Closing the Gap - Documents

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:56): I want to thank Senator Scullion and Prime Minister Abbott for their statements today and for their genuine care and empathy for Indigenous people. I also want to thank them for the mature way in which they have dealt with today's report and, indeed, all issues around Closing the Gap. We would have hoped for a tripartisan approach to this issue, but the Greens had to make a political statement. They simply cannot help themselves. I might say to Senator Peris that the reason people left the other chamber when Mr Shorten was talking was not to show any disrespect to Indigenous people but to show that they did not like Mr Shorten making politics—as Senator Milne did—out of a very serious issue.

I do not want to go too much into the report today, but I do want to use this opportunity to again repeat something that I and Indigenous leaders in Queensland have long called for—that matters relating to Indigenous people and their welfare should be dealt with by elected Indigenous leaders. I have said on many occasions previously that we have too many bureaucrats—and politicians—who, with the very best intentions, are trying to do the right thing by Indigenous people. We form advisory groups of high profile Indigenous people who are in the paper all the time. But, frankly, these are academics who do not have skin in the game. I will name Indigenous leaders in Queensland—and I am sure there are others in the Northern Territory and Western Australia—who are there as Indigenous leaders not because they have been appointed by anyone, or because they have written fine articles for The Sydney Morning Herald, but because they have been elected by their fellow citizens in these communities. And they are accountable to those citizens—unlike these advisory boards who, frankly, though well-meaning, are accountable to no-one.

Elected Indigenous leaders are accountable to their constituencies every three or four years. And all of the money that comes through their hands is audited by the state auditors-general. We know exactly where the money has gone and we know what good it has done. These Indigenous leaders are mayors; they are local government leaders. But they understand education issues in their own community. They understand health issues in their own community. They understand not just how to fix roads, rates and rubbish in their communities; they understand how their communities work.

I again express a plea to my government, the Abbott federal government, and to the relevant state governments, that they should make more use of those people who are on the ground. They do not need advisory bodies; they have elected people that are accountable every three years to their constituency and they have people whose funding is audited. I have met with the Indigenous leaders forum, albeit before the last election, where we spoke about this. I did not have to say those things; they told me that they get offended, having been elected by their people to these leadership position, that they are then often ignored by federal and state governments when it comes to wider issues.

Quite frankly, I know the bureaucrats and politicians and academics from the south all have the best interests of Indigenous people at heart—I am not in any way suggesting they do not—but they are not with it; they do not have skin in the game. There are leaders like Councillor Fred Pascoe from the Carpentaria Shire; Councillor Dereck Walpo from the Aurukun Shire; Councillor Ken Bone from Cherbourg; Councillor Fred O'Keefe from Doomadgee; Councillor Greg McLean from Hope Vale; Councillor Robert Holness from Kowanyama; Councillor Wayne Butcher from Lockhart River; Councillor Peter Guivarra from Mapoon; Councillor Philemon Mene from Napranum; Councillor Bernard Charlie from the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council; Councillor Alf Lacey, my good friend from Palm Island; Councillor Richard Tarpencha from Pormpuraaw; Councillor Pedro Stephen from the Torres Shire; Councillor Frederick Gela from the Torres Strait Island Regional Council; Councillor Terry Munns from Woorabinda; Councillor Cliff Harrigan from Wujal Wujal and Councillor Errol Neal from Yarrabah—all very mature, sensible leaders, elected by their people every three or four years. If they are not doing the right thing by their people, they will vote them out at a democratic election. If they are not spending the money properly and efficiently, the state Auditor-General will quickly expose any misspent expenditure. I plead with my government and the various state governments to use these people more rather than getting academics, well-meaning bureaucrats and advisory boards from the south to advise on these particular issues.

These elected leaders come to me and tell me the sorts of things that I am saying in the Senate today. They are concerned that they are being bypassed and ignored, when they are the people who should be listened to and taken into confidence. It is not that I am for a moment suggesting that doing what I suggest would close the gap tomorrow, but I do think it is a far better way. I again make this plea to my own government, to Minister Scullion, who I know understands these things. You have to take these people into confidence, because they are the leaders of their communities. If they do not do the right thing by their communities, they will not be there after the next election. Please, Senator Scullion and Mr Abbott, I know your commitment to Indigenous people. I know your genuine concern and interest. But can I say, with all due respect, that you are not getting the right advice from people with skin in the game. That is why people like those mayors I have mentioned—and I am sure there are others in the Northern Territory and Western Australia who I don't know as well as this group of Queensland mayors—could really, really make a difference to closing the gap. If I can achieve anything in the next few years, it will be to convince governments everywhere that these are the sorts of people who they should be taking advice from, not from southern politicians, bureaucrats and academics—well-meaning all—from far away, people who really do not have skin in the game.

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