MR ENTSCH: Thank you Mr Speaker, as the representative for all of the Torres Strait and a considerable number of remote Indigenous communities throughout Cape York, I’ve developed an understanding of the issues that these communities face over my many years of service to the electorate of Leichhardt.
When we’re talking about Indigenous disadvantage, we cannot equate the circumstances in remote Indigenous communities with those in metropolitan areas or larger regional towns. These are two entirely different realities.
The variety of choices and the supports available to Indigenous Australians are not insignificant—but most of them are simply not found in remote locations.
There are choices to be made, in schooling, university, choices in health, in relation to housing and choices in relation to jobs. There is no shortage of funding for Indigenous people to make those choices.
You tick the box on the form and the funding is available. The real challenge is getting people engaged and extending the support to remote areas.
There are great examples of Indigenous Australians who are engaged and doing wonderful things. We’ve got successful examples from doctors, lawyers, teachers and leaders across all industries… even politicians… and there’s even some you might not expect……
Like Daniel Joinbee from Yarrabah for instance. He runs Gunggandji Aerospace, the only 100 per cent Indigenous owned aerospace consultancy. And Sharon Bonython-Ericson of Illuminate FNQ, which is driving opportunities in STEM for kids which helps grow the capacity of regional Indigenous and non-Indigenous children to quite literally reach for the stars and to follow in the footsteps of people like Daniel Joinbee.
Another fine example is Tania Major, from Kowanyama, she’s a very proud Kokoberra woman, she’s gone to university and she’s a criminologist. She’s been doing fabulous work engaging her community through softball, while she’s no longer living there she is very committed to the community.
The point is there is no shortage of capable Indigenous Australians.
Unfortunately, when you make your way out into the very remote communities across Cape York and throughout other areas in Australia, the story is quite different.
Those choices and supports are not available and many of the opportunities that do exist are only for government driven Community Development Program work. And it is quite sad to see so many young people aspiring to be a CDP worker.
For those that wish to remain in their communities, they are faced with limited options. They can be a ranger, an indigenous health worker, a teacher’s aid, which are the main opportunities, or there are other roles that have relatively limited upward momentum within their respective remote communities.
It might interest members of the House, that unlike in metropolitan, outer-metro, and regional towns, should a young person in these remote communities want to go out and make something of themselves, aspiring for a better life, and they wish to remain in their community they don’t have an option for their own housing. They must stay in their family home—because that is all that is built.
Whereas if they were employed from elsewhere outside of their community and applied to take a job in a remote community, they would be afforded their own department supplied housing. What a disincentive!
Say for instance we’ve got a young person working irregular hours surrounded by their family with anyone from infants and toddlers right through to grandparents all living under the same roof. This is not an insignificant issue.
It’s a complex issue and it just reinforces further elements of disadvantage.
You can’t have your own space as a young person in a community, you can’t have your own place and to be house proud. You’re trying to get ahead but the needs and priorities of your entire family across generations can make it exceptionally difficult—and we expect this to be functional?
How is it these young people can’t move into their own self-contained independent living, not only to enjoy the company of their friends, listen to their music, these are pretty ordinary expectations, and a right of passage for many Australians and yet we can’t even get this right?
This simple illustration says to me that they in fact don’t have the choices and support. So when we talk about disadvantage its these areas—this is where we need to focus—to improve the quality of life, to get better engagement and better choices.
It seems all we ever do is go around in circles, we saw what happened with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. ATSIC started with effectively the same aspirations as being promoted with the Voice. Sadly, it was another abject failure and in particular a failure again to these remote communities.
The privilege few did very well out of it, but the majority and those in remote communities have continued to largely suffer and go without.
We’ve had slogans, “Closing the Gap”, have a look at the continual failures, Prime Ministers from both sides have had to stand up year after year in this place and admit failure after failure, metrics have stalled, and the gap remains.
To me the Voice is just another slogan, and we simply must do better. There is no detail, it’s all: Trust Us! Let’s change the constitution and we’ll fix all the problems.
Quite frankly, judging on history, I don’t trust that rhetoric. The reality is we’d be far better if we just legislated it now, we can then make the necessary changes until we get Indigenous policy in this country working for Indigenous Australians.
I have no argument that Indigenous voices need to be heard, it’s important that the eleven Indigenous voices that we have here in the Parliament are heard, but it is equally important that those on the ground who are living in remote communities facing the daily reality of failed Indigenous policy have their voice heard too.
I agree with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs when she said earlier this week, that we need to deliver structural change that empowers Indigenous communities, and that we should be getting better advice so that we can get better policies and better outcomes.
But I think we have to do this by listening to regional and remote voices, a bottom up approach is needed. It’s obvious to me that another bureaucratic approach is not going to resolve these ongoing challenges.
It is the popularly elected leaders in their respective communities—that have demonstrated their own successes—that need to be given the chance to raise their voices. Otherwise, we will just get more of the same.
A great example the house might be interested in is one remote community in my electorate called Old Mapoon. Mayor Eileen Addo, her council and their predecessors have done amazingly well. We’re talking about a remote community council consisting of four women and one man.
Old Mapoon started like any other remote community where Governments brought together families from around the region—for convenience of management and supplying converts to the church.
Sure, at the time it was well meaning. However, the community was betrayed in 1963, when in the interest of further mining operations, the Church, the Government and the mining companies colluded and declared the mission site as “unhealthy”.
They rounded the entire community up, and forcefully relocated them to New Mapoon on the tip of Cape York. But to add insult to injury as the families were being barged out of the bay they had to watch as their homes were torched. A very sad indictment in the history of our region.
Interestingly enough, half of the community chose to stay at the new site of New Mapoon, and to this day continue to face many of the challenges we see in remote communities.
The other half, spread themselves around Australia, then in 1984 they chose to come back home and decided to re-build and haven’t they done a fantastic job. They brought many skills acquired during their time of banishment.
Another community leader worthy of mention is the long serving Mayor of Lockhart River community—Wayne Butcher. Certainly, a community not without its challenges, but the progress that has been made by Wayne and his team is worthy of recognition. Again, like Eileen Addo, Wayne’s is a voice that should be heard.
These are wonderful examples of communities that have been successful, where in stark contrast other communities in Cape York continue to suffer from different levels of disfunction. I say this to underscore the fact that community leadership has a significant role to play.
Since the introduction of Indigenous policy in this country, there has always been a select group of self-appointed Indigenous leaders that are predominantly metropolitan academics. They have long provided guidance to policy makers—it appears that this trend will continue to prevail under the guise of the Voice—and we’ve seen where that’s got us to date.
Many people on both sides of the Parliament have long hailed the work of Noel Pearson in advancing Indigenous policy and they have held him up as a messiah—like a figurehead for Indigenous Australians.
He is acknowledged as one of the architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament that we are debating today.
There is no doubt that Noel has significant influence over Indigenous affairs but I and many others in Cape York who have seen the reality of his influence—have long been critical of governments and bureaucrats that only care to listen to his voice.
Over decades, Noel Pearson, his organisations, his policy initiatives and his cronies have exerted growing influence over governments of all persuasions. They have received hundreds of millions of dollars over many decades into his pet projects, and for what, many of the remote communities that Noel has used as policy experiments remain dysfunctional.
Whether it’s the Cape York Welfare Reform Package – Cape York Partnership – Cape York Institute – Cape York Employment – Cape York Timber – Bama Services – Cape York Girl Academy – Djarragun College – Good to Great Schools Australia – Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy – CYP Properties – O-Hub – or the Family Responsibilities Commission, the list of Noel’s entities, programs and polices goes on.
With great difficulty, I have been able to ascertain that since 2005 Noel has accumulated over $550 million of Australian tax payer funds and subsidies for his entities and his policy initiatives, the vast majority of which has been for remote communities in Cape York.
Noel comes up with the policy ideas, the governments give him the money, he runs the programs and God help anyone who stands in his way.
It is evident to me that these funds are likely much greater and go back further than 2005. But I ask the question, is this value for money? In my view it is a ruse, it has always been a ruse. I challenge anyone to come and have a look at what his influence has actually achieved.
Because the communities in Cape York who have effectively banned Noel Pearson (like Old Mapoon) are doing exceptionally well, those that let Noel’s influence into their communities remain dysfunctional, and I’m sure the house is aware of a well-known example in Aurukun on the Western Cape.
Noel has been on the government payroll for decades, advising on and influencing Indigenous policy. I say to the Government, do we really need the architect of so many policy failures involved in producing another one.
While he identifies himself as a Cape York Indigenous leader, Noel Pearson has never stood for an election, he certainly wants to lead—and should face the community. Let’s see where he goes then on polling day.
When it comes to the voice, many are calling out for respect and restraint for the views of others. Certainly, I believe a level of dignity is required particularly in these sensitive debates, when such a diverse array of views are involved.
But Noel—I can tell you now, you won’t win hearts and minds by penning pieces in The Australian—as you did last Saturday the 20th of May—writing off baby boomers as racists just because they don’t subscribe to your worldview. AND I QUOTE:……
“The boomer readership of this paper is of course antipathetic to recognition. They are mostly obscurant and borderline casual racists in their views”.
As a baby boomer myself I found these comments deeply offensive and a cheap grubby attack on what are genuine criticisms and concerns related to your brainchild. But Mr Speaker this is just classic Noel Pearson behaviour—shout down anyone who disagrees with him and call them a racist. It really just typifies the individual.
This is not how you go about bringing people along the journey towards improving Indigenous disadvantage and securing constitutional recognition.
With respect to that recognition in the constitution, I totally agree, this should have been done years ago. It is a matter of historical fact, First Nations’ People were the first inhabitants of this beautiful country and they should be recognised in the constitution as such.
But the Government is doing Indigenous Australians a disservice by merging recognition and the Voice into a single referendum, and I am seriously concerned that the recognition component will fail as a result of their misguided attempts to enshrine the Voice in the constitution.
I am not opposed to the Voice per se, but it should be legislated by the parliament. We’ve got no substantive detail, and it is a very significant thing to change the constitution.
We can’t expect Australians to vote on a feeling or a guess, The old line “Trust us, vote yes and we’ll figure out the details later” is simply not going to fly. It’s an extraordinary proposition, and I completely understand why many Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous have serious reservations.
Another concern I have is if we do change the constitution and it turns out the Voice is just another failure of Indigenous policy, it’s locked in and the process to unwind it won’t be easy.
I believe what the South Australian Government has done by legislating their own Indigenous Voice is a far better and more practical option that should be the approach that we take here in the National Parliament.
Mr Speaker, when I go around and visit my remote communities, and I ask them what they reckon about the Voice. Many tell me it’s not a bad talent show on Channel 7.
Seriously most of those that I speak to in these communities just don’t know, and those that are aware of it, the majority don’t understand it, or they aren’t comfortable with it, or they just don’t want it. They have no faith in the concept of the voice whatsoever.
What they talk to me about instead, is the real issues they face. Issues around housing, health, education, job opportunities, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and that’s what they want addressed.
If only we would listen to their voice.
As it stands at the moment, I cannot support this. But I urge the Prime Minister to extract the element of constitutional recognition, put that up as the referendum, get it done today and if we must have the Voice, let’s get it right first, and importantly let’s put it up as a legislated instrument.