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Address in Reply to Governor General

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunawal people. It was a great pleasure to be at the first welcome to country that we had in this place on 12 February. I congratulate the government for having made sure that that happened. It was also a great privilege to be at this place when the apology was finally made.
It is very important that the commitment to ongoing welcome to country is maintained in this place. It was a privilege to hear the Prime Minister of Australia finally apologise for the deliberate government policy of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. I think the new government has made a very promising start in that area, and I will go into that in more detail. I also think the new government perhaps was surprised by both the extent and strength of public reaction to the apology. I have heard many stories of schools in Western Australia-it was 7 o'clock in the morning-where children gathered to watch the telecast. As we know, people gathered in central places in the capitals of Australia, but I have also heard many tales of people gathering around the televisions at their workplaces and holding impromptu events. I think that displays the extent to which the apology touched this nation.

I think we need to pay great heed to this reaction. I am hoping it reflects a new spirit of openness within the Australian public to move forward on these issues. This is why I think it is important that the new Rudd government pushes forward with its promise of a new day dawning for Aboriginal Australians. But the Greens also very strongly believe that we need to do more than make an apology. We need to do more than just commit to closing the gap on health and education, and all the other areas of disadvantage that Aboriginal Australians suffer today in this country. It requires a commitment to advance the issue of Aboriginal representation and rights. And it is pleasing to see the government commit to a promise of evidence based policy, when it addresses its views on the Northern Territory intervention, to ensure that Commonwealth investment in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities actually delivers on-the-ground benefits that address the priority needs of these communities. The absolute key is in partnership and consultation with these communities.

During estimates, an answer to questions that I was asking about the way money under the intervention has been invested was that $72.4 million, which was the largest share of the money, had been invested in income quarantining. That is not actually money going to communities; that is administration in setting the process up. Only $1.3 million at that stage had been invested in better outcomes in education and I think that $7.2 million had been invested in families. At the time of estimates no extra childcare workers had been put in place, and safe houses were only just being established. The key things that you would have thought were necessary to address child abuse such as putting in place safe houses and extra child care and child protection workers-things that you would think would be the absolute first priority-were yet to be put in place, although we had managed to spend $168 million at the time. And $30.8 million had been invested in housing but that housing was in fact for the government business administrators and other persons, and surveying the townships, as I understand it. The then government was never able to explain how taking control of townships protected children. This new government has still not been able to explain how that equates to protecting children. But $30.8 million had been spent putting houses in place for the business managers and, as I understand it, none or very little housing has actually been provided to Aboriginal community members themselves.

We will continue in that area to push the government on their evidenced based policy. Certainly the evidence I have seen to date indicates very strongly to the Greens and to me that we need a change in direction on the NT intervention. We certainly do not want to follow the same example of the NT intervention for the foreshadowed involvement in the Kimberley in my home state of Western Australia where things are also pretty dire in many Aboriginal communities. We certainly do not want to see the government taking the NT intervention model and replicating it in Western Australia. I understand that the minister will be visiting the Kimberley very shortly and, hopefully, really consulting very strongly with the local community about their future involvement in the Kimberley.

The Greens very strongly support-and I will put it on record again-the federal government investing and providing resources to address Aboriginal disadvantage and the issues confronting the Northern Territory. We disagree with the way that the government chose to do it and we certainly disagree with exempting the intervention from the Racial Discrimination Act. We certainly disagree with compulsory income quarantining so that it is used indiscriminately. During the last sitting in this place I addressed some of the concerns, and the evidence and events that have been happening around that. We certainly oppose the removal of the permit system and I look forward to debating the government's bill, which they plan to bring in very shortly, around the restoration of the permit system. I look forward to seeing more details from the government about the review, which I understand and hope will be a thorough review of the NT intervention in a couple of months time when the 12-month period comes up.

I have read the speech of the Governor-General. He outlined quite an ambitious agenda, an agenda which I feel does not quite go far enough. There are some very good elements to it, making some effort to look to and plan the future to re-engage the community and civil society. As I have outlined in this place before, the Greens have very strong concerns about the attacks that were made on civil society under the 11 years of the Howard government. I have articulated in this place before our concerns about that and, in particular, concerns around attacks that were made on the non-government community and the politicisation of some elements of the Public Service. We are certainly pleased that the government agenda is starting to address some of the gaps and measures that were brought in under Howard, to try to bring some fairness back into our social policy.

However, we are concerned that the agenda is a bit short on how the government are going to implement it. We are also concerned about what is left out. The government talk about responsible economic management and the need to confront inflationary pressures, but leave out any mention of why the government still insist on delivering the me-too promise of the $31 billion of inflationary and unnecessary tax cuts for the middle classes. They talk about closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, but talk only about health and education and leave out any mention of addressing economic disadvantage and creating greater employment and life opportunities or addressing the chronic gap in safe and appropriate housing. And they make no mention of how they will move forward on the issue I mentioned earlier of Indigenous representation and inclusion in policy development and governance. This is from a government that now have a minister and a parliamentary secretary responsible for social inclusion. One would think that all those things are absolutely essential in addressing a key issue like social inclusion and putting fairness back into Australia.

I also have to ask the question-I have not been able to find the answer and I would love the government to be able to tell me if we have got it wrong: where is the Indigenous representation and the commitment to address the lack of Aboriginal infrastructure in Infrastructure Australia? If we are talking about lack of infrastructure, the most chronic gap in Australia relates to the lack of infrastructure, whether it is in housing, community services, decent water and sewerage, roads-any form of decent services-to Aboriginal communities. It would seem to me that that would be the most urgent thing that Infrastructure Australia needs to be addressing.

The government talks about improving governance and transparency but then focuses on gathering a hand-picked elite-or selection of people through media competitions-to attend the 2020 summit rather than addressing and outlining in more detail how it will enable greater civil society participation in policy development and dealing with what I consider to be the abuses of the non-government organisations under the previous government. It mentions social inclusion, as I have touched on, but then basically defines that as increasing productivity and workplace participation, as if social inclusion is all about increasing productivity. Well, I am sorry, the Greens have a very different point of view of what social inclusion should be about. Should it not rather be about ensuring that everybody has a decent quality of life?
Under the social inclusion area, the government does not mention reference to a national property strategy. Where is the program to build resilience and community in those areas that are and have been already identified as suffering? Some people call them poverty postcodes. Where is the program to start working on those areas where multiple measures of social inclusion converge? There is plenty of well-documented evidence on those areas. There is plenty of research to start looking at on what level of intervention is needed in those communities. One of the key things, for example, is that early childhood intervention is clearly a key, but that is not articulated in the government's social inclusion agenda so far, and I look forward to the further articulation of that particular agenda. I think the government would be well advised to pay very close attention to the Australian Council of Social Service forum that is being held in April in Melbourne.

We of course welcome the commitment to improve workplace fairness and to reform the industrial relations system in this country. We are deeply concerned that the unfair dismissal provisions do not apply universally and, if you happen to be in a workplace of fewer than 15, it is okay for you to be unfairly dismissed. We are also deeply concerned that the government is waiting so long to address the issues around the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We believe that organisation should be finished and wound up as soon as possible. There are then also issues around right of entry and there is a significant list of what we believe are deficiencies in the government's workplace agenda. We believe that relates very strongly to addressing the balance between work and family responsibilities, so we are glad to see that there is a commitment to addressing that balance but do not believe that the government's agenda goes far enough to deal with that.

We have also heard and the government has articulated a commitment to more and better services, to an education revolution, to more childcare services, to more training programs to close the skills gap and to serious action on aged care, dental, rural health services and elective surgery lists. We have heard about a commitment to addressing housing affordability issues and homelessness and also of programs to address climate change. As I have mentioned, there is also a commitment to close the gap on Indigenous health and education. The government keeps talking about the delivery of these services, and these are, we believe, very laudable objectives that we support. But we do not believe you can do this while still delivering $31 billion of tax cuts-and I might add that, in talking extensively to the community and through email correspondence and web mail et cetera, I have only heard two people say, 'I would rather have tax cuts.' If you ask Australians today what they would rather have, a tax cut or service delivery, I can tell you what they would rather have. They would rather have service delivery. They want to know that they can go into hospital and be seen within a reasonable time. They want to have access to affordable dental care. They want to be able to access education support and they want to be able to participate in the workplace. They also want to provide for and look after those living with disabilities, for example.

While there may some areas of budgetary excesses-and I think that the government would do well to look at some of the big pork-barrelling from the days of the Howard government, which there clearly was-there are also programs there that we do not believe should be cut-and I will come to the carers in a minute. The government have articulated policy around climate change and water, but guess what? There is a broader environment out there. The government have said extremely little about their agenda on the broader environment. What is happening with the National Heritage Trust? What is happening with NHT3? Nobody knows. We have community based and regional NRM organisations that do not know whether they are going to be funded into the future or at what level of funding, and they are losing staff already. These regional groups have been the vehicle that has provided natural resource management throughout Australia, a system that has been refined over the years, and we need to be learning how to better invest in and target our natural heritage trust resources. So, yes, the system needs a review and the programs need review. I would be the first to say that. But the fact is, the government have not articulated what their environment program is going to be. Senator Bob Brown has spoken at length about the issues around the pulp mill, for example. One of the first decisions the government have made is to support the go-ahead of the pulp mill. If that is the government's agenda for the environment, heaven help the environment of Australia. The government need to be articulating very clearly on and consulting with the community about the future of NHT3 and what their environment agenda is.
Then we come to the government's cost cutting and the story that has been running in the media over the last couple of days around the carers' bonus. Then, of course, we moved on to the seniors' bonus. No wonder the government were being portrayed as a careless government. What about fairness? Where is the social inclusion agenda-and I tell you what, my phone was running hot-if they allow carers to think that they are going to be worse off? Any politician in Australia knows about the plight of carers, because Carers Australia and the carers of Australia made it very clear during the election campaign what their agenda was and lobbied very hard to alert Australians to their plight. Instead of taking away their bonus, the government have now clarified that they are not taking it away; they are, as I understand it through the media and some of the comments made in this place this afternoon, considering rolling it into ongoing payments. But that ups the payment by $20 or $30 a week when what the carers have been asking for is a doubling of the carer payment.

There needs to be a superannuation fund for carers because, as we know, carers can work part time at best, and that is often interrupted. Carers do not have adequate provisions put away for their future. There needs to be a coordinated strategy about how to address policy across government. These are the things that carers have been asking for and these are the things that government need to be looking at if they are talking about social inclusion and making Australia fairer. These are the issues that the government need to be thinking about.

What is happening with the CSTDA-the Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement? Those issues still have not been resolved. Issues like access to the workplace and workplace training for people living with disabilities need to be addressed. A good has been made, but we think there needs to be significantly more progress on the government's response to developing a fairer and more just Australia. Getting rid of the tax cuts and investing in services that the community is calling for is a very good way to start.

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