Standing up for Canberra

Closing The Gap Statement

I begin by acknowledging the Ngambri and Ngunawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, in my electorate of Canberra, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and future. I'm grateful for the opportunity to once again speak on the Closing the Gap report.

Like the member for Indi, this is my last opportunity to do so. I've been speaking on these reports since I became the Member for Canberra, and it is a great honour again to be able to speak on this latest report. Reading these reports, we see that there are incremental gains every time.

There are some significant gains, and in some sectors there are no gains at all. It does make for poignant reading. It's a poignant reminder of the work that we have yet to do to ensure true equality for the diverse First Nations people across the country.

 

The overall message of Closing the Gap this year is one of hope, and that's what we need to take from this report. As I said, while we haven't achieved all the targets set in the majority of sectors, we are making significant progress in many others. We've seen improvements in the education sector, and we're on track in early education, with 95 per cent of First Nations children enrolled in preschool in 2017, which is a fantastic result.

In the ACT we've achieved universal enrolment for all First Nations children. We're also on track in year 12 attainment, with the gap narrowing from 36 per cent in 2006 to 24 per cent in 2016. These achievements are significant and they should be celebrated, particularly that extraordinary achievement on early education.

Once you get the children in at that early age, they're more likely to continue right through to secondary and then onto vocational or potentially tertiary education.

 

While the overall literacy and numeracy rates are not improving at the pace we need them to, there have still been some significant gains. First Nations students in year 9 are on track in numeracy across every state in Australia, and there's been an 11 per cent increase in the number of students who are at or above national standards in years 3, 5 and 9.

In the ACT, all year groups are on track, reaching key literacy and numeracy targets. It's no wonder I'm proud of this community! It's no wonder I bang on about how wonderful it is all the time. These are fantastic figures. They're fantastic figures for the nation, particularly, as I said, that 95 per cent for early education.

That's a significant achievement. And there's also the year 12 achievement and the year 9 literacy and numeracy achievement. Yes, there are gains being made, and we should applaud and celebrate those gains. But we can't take our eye off the ball. There is still a lot more work to be done, and not just throughout the rest of the country but also here in the ACT, despite these very good figures.

 

We know there is a link between education and employment, and improved education outcomes for First Nations people can only lead to greater job and economic security in the longer term.

here are also links between improved education outcomes leading to improved health outcomes, and this is evident here in Canberra. We've got that fabulous record on early childhood, on year 9 literacy and numeracy and on year 12 attainment, and we see those knock-on-effect benefits in terms of employment and health outcomes.

 

What's really helping with the health outcomes here is the Winnunga Nimmityjah, the community health service down in Narrabundah, which has been providing primary health services to our First Nations people not just here in Canberra but also in the capital region. They have been providing primary healthcare services for 30 years.

We celebrated this in style last year at the National Portrait Gallery. The Member for Lingiari was there. The Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister for Aged Care was there. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy was there, as was Senator Pat Dodson. It was a wonderful night in celebration of this achievement.

It was definitely a celebration of the fact that from little things big things grow, because when Winnunga first started it had a $200,000 budget and it was being run out of a tiny little office, from memory. Now it's this amazing facility, this amazing health service, that's right in the guts of our community, right in the guts of Narrabundah, and it just keeps growing.

I've spent the last nine years, the last three terms, trying to get funding so that it can grow, so that we can get more health facilities and services and more discreet entry points for sensitive counselling and sensitive drug treatment services. We've been blessed by the fact that the First Nations people of Canberra have had access to this wonderful service, this tailored service, for 30 years.

 

In the Aboriginal Wiradjuri language, 'winnunga nimmityjah' means 'strong health'. Winnunga is one of more than 160 organisations nationwide that is focused on delivering primary health care to First Nations people.

Winnunga is really special in so many different ways. It's very much tailored to the needs of the First Nations people of Canberra and the capital region. It provides a culturally safe, holistic healthcare service for people all around this area.

Depending on the service, between 30 and 40 per cent of the capital region uses it, in addition to people who are living here in Canberra.

 

The range of services varies dramatically. We've got counselling services, dental services, diabetes services and services for kidney health. We've also got maternal health. That's a relatively new service. There's a maternal health centre there, which looks after infant welfare and also reproductive health.

It provides a broad range of services from trying to fall pregnant to pre- and post-natal care. This is all provided down at Winnunga, in addition to a range of other services. It's a great facility. The team there is wonderful. It's run by Julie Tongs and a fabulous board of committed leaders.

The medical team, the nursing team, the dental team, the counselling team and the other staff there are all wonderful. They've been there a long time. They're all deeply committed to improving the health of the First Nations people of Canberra and the capital region into the future, and they've made some significant gains. All power to them.

 

Canberra is also home to the Khaamburra Netball Tournament, which is a tournament for First Nations people. It was originally set up by the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Netball Organisation and the Tuggeranong Netball Association. I am the proud patron of the TNA.

The tournament provides participation and it also provides culturally safe and inclusive education and training opportunities in line with the Netball Australia pathways. Since 2015, Khaamburra Netball has helped First Nations girls gain confidence and self-awareness of their history and community, and the pathways program allows for representative development and the opportunity to compete in the national Indigenous schoolgirls netball tournament.

I'm a proud patron of the TNA, as I said, but also of the Khaamburra Netball Tournament. Engagement in this tournament, which I have supported since its inception, grows every year in terms of bringing in Indigenous girls, women and boys to come and compete in a national tournament.

 

People from Queensland and New South Wales come to compete in this tournament, which I think is a very rare tournament. It may not be the first of its kind, but it is one of a handful of its kind.

An essential aspect of closing the gap is recognising the strong community ties in First Nations communities and finding a way to partner with and rely on the community to enact positive change. Winnunga and Khaamburra Netball are very good examples of community engagement here in Canberra, but this engagement needs to be much, much broader.

The pervasive message of the Closing the Gap report this year is one of hope, as I said earlier. While we still have work to do, we have seen improvement in the lives of many First Nations people, particularly here in Canberra and in the capital region, and significant improvements in areas like education.

As a community, we must work tirelessly and commit to working tirelessly to ensure the history and culture of our First Nations people are not lost, to ensure true equality for all and to create a better, more united Australia.