Closing the Gap - Ministerial Statements


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (20:31): I just want to make a brief contribution to this debate. I thank the minister for his statement today and congratulate him on the work that he has done and the care and concern that he has shown for Indigenous people. To all of the contributors to the debate today, I thank them for their accounts of what they believe to be the situation. I must say I have a more positive view of Indigenous Australians than those who have spoken tonight. I look forward to the day when there is no difference at all between how all Australians are treated and how they exercise their rights and their opportunities in this great land. The speeches I have heard, mainly from the other side, have highlighted the negatives. There are many positives, and real progress has been made, and, again, I congratulate the minister for that.

I like to concentrate on the success stories—and there are many, but I just want to mention a couple of people. The trouble with mentioning a couple of people is that you always leave out many other deserving people. I know the mayor of the Carpentaria shire, Fred Pascoe. He is chairman of a council in Queensland. He just happens to be Indigenous, Aboriginal, but very proud of it. He is a great man, a great visionary. He has done a lot of thing in his life, and it would take me more than my 10 minutes to even go through half of them. He has shown what Indigenous people can do, given the opportunities. He does not class himself as being any different from anyone else. He is a genuine success story—and there are many like him. I mention also Alf Lacey, the mayor of Palm Island. Alf has had a colourful life. Again, he is doing things.

I am conscious that I live in North Queensland. I am interested in the stories and accounts from other senators about where they live in capital cities and major regional towns, and I appreciate what they say. I understand and accept their concern and their view on what is happening, but I live up there with these people. I know that Senator Scullion is the senator for the Northern Territory, where a great percentage of our Indigenous population live. I know that my Liberal colleague Warren Entsch represents the electorate of Leichhardt, where a great many of our Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people live. I know that my Liberal colleague Melissa Price represents the north-west of Western Australia, where there is a huge number of people of Indigenous descent. I know that it is an area that you, Mr Acting Deputy President Back, represent with skill and compassion. The federal seat of Kennedy, for which I have the honour of being the patron senator for our party, is again an area where there are a lot of Indigenous people. While you can get up in this chamber and highlight some of the negatives—and I accept that that is done with some genuineness—I would like to hear about the positives: the people who are succeeding, how things have changed and how the gap has been closed. As I say, I look forward to the day when there is no difference. Maybe that is a pipe dream, but I do not think so. There are people like Freddy Pascoe and Alf Lacey and, as I say, there are 12 other Indigenous mayors, or mayors from Indigenous backgrounds, who have been elected by the people of their shires, which do not necessarily have Aboriginal majorities. These people were elected because of their ability, because they are good administrators and because they are doing the right thing.

I have a concern with my own government that sometimes we rely too much on other Indigenous leaders. I know of 13 Indigenous mayors from across the north of Queensland who were elected by the people in their councils. As I say, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous does not really matter. They are real leaders. They are accountable for their financial administration, because, as local government leaders in Queensland, they are regularly subjected to Auditor-General's reports

They are also accountable to the people they represent, because every four years, as it is now in Queensland, they face elections, and if they are not doing the right thing by the community they represent they are voted out. So I think they are the people that we have to look to, have to encourage, have to talk about and have to highlight their successes—rather than hearing in this chamber, as we always do, about the negatives and the downsides of the way Indigenous Australians are going on. I am not for a moment suggesting that there are not negatives and downsides, but I think the country would be far better off if we encouraged those who are 'doing the right thing', those who are succeeding and those are who are making themselves role models for others of our original and First Australians.

Minister, congratulations on what you have been doing. It is not easy. You have a lot of pressure coming on you from everyone, including me. But you have done a great job, and I think we are getting there. I think if you are able to continue and promote the direction that you are set on, all Australians will find the real harmony and success that we deserve in this country. Thank you.

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