National Reconciliation Week

About this Item
SpeakersSharpe The Hon Penny; Parker The Hon Robyn; Cohen The Hon Ian
BusinessBusiness of the House

Page: 23631

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Parliamentary Secretary) [11.35 a.m.]: I move:
      That this House:
(a) acknowledges National Reconciliation Week to be held from 27 May until 3 June with the theme "Reconciliation: Let's see it through";

(b) notes the work of Reconciliation Australia in building relationships for change between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; and

(c) notes the focus of National Reconciliation Week in providing a national stage for reconciliation activities.
We have a timely theme for National Reconciliation Week. As a nation we need to move forward with renewed vigour. Much has been achieved by Reconciliation Australia, the independent, not-for-profit organisation that was established in 2000 by the former Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. We must acknowledge that Reconciliation Australia is the peak national organisation building and promoting reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians for the wellbeing not only of indigenous Australians but also of us all. It is time to recognise the need for continued effort towards reconciliation and to see it through with tangible actions that make a difference in Aboriginal communities. This desire to see it through is very much at the centre of the New South Wales Government's efforts to work with Aboriginal communities to improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal people.
The New South Wales Parliament was the first in Australia to apologise to members of the Stolen Generations. Although this is the case, we still need to acknowledge the impetus that the Prime Minister's apology gave to the movement for reconciliation that was set in motion by the actions of this Government and others. Since the Prime Minister's apology to the Stolen Generations, we have seen a renewed commitment by the Council of Australian Governments to close the gap in living conditions between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The Council of Australian Governments has set challenging targets: closing the 17-year life expectancy gap within a generation; halving the mortality gap for children under five within a decade; halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade; halving the gap in unemployment outcomes within a decade; ensuring that all four-year-olds in remote communities have access to early childhood education within five years; and halving the gap in year 12 or equivalent attainment rates within a decade.
By apologising to the Aboriginal people of this State, the New South Wales Government was the first in Australia to formally acknowledge the need for a focus on reconciliation. The New South Wales Government operates on the premise that the best results are gained in Aboriginal Affairs policy when the views of Aboriginal people drive government policy and service delivery. Successful projects come from the Government and Aboriginal people working in partnership and allowing communities to identify, develop and implement strategies and projects within their own communities to have efficacy in the solutions. These partnerships continue to be supported by community capacity building in New South Wales. I am talking about our support for healthy communities: the kinds of communities that both Aboriginal Elders and young people want to see. These are the communities that provide not only a place of healing for members of the Stolen Generations but also a secure future for all Aboriginal people. This is important because we are talking about healthy communities where kids are safe and where people can get a job, and the security that comes from earning a regular income.

Working in partnership with these leaders of Aboriginal communities, we continue to build communities where people can celebrate the joys and richness of living in Australia, where people have a home and where they can contribute to the lives of their friends and family. These are elements of a life that all of us in this place take for granted. I am talking about strong, resilient culture and identity, where we can recognise the role of family and kin in raising strong individuals and communities. These are elements that must exist for Aboriginal people. That is why the Government is so focused on helping Aboriginal communities to build community strength. There is real strength in Aboriginal communities, despite the many hardships that some of them face. We will continue to build on this strength to develop the partnerships required to realise the same level of surety and wellbeing that many of us take for granted. It is not enough to recognise the work that has been done.

We also have the responsibility to work with communities to realise their real potential. The Government is committed to that notion and it is strongly reflected in our State Plan. The notion of community wellbeing provides the foundation for the Aboriginal Affairs priorities of the State Plan because strong communities can work more effectively with government. It is vital that local Aboriginal communities lead government planning and decision-making if we are to make real inroads into Aboriginal disadvantage. We know that Aboriginal communities know best what Aboriginal communities need. We are building a future based on delivering on the rights and aspirations of Aboriginal people. This is a future that Aboriginal people tell us they want, and we know is deserved. We can move forward in partnership only with the understanding that we will achieve the best results when our policies and service delivery are properly informed.

In speaking to this motion I acknowledge the work done by grassroots reconciliation organisations across New South Wales. These reconciliation groups work to actively inform, educate and share ideas of an Australia where there is true justice for our first people. Across New South Wales there have been many events to promote reconciliation in local communities. These events have brought together indigenous and non-indigenous people. My daughter's school is having its reconciliation assembly today, as we speak. Unfortunately, I will miss it. I acknowledge the work of some of the organisations that I know members in this place have worked with.

There is a group of parliamentarians for reconciliation, and we have been fortunate to have many of the reconciliation organisations come and speak to us on a range of different issues. I particularly acknowledge the Friends of Myall Creek. Reconciliation is a fantastic group of young people, both indigenous and non-indigenous, who are working in their own communities to promote reconciliation, and of course there is the work of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, or ANTAR. Around kitchen tables, in community halls and in local schools these groups have run many different events that allow all Australians to reflect on the place of our indigenous people and to right the wrongs of the past. National Reconciliation Week continues to be a very important event on the calendar and an important time for us all to consider what we can do to advance reconciliation in this nation.

The Hon. ROBYN PARKER [11.40 a.m.]: I support the motion. National Reconciliation Week runs from 27 May to 3 June. I acknowledge the importance of National Reconciliation Week, knowing that we can look forward to a time when we will not need a National Reconciliation Week and when we will no longer speak about closing the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage. On that day there will be a great celebration—we should get back on the bridge and celebrate the fact that there is no need for National Reconciliation Week.

National Reconciliation Week is often misunderstood, so it is important that we appreciate the reasons for it. It is about acknowledging Australia's first Australians. It is about celebrating as well as talking about disadvantage and gaps and the other issues we have to confront. It is about celebrating the rich culture and history of the first Australians. It is about talking about those things that are good as well as those things we need to work on. It is about reconciliation and having a conversation about the most fantastic things that the rich Aboriginal culture has brought to us all. That is why it was fantastic when the Hon. Penny Sharpe mentioned the celebration at her daughter's school. It is great to see the next generation embracing reconciliation in a way that past generations have not. Hopefully Aboriginal culture will have even more of a renaissance as time goes on. That is what we are aiming for. National Reconciliation Week is also about discussing how we can help to turn around the disadvantage experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

National Reconciliation Week started in 1993 when faith communities in Australia started a week of prayer for reconciliation. That week was so successful that it was expanded in 1996 to become National Reconciliation Week to provide a nationwide focus for all reconciliation activities. Since 1996 that focus has been expanded but originally it was about discussing the achievements so far and focusing on what needed to be done to achieve reconciliation completely. National Reconciliation Week also coincides with two significant dates in Australia's history that are strong symbols of the aspirations for reconciliation. Those key anniversaries are important for us to acknowledge and to remember always.

First, 27 May is the anniversary of the 1967 referendum when more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to remove clauses from the Australian Constitution that discriminated against indigenous Australians. The referendum also gave the Commonwealth Government the power to make laws on behalf of Aboriginal people. Indeed, in this place this week we are still making laws to right the wrongs of the past and also to acknowledge the place of Aboriginal people and Aboriginal heritage. Second, 3 June marks the anniversary of the High Court judgement in the 1992 Mabo case. That decision recognised the native title rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the original inhabitants of the continent and overturned the myth of terra nullius, which was the belief that the continent was an empty and unknown land before the arrival of the Europeans in 1788.

The theme of National Reconciliation Week 2010 is, "Reconciliation: let's see it through." That is timely when one considers that it is 10 years—believe it or not—since the historic bridge walks. The future of reconciliation is looking bright in several respects, but there is a long way to go. It is important that we take the good intentions of respect and trust and deliver good outcomes. As the Hon. Penny Sharpe said, we have to deliver outcomes; we have to make sure that intentions, words and statements are translated into good, sound policies that have a tangible effect on the ground in Aboriginal communities across New South Wales.

This year, as always, we are asking all Australians to embrace the future, and to aspire and achieve great things together. Achievement within Aboriginal communities, as in any other community, is about high expectations. We must always have high expectations. In those schools where there is a predominance of Aboriginal children with high expectations, some of the results are outstanding. When I think about high expectations I think of the work of Professor Chris Sarra. He talks about that a lot. We need high expectations for National Reconciliation Week. We expect outcomes and we expect people to embrace the notion of reconciliation, and we have high expectations that one day we will not need National Reconciliation Day.

Significantly, National Reconciliation Week this year sees the launch of an interesting awareness campaign that asks Australians to recommit to reconciliation. The slogan is, "Help finish Oz." Some members may be aware of the advertising campaign, which features some well-known faces, and the social networking site called Unfinished Oz that is part of the campaign. People can register their support and put themselves on the map of Australia as a pixel of light. Of course, the campaign coincides with the bridge walk—do not forget the bridge walk! Ten years ago more than 300,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of indigenous Australians and reconciliation. This was followed by walks in all other capital cities, towns and regional centres involving almost a million people. Many members of this place joined those walks.

Ten years later we must acknowledge what more there is to do. We talk about closing the gaps in terms of health issues, disadvantage and education. Some of the figures are quite disturbing. We need to make sure that big statements deliver on the ground. It is disappointing to note that longstanding indigenous health issues, such as premature births and low birth weights, are still on the increase. A study by accessUTS Pty Ltd for the Royal Hospital for Women in New South Wales stated:

      The proportion of premature births for Indigenous women had increased from 7 per cent in 1995-2000 to 18 per cent in 2005-07: the proportion of babies being of low birth weight had increased from 7 per cent in 1995-2000 to 14 per cent in 2005-07 and the perinatal mortality rate had increased from 14 per 1000 births to 66 per 1000 live births.
Those are disturbing figures, as they reveal an alarming backward trend. It demonstrates a failure to close the gap in relation to indigenous health, and it is not good enough. I accept that some improvements have been made. The study revealed that in 2005-07, 36 per cent of indigenous women smoked during the second half of their pregnancy compared with only 5 per cent of non-indigenous women. Those statistics are not good enough and we must do better. The study found it was not clear whether there was a management or leadership role for Aboriginal health within the area health services. The study further stated:

      It was our observation that the Aboriginal health was only involved at a higher level attending Reference Group meetings and with revising and negotiating the memorandum of Understanding .
Labor's huge area health services are failing our indigenous communities—yet another failure of the State Labor Government that must be quickly addressed. This is about poor management, poor advocacy and a failure to deliver for indigenous communities, which deserve better. These shocking statistics must be reversed. Hopefully when the member representing the Liberal-Nationals speaks about National Reconciliation Week next year—and it will not be me—the trend will have been reversed and the situation improved, because the statistics are shocking. I turn now to the State Plan 2010 and its annual performance report, which states:

      There remains a large disadvantage gap between Aboriginal people and the total New South Wales population.
That is no surprise to anyone. The report reveals that cases of domestic violence involving indigenous female victims aged 0 to 17 spiked markedly upwards from 252.7 in 2008 to 306.4 in 2009 per 100,000 of the indigenous population, which is three times the rate for all New South Wales children. State Labor set an unemployment target for the State's indigenous population at under 15 per cent, yet it rose to 20 per cent in 2007 from 15.6 per cent in 2005. The infant mortality rate rose from 7.5 per 1,000 live births registered between 2004 and 2006 to 8.9 per 1,000 live births registered between 2005 and 2007. The report states:
      There is a gap in performance of Year 3 to Year 9 school students with Aboriginal students performing 5-20 per cent below non-Aboriginal students in literacy and numeracy.
Much more work is required to improve indigenous education and health. It is not only members of the Coalition who are saying this; the Government's own State Plan revealed that much more work is needed. Other people have also spoken out. An article in the Koori Mail in February 2010 reported on the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council's distrust of the Rudd Government because of its failure to implement evidence-based policies. The chairman of the council, Bev Manton, stated:
      Minister Macklin appeared to have replaced her promise to implement evidence-based policies with media spin efforts to forge partnerships have been piecemeal.
Instead of community engagement, the top-down approach is often taken. There is growing concern and frustration amongst the New South Wales indigenous community about the role of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and its Two Ways Together program. I have often heard people say that it is not Two Ways Together, but two ways apart. Fundamental reform to improve housing administration and management, child protection, educational engagement, health outcomes and mainstream engagement has been too slow and often misguided. Much more work is required. It is one thing to make the symbolic gesture of saying sorry; we must continue to work hard for our indigenous communities.
    In speaking about National Reconciliation Week, I support the statements of the Hon. Penny Sharpe about various groups that work tirelessly with Aboriginal people. They work in all sorts of environments for the betterment of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I congratulate them on their sterling efforts. The Friends of Myall Creek, Reconciliaction, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation and others go out of their way to educate people positively about reconciliation. They have come to Parliament and talked to schools about reconciliation. A number of fantastic events promoting reconciliation have been held in Parliament, which has given parliamentarians an opportunity to engage with the issue. We have worked in the community with Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation and Reconciliaction to ensure that there is more education about the meaning of reconciliation and its objectives.
    I urge members to log on to the website, join others in National Reconciliation Week 2010, and make their voice heard. It is now 10 years since that great walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge but we still have a long way to go in closing the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage. We all have high hopes. We have in the public gallery young leaders from school communities across New South Wales; they carry our hopes for future reconciliation. We know that as they sit in this Chamber they hold in their hearts examples of reconciliation. We have a long way to go. We look forward to the day when there is no need for National Reconciliation Week, when we in this place are not talking about closing the gap and about disadvantage. I support the motion.

        Mr IAN COHEN [11.59 a.m.]: In the short time available to me before question time, on behalf of the Greens I speak in support of the motion moved by the Hon. Penny Sharpe regarding National Reconciliation Week, which this year is held from 27 May to 3 June. As it will be for the Hon. Robyn Parker, similarly this will be the last time I will speak in this House on a motion regarding National Reconciliation Week, and it is certainly an honour for me to do so.

    As we do at the commencement of the sittings of the Parliament, we recognise the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as part of the commencement of the House's proceedings. It constantly strikes me that we continue to pay lip-service, and I think respect in that way, to the original people of this land, yet the environment in this place has changed so much. I believe this is somewhat symbolic of many situations throughout New South Wales, where we attempt to maintain the traditional values of the indigenous people yet at the same time recognise that we are living in a very changed environment indeed.

    Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted at 12 noon for questions.