Closing the Gap Report 2015
Before I begin, I acknowledge the power of my colleague the member for Shortland's speech just now and commend her for it. As she said, hopefully we will not be having this conversation and this debate in 10 or 20 years time. Even though there have been some developments and improvements under this latest Closing the gap report, there are still some very stark differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities here in Australia, unfortunately, and this report highlighted that.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the Closing the gap: Prime Minister's report 2015 and I am proud to be part of a parliament that has continued to show bipartisan support for ending Indigenous disadvantage in this country. The different sides in this place often disagree on how we should meet these targets but we do agree on the need to get there, and that is important. The Leader of the Opposition said after the recent launch of this report, in his speech to parliament:
Today we promise to do better; we promise to do more … And we must stick to that promise.
I commend the Prime Minister for following in the footsteps of his Labor predecessors by delivering the Closing the Gap report in person to the parliament—it strongly demonstrates the critical importance of these targets. Most importantly, it keeps them front of mind for the Australian community, it keeps them front of mind for the parliament and it keeps them front of mind for each and every one of the people who sit in this place—and for those in the gallery on the day the report is delivered it reminds them of the inequality that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It is a stark inequality in so many ways and in so many critical areas that means that Indigenous Australians are leading a life unfulfilled; they cannot realise their potential because of these discrepancies and inequalities that they face in their health, in their education and in so many other areas.
This year's Closing the Gap statement has unfortunately brought us mixed results. We have made some achievements, but there is a long way to go if we are to meet the Closing the Gap targets by 2030. In fact, we are on track to meet just two of the seven Closing the Gap targets. That is incredibly sobering. Here we are in 2015 with these targets that are admirable, ambitious and it is great that we have them, but, as my colleague said, the fact that we are actually having this discussion is deeply depressing for someone who is interested in shaping public policy and ensuring that every Australian, no matter what their background, no matter what their race, no matter where they live, has access to opportunity, to equality and to fairness.
I welcome the increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy between 2005-07 and 2010-12. We have seen an estimated increase in life expectancy of 1.6 years for males and 0.6 of a year for females over that five-year period. However a gap of around 10 years remains when you compare Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with non-Indigenous people. That is incredibly sobering. Here we are in this incredibly affluent nation with so much opportunity for so many, yet we have that 10-year gap. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have higher rates of cancer, higher rates of diabetes and higher rates of preventable diseases. They also suffer preventable deaths related to chronic diseases at rates that could be halved within three years through a much greater focus on access to appropriate primary health care services to detect, treat and manage these conditions.
The report looks to the Australian government for continued leadership as part of an overall national approach to Closing the Gap. This year's report has highlighted some disappointing progress; in fact, the Prime Minister described it as 'profoundly disappointing'. As I mentioned earlier in my speech, the Closing the Gap commitment to narrowing the gap or eliminating the gap, a commitment to true equality for non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians alike, I believe is strongly felt by members all around this chamber. That is why it is disappointing that the government had decided to cut $130 million from Indigenous health programs, that is why it is disappointing that the government has decided to cut thousands of critical Indigenous front-line services that would have helped in Closing the Gap, and that is why it is disappointing that the government has ripped $165 million from Indigenous health programs which would have helped in Closing the Gap. The list of cuts goes on: $13.4 million ripped from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services; $9.6 million cut from Indigenous language programs; $15 million cut from the only national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples; the prisoner Throughcare and anti-recidivism programs have been cut entirely; and the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee has been axed, as has the Indigenous and Remote Eye Health Service. These cuts are having a dire impact on Australia's Indigenous community, and, as Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said, this past year has been one of deep funding cuts, uncertainty and upheaval in Indigenous affairs.
These health statistics make for very sobering reading. It is unbelievable to think that here we are in 2015 with these sorts of figures. Yes the gaps have been narrowed, but I am looking here at low birth weights per 100 births. In 2011, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities the figure is 11.1; for non-Indigenous, 4.5. We have a comparison of Maori and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy by gender from 2010 to 2012. For Maori males it is 72.8; for females, 76.5. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males it is 69.1, and 73.7 for females. With survival rates for cancers, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survival rate for all cancers is 40 per cent; for non-Indigenous Australians it is 52 per cent. For lung cancer it is seven per cent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and 11 per cent for non-Indigenous people. For breast cancer in women it is 70 per cent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and 81 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians. For bowel cancer it is 47 per cent in Indigenous communities and 53 per cent in non-Indigenous communities. For prostate cancer it is 63 per cent for Indigenous and 72 per cent for non-Indigenous communities. Cervical cancer is 51 per cent for Indigenous and 67 per cent for non-Indigenous. These gaps highlight the fact that there are still some significant areas that need to be improved.
For me, another horrifying statistic that has stayed with me from this report is that, sadly, Indigenous women and children are more likely to experience family violence than any other group in our nation. An Indigenous woman is 35 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence, and she is five times more likely to die. That figure is incredibly powerful, deeply disturbing and deeply distressing: an Indigenous woman is 35 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence and five times more likely to die. It is a chilling statistic, and we must do better.
In closing, I just want to acknowledge some work that is being done here in the Canberra community. I met this group of Canberrans when I went to the Closing the gap launch. It is a group called Solid Young Sistas and Brothas. It is a leadership and mentoring program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth from the ACT and surrounding New South Wales. The program supports these young people to connect or reconnect with their culture through components such as dance, language and other cultural performances. They are doing great work for the Indigenous community here in Canberra, and I commend them.