The qualities of the Australian Character include Optimism: Albanese

"Reconciliation relies on what I believe are innate qualities of our national character: optimism, decency, generosity of spirit."

The Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese was speaking on a Ministerial Statement on closing the Gap;

The Prime Minister said:

 I present a copy of the Closing the gap annual report 2022.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

And today I re-dedicate our government to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full, including a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament.

I welcome our Senate colleagues here: including the Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Health, Senator McCarthy.

And the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Senator Patrick Dodson.

In tabling this Closing the Gap report, we have set aside time today for contributions from myself and the Leader of Opposition, as well as the Minister for Indigenous Australians, and the shadow minister.

Additionally, when the parliament returns in February, the government will be presenting our Closing the Gap implementation plan and providing the opposition with the opportunity to contribute.

This will mean, once again, we will be examining Australia's efforts to close the gap alongside the anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, which we believe is appropriate.

This was the case for many years from 2009 onwards.

This was always an intentional connection, not a coincidence.

Because whenever we honour that shining moment of national unity, of healing and of hope—we are not merely marking a milestone.

We are acknowledging how much further there is for our nation to travel, reflecting on how much work there is for us to do.

And that unfinished business, those realities of disadvantage and inequality, stare up at us from every page of the Closing the Gap report.

Reconciliation relies on what I believe are innate qualities of our national character: optimism, decency, generosity of spirit.

It also demands truth-telling.

And this report details the hard truths.

It confirms that in far too many measurable ways, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lead lives of lesser opportunity.

There are signs of hope and progress—and it's right that we acknowledge those.

More babies are being born at a healthy birth weight.

And more children are enrolling in preschool, giving us cause to be optimistic for better educational outcomes down the line.

But on far too many other indicators, there is no progress for us to speak of at all.

Or, worse, in some cases things are actually going backwards.

Indeed, in some areas the word 'gap' feels wholly inadequate, a softening of the truth that what we face is not a gap but a chasm.

Three decades after the world-leading Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the incarceration rate for First Nations people remains unforgivably high.

The number of children in out-of-home care speaks of a generational failure.

And the suicide rate is nothing less than a national tragedy.

Confronting as these realities may be, we cannot surrender to despair.

Just as we can never accept that this inequality is somehow inevitable.

Especially, when the answer lies within our grasp.

Because the unifying theme of this report is not helplessness, nor is it powerlessness.

It is practical, achievable, measurable change in the way we do things.

The compelling message—loud and clear—from the Coalition of Peaks down, is this:

So-called 'solutions' conceived in Canberra and imposed on communities without consultation are more likely than not to end in expensive, ineffective, even counterproductive failure.

But when First Nations peoples have a genuine say in policy design and an empowered role in service delivery, the results are remarkable.

When a government listens to people with experience, with earned knowledge of kinship and country and culture and community, when we trust in the value of self-determination and empowerment, then the results are always better.

The success stories stand as compelling proof.

Look at the more than 140 Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations, working around the nation.

Vital providers of culturally sensitive primary health care—and among the largest employers of First Nations people in Australia.

And I am proud to say that our government is investing $54 million to train 500 additional new First Nations health workers.

Look at the pride with which Indigenous Rangers go about their vital work.

Inheritors of at least a 60,000-year-old tradition of caring for country, preserving the great natural treasures of this continent for future generations.

And our government will double the number of Indigenous Rangers by 2030.

Look at the lives justice reinvestment is saving: a community-driven system diverting young offenders from the downward spiral of incarceration.

By trusting in the community and empowering people on the ground, towns like Bourke in New South Wales have seen:

A reduction in family violence

A reduction in re-offending

A decrease in juvenile offences—and an increase in year 12 retention rates

And, most significantly, a reduction in incarceration rates and bail breaches.

There are models that are working on the ground that are being supported across the board. In the case of New South Wales, obviously they're being supported by the New South Wales government with the support of the New South Wales opposition. All of these things that are working have a theme, which is the direct empowerment of First Nations people, listening to what they say will work on the ground, rather than it being imposed from Canberra or Macquarie Street or Spring Street. listening particularly to those people in our regions—it works, on any measure.

Our first budget invested $81 million to fund up to 30 new justice reinvestment programs.

And in the same spirit of respect and empowerment, we are providing a $100 million funding boost for housing and essential services on Northern Territory homelands.

Helping maintain connection to country and culture and providing the greater sense of stability that comes from a secure roof over your head.

At its core, this Closing the Gap report asks us if we are going to continue doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.

More to the point, it asks us if we are prepared to accept a continuation of the same outcomes.

The same disparity in education and job opportunities.

The same inequality in access to health care.

The same appalling rates of family violence.

The same punishing discrimination in the justice system.

The same denial of a happy childhood and a safe home to far too many children.

The same gap, widened by the same failure to listen, learn and, yes, trust.

That's where I want to conclude, with a few words about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a constitutionally enshrined voice to our parliament.

It's now been more than five years since over 250 delegates from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from right across this vast land came together at Uluru to craft that gracious, patient, generous call for voice, for treaty and for truth. That process was itself the subject of five years of consultation. It was a hand outstretched in friendship, a show of faith in the innate decency and instinctive fairness of the Australian people, a belief that we would find it in ourselves to grasp that hand and a humble request. I urge people listening to actually read the statement.

People in the United States speak about how succinct the Gettysburg address is. This is the Australian equivalent, with so much said in so few words and a humble request at its heart: 'We seek to be heard.' That is all they ask: 'Hear us.'

In asking for a voice to parliament, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are seeking the right to be consulted about the decisions that affect their lives. They are asking for a say in the design of the specific programs which govern their communities. There is nothing in this request that usurps any of the role of our national parliament—in other words, the very same thing that this report recommends.

It's the No. 1 principle behind creating a better, more efficient, more effective framework for closing the gap, the common element in every policy and program success story around the nation and the strongest possible recommendation of the Coalition of Peaks, brought together by the extraordinary Pat Turner.

So let's dismiss the false choice put forward that somehow it's about constitutional recognition or practical progress. It's about constitutional recognition in order to achieve practical progress. This is not a gesture. It is not either/or. It never has been. Australia can do both, and we have to do both. We have a responsibility here. The Australian people certainly have room in their hearts to do both, and the government that I lead is proudly committed to delivering on both.

I acknowledge the fact that across the board—the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens and the Independents who have sat in this place—we have all not done enough. There is an opportunity in the second half of next year to do better. Don't miss it.



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