Documents - Closing the Gap - Consideration

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:49): Coincidentally, I join this debate following Senator Leyonhjelm, and in a broad way I share the views that he's just enunciated—perhaps not in his language. I have often said to Indigenous leaders who've come to see me that the best thing we can do for Indigenous people is to treat them like every other Australian, with no special deals. Do not have Big Brother in the Public Service in Canberra looking at these people and saying: 'You're a second-rate group of people, so we're going to decide everything for you. We're going to feed and clothe you, and we're going to do everything for you. You don't need to do it because we think you're not capable.' That's the greatest insult and the greatest form of racism I have seen.

I have said this to Indigenous leaders over many years now. I have to say that most agree with me. I'm sure Senator McCarthy would, sitting in this chamber. Senator McCarthy doesn't need special deals. What we do need for Indigenous people is a good education and an opportunity to join mainstream Australia. A lot of people of Indigenous heritage that I know have had that opportunity, have been properly educated, and they are like every other Australian. They don't need any special deals. They don't need people looking at them, saying, 'This is a deal just for you, and not for other Australians.'

The issue of housing was the subject of comment at question time today. The Indigenous leaders came to see me and I had a chat to them. We explained to them to that Commonwealth provides $6.4 billion every year to the states for welfare housing, some of which we expect the states to send to remote Indigenous communities. As I said to this group the other day, the best thing would be if Indigenous people were treated like every other Australian: if they worked hard, bought their own house and paid it off over a lifetime, perhaps with a little bit of assistance from the banks, that would be good. But I recognise that in the remote communities this can't happen because it's very difficult to get well-paid work. This is where I think the gap needs to be closed. We need to make sure there are employment opportunities—opportunities for Indigenous people to get real work. Then they can be like every other Australian: buy their own block of land, build their house, pay it off over a lifetime and have it be theirs. Senator Leyonhjelm touched on this too.

It's no good saying to Indigenous people, 'You can live where you were born because it's nice being there and it's your culture to be there,' if there is no prospect of them ever getting further advanced than some sort of welfare support. Indigenous people in the cities do have good schooling, do have the opportunities, and—as Senator McCarthy and Mr Wyatt and former Senator Lindgren have done—have gone out like everybody else, made a success of their lives, acquired a house and acquired a good education for their children. That's how it should be. What governments have got to do is not just say to Indigenous people, 'Well, everyone else has to move if they can't find a job in that locality'—Senator Leyonhjelm touched upon this—'but you can stay there forever, even though you've got no prospect of getting a real job and, therefore, a life like every other Australian.'

It's the same with languages. Some on the left go to what I think are inordinate lengths to teach, promote and protect Indigenous language. Yes, that is good. That's nice. But the more important thing is to teach young children everywhere, be they Indigenous or not Indigenous, how to read and speak and properly appreciate the English language. Why? Because if they can do that they then have an opportunity in joining the rest of the world and getting well-paid jobs, as Senator McCarthy has done, as Mr Ken Wyatt has done, and as Senator Lindgren did. I have just mentioned those three because they're people who have shown that to be the case. In the system we currently have, there are always going to be disadvantaged people. I say that some on the left look at them as second-class citizens, which I refuse to accept. I won't accept that. They are as good as me. They're as good as anyone in this chamber. But they don't have the opportunities.

When you get a company like Adani—and I don't want to really get onto that subject except to say, here was an opportunity for Indigenous people in Central Queensland to get a real job. And Indigenous people knew that, and that's why—by 98 per cent to two per cent—they voted to support that thing. Why? They didn't really care about Adani, or India or anything, but they knew it meant jobs and an opportunity and a chance for a proper life for their children and their people. The government has tried to develop the north, but we're finding enormous difficulty in getting state governments, in particular, to do the things that need to be done to enable development to occur. And if the development occurs, it provides opportunities for Indigenous people. There are so many dam proposals in the north of Queensland—Indigenous people in those localities love the idea. Why do they love the idea? Because they know it will mean some form of development, mainly in agriculture, that they can be part of. And in fact, in many cases, they want to use their lands to take on farming enterprises, and give their kids a real job, a job that will let them be like every other Australian.

I acknowledge that Prime Minister Turnbull and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, have a passion for Indigenous people, and I know that they follow the accepted norm of Canberra and the Left of our society, in thinking, 'All we've got to do is throw money at it, and everything will be right.' Well, most Indigenous leaders know that is not what it's about. It is about opportunity. As much as I can, I will continue to help the mayors of the Cape, the Torres Strait, and the north-west of my state, because they are my constituency, to get real jobs—to allow them to be part of Australia like every other Australian. As I say, this is not a new comment from me. I've spoken to Indigenous leaders over many, many years, and as recently as last week, on this same issue. We've got to give them the opportunity to be like every other Australian, and not just to be recipients of some welfare that the well-meaning bureaucrats and the latte set from the south think is what it's all about. That is not helping Indigenous people, and it never will.

I get very distressed at the way that people down here treat Indigenous people in remote areas as second-class citizens. I don't. I reject that. But we've got to give them the opportunity. Whilst the Closing the gap report has all the rhetoric in it—it has all the cliches, and it makes everyone around their latte tables in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra feel really good about doing something for Indigenous people—it doesn't attack the real problem. The real problem is how to give Indigenous people opportunity, and enable development, so there are real jobs for Indigenous people—and, apart from that, Indigenous people should follow the same rules and the same laws, and have the same opportunities and the same responsibilities, as every other Australian. If we can achieve that, we really will close the gap permanently. It's going to take a long time. I'm pleased to hear that Senator Leyonhjelm, coincidentally, is of the same general view. And can I say, it's not just Senator Leyonhjelm; there are many Indigenous leaders who accept what I say is right. Don't just hand over the welfare, don't just throw money at the problem. Give Indigenous people a real opportunity to advance, the same as every other Australian. Make the kids go to school, make the children learn when they leave school, so that they will have an opportunity to take their part fully in Australia, as every other Australian has that opportunity.

Back to List