Aboriginal Equality


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (12:09): I certainly stand to support the member for Fisher, and all others who support his motion. We have come a long way—that is not, for a moment, to try to indicate that the job is done, or that there are not still great difficulties being faced, but certainly in Australia and in South Australia we should be proud that we have made significant achievements in this area.

I have a view that reconciliation and, particularly, closing the gap (which is what the member for Fisher's motion is about) has a lot more to do with individual's hearts and minds than it has to do with institutions. We need institutions to establish some guidelines and some resources, and we will not succeed without that, but the reality is that until a willingness to succeed in this area is not deep and genuine in people's hearts and minds we will not achieve what we need to achieve.

I would also like to point out too that, with regard to closing the gap, a couple of years ago—and I assume the statistics are very similar—the difference in the life expectancy rate between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia was 17 years and the difference in the life expectancy rate between rural and urban people (regardless of their race) in Australia was also 17 years and I think that is a very fair thing to put on the record.

However, we are here to talk about closing the gap for Aboriginal people which is one of the greatest challenges that we face in our state and our nation. It has a lot to do with opportunities. I mentioned institutions before, and institutions play a great role with regard to providing opportunities, but people need to take opportunities as well. That is a very important part of this issue and I believe that an important step towards closing the gap is that, in our society, Aboriginal people have the health, the confidence, the information, the ambition, the desire and lots of other things for them to take the opportunities that exist for them.

I think that is incredibly important because providing opportunities is not enough. People should take the opportunities as well and I think that will be very important. This is everybody's responsibility. It is the responsibility of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people jointly to progress this issue, so that we all live in a society which we would like to live in and which we think is important.

Integration is an interesting aspect of this issue and it is also quite a delicate one. You will find some people who are completely supportive of the issues that the member for Fisher raises and also people who are not supportive of it, but each group will also be divided about integration. Some are keen for integration and some are not. At the end of the day that is a very personal issue. I believe that all opportunities, whether they concern health, employment or social issues, should be available for everybody.

I also think there is no better example of a healthy society and the sort of society which I would like to be in than one which has couples and families from all sorts of racial backgrounds, whether they be different cultures, different races or whatever. You do not choose your partner, you do not choose your family by their racial background: it is about who you love and what you have in common. I think a wonderful example of progress is when you see Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people join together in immediate family. I think that is an outstanding thing that I am fortunate enough to see quite often throughout the electorate of Stuart.

This issue is part of a broader multicultural debate. I think, for us in Australia, it is the most important part of the multicultural debate, but the issues are very similar in terms of making sure that opportunities are given to and taken by everybody who can and who wants them in our society. I was fortunate enough to spend much of my teenage life living in Washington DC in the United States. I was also fortunate enough to be very healthy and sport crazy through my high school years and into my university time. I still could be described that way but I am not nearly as active a participant as I used to be.

I would like to say that sport is one of the very best ways for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to interact. It is certainly not the only one; there are many others, but sport is a tremendous thing. It is not because of the sport; it is because there is a team aspect. I am talking particularly about team sports because, in individual sports, there is no integration or joint participation, but, with a team sport, the team unites to address a common challenge. It is hard work.

It is hard work to become good at sport. You need skill, you need talent, you need to rely on each other and you need to do a lot of training, and it is that sort of thing that I believe will make an enormous difference to closing the gap, and not just in sport. When people, whether they are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal—and ideally both together—combine to jointly address significant challenges, some of the difficulties go out the window because you have common goals and common issues that you are trying to address and common successes that you want to share, and I think that is a very important issue.

Along that multicultural theme, I think it is also worth pointing out that every single one of us in Australia is a migrant, including Aboriginal people. Tens of thousands of years ago, Aboriginal people migrated to our continent, then there was a huge gap until a couple of hundred years ago when other people from the rest of the world started migrating to our country.

I am connected with migration myself. My father was a Dutch migrant who married a girl whose family had been in Australia for quite a long time. My wife's father was an Italian migrant who married a girl whose family had been in Australia for quite a long time. I like the term that Aboriginal people in Australia and South Australia were the First Australians. They are not the only Australians, but they should have a very proud place in their hearts and their minds that they were the First Australians here on our continent.

Closing the Gap is critical. As I said, it is the most important part of multiculturalism, because it affects people's health. There are many statistics, but that statistic about life expectancy is so vital, so poignant and so important to all of us that we have to work on closing that gap. As the member for Fisher said, we have come a long way, but not nearly far enough. We need to keep working very hard on this issue.

I also take this opportunity to say that often the country and the outback areas of our state are unfairly maligned. There is an assumption that in the city communities are more open and more multicultural and that in the country people start to separate out. I would like to say that that is actually not the case. I highlight the outback town of Marree as a place that I visit very regularly, which is a tremendous example of Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal and, indeed, people of Afghan descent living very well and very cooperatively together. If people, regardless of their racial background, get on with the job, want to contribute, and are honest, genuine members of the community, then they get on, and the community of Marree does extremely well in that way.

I express one bit of disappointment, that the government has chosen that this year's parliamentary sitting schedule will clash with NAIDOC Week. The government has scheduled estimates and parliamentary sitting throughout NAIDOC Week. I think that is an unfortunate situation, because it will certainly limit members of parliament being able to participate in NAIDOC Week celebrations and prohibit country members of parliament from participating in NAIDOC Week celebrations. That is a bit of a shame but, nonetheless, I do accept and appreciate the government's sentiments on this issue, as expressed by the member for Reynell.

I genuinely hope that the government's Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, the Hon. Grace Portolesi, will come down here and support this motion in person herself.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I would just respectfully remind the member for Stuart that we do not tend to reflect on the whereabouts or not of a member of parliament because, technically, we are all here. I know that we might not all be here, but technically we are all here.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a first-term member, I appreciate that and I am happy to change my remarks from 'come down here to support this motion' to 'speak in support of this motion'.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You are indeed generous and courteous; well said.


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