Local, Independant and Effective

Closing the gap speech

Posted February 21, 2014


I delivered my Closing the Gap Speech to Parliament, fulfilling a commitment I made prior to the election after meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander constituents in Indi. It was a special occasion for me and one of my most memorable moments since being elected last year. 

The following is a transcript of the speech:

"I am proud to be the member for Indi and to represent the traditional owners and custodians of Indi's valleys, hills and plains.

I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on his powerful speech yesterday and acknowledge his commitment to Closing the Gap. 

Prior to my election, following meetings with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander constituents, I made the following commitment, which I will read to you and ask that it be recorded in Hansard:

I respect the traditions and culture of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I acknowledge their past mistreatment, and commit to involve and consult on the big issues that unite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Indi.

1. I commit to form an advisory group comprised of Aboriginal people from Indi's communities to assist in providing advice to me on issues such as health, education, and employment.

2. I commit to make a public statement to recognize and acknowledge past mistreatments to the stolen generations, their families and communities as a result of the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted sorrow on our First Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

3. I commit to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I meet and pay my respect to elders both past and present.

When the Commonwealth Mental Health Policy is reviewed in 2014, I will work to include recognition of the unique needs and opportunities for improved service delivery for rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Closing the Gap initiative is active in Indi. Our health services have been particularly active in working towards the ambitious targets that have been set. Many people are doing fine work, including the Central Hume Primary Care Partnership, Ovens and King Community Health Services, the Northeast Health and Women's Health Goulburn North East.

Workers tell me that the greatest need is for recognition and acceptance.

One particular example I would share with you is a sign at the entrance to the hospital in Benalla, which has a population around 8,000, two hours north of Melbourne on the Hume Highway.

As is highlighted by the Closing the Gap initiative, many barriers exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in accessing health care.

The simple act of welcoming, placing a sign at the front door that acknowledges and welcomes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the hospital, is an important first step towards improving health outcomes in their community.

Another hospital, Northeast Health in Wangaratta has also erected welcoming plaques, commissioned a local Aboriginal artist to create an artwork that now hangs in their emergency department, and held a smoking ceremony in the emergency department.

Northeast Health has appointed an Aboriginal liaison officer whose job it is to make contact with any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients presenting to the ED or to other services and to follow up with them to check if assistance can be provided in accessing any further services.

Collecting data is essential. There were 82 occasions of service for patients identifying as Aboriginal presenting to the hospital's emergency department during the period November 2012 until April 2013.

Women's Health Goulburn North East is working towards the target of halving mortality rates for Indigenous children under five by providing reproductive health, wellbeing and pregnancy support for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women living in the Hume region.

I am very proud of the work of hospitals and healthcare providers in my region in making hospitals more accessible to everybody.

In Mansfield, the members of the Mansfield district Indigenous Network are doing great work. Today the network has organised the commemoration of National Sorry Day. They will release a community plan, to be presented to the Mansfield District Council, which will outline their strategies to achieve their key goals: to have a place to come together, to promote acceptance and recognition, to support Indigenous families and youth, and to have a successful network for our community.

Community groups such as Mansfield district Indigenous Network provide the local and community leadership that is essential for achieving the Closing the Gap targets in our communities.

There is a great preschool in Wodonga, run by the Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation, which connects local Indigenous families to the education system. It takes up to 30 young children at the three- and four-year-old level and is able to respond to movements in community as Aboriginal families come and go from Wodonga.

It provides transport for the children to and from the preschool and provides morning and afternoon tea. I am proud to report that recently it has been assessed by the Department of Education as exceeding in all areas.

Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation are also empowering their community and planning for the future of the preschool by encouraging local members of the Indigenous community to train as childcare workers and supporting their learning by providing traineeships for them within the preschool.

The Prime Minister rightly highlighted that around the country communities are struggling to achieve the targets of halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy. Aboriginal people in my electorate have told me that education is a key priority for them.

The reality is that if we close the literacy and numeracy gap we will have a much better chance of closing other gaps too; education is key.

Of course, we still have much to do in achieving the Closing the Gap priorities, but I am pleased to report that in my electorate the will is there and people are working actively and creatively to close the gap in our communities.

In Indi we have committed to take action to close the gap. Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution is something we must achieve. The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, chaired by Mr Ken Wyatt MP, has met twice in order to achieve this recognition. I have spoken to the honourable member and have invited him to come to Indi to hold a meeting in the coming months.

I want to acknowledge and thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Indi for their patience, their tolerance and their commitment to reconciliation. Thank you."


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