructure. The housing is better but we could do with more quality housing. The shops are definitely better. The health facilities are better, and the school facilities. You would be pleased to send your children to any one of those things.
But the outcomes are just not matching the investment, and with everything we do in this space it is reasonable to ask why that is not the case. Jacinta Price, from the Centre for Independent studies, said:
The chasm shows in shocking statistics for health and reduced life expectancy, school truancy, subsequent poor education and employment levels, and the horrendous impact of high crime rates, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault.
That is a very concerning statement. I know it is true. Most of us who have anything to do with this space know it is true. We are intent on closing the gap but we cannot do it on our own. We need motivation on the ground from parents to make sure their children get to school. I don’t know how we do that. We try multiple approaches to bridge this gap. But I will just make the point that this government is committed. I am the representative in this place of the eight per cent of my electorate who are Indigenous. I feel as though we make a fair-dinkum effort. But do we have all the answers? Absolutely not. We need to recommit and we need to re-examine daily what we do in this space.