Closing the Gap Report

February 13 marked nine years since Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generation, a moment in time few of us will forget. It was an apology for what he termed as "this blemished chapter in our national history" and "the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians." The catalyst for the apology was the 1997 Bringing Them Home report. That report suggested the first step in healing is the acknowledgment of truth and the delivery of an apology.

The release of the report was followed by a wave of apologies to the stolen generations by State parliaments, judges, churches, civic associations, trade unions and ethnic groups. But it remained the responsibility of the Australian Government, on behalf of previous Australian governments that administered these wrongful policies, to acknowledge what was done and to apologise. Eleven years after the release of the Bringing Them Home report Kevin Rudd said sorry. It was an important starting point in healing the wounds of the past and a historic step forward for our nation of which we can be proud.

Rudd had previously recognised the significance of the word "sorry". He said:

"… simply saying that you're sorry is such a powerful symbol. Powerful not because it represents some expiation of guilt. Powerful not because it represents any form of legal requirement. But powerful simply because it restores respect, powerful not because it represents some expiation of guilt, powerful because it restores respect."

This anniversary of the apology coincides with the annual Closing the Gap report, a fact check on the state of Indigenous affairs that provides practical measures adding to the symbolism of the apology. It is dreadful that State and Federal governments are on track to meet only one of the seven targets in the strategy. The life expectancy gap persists: The report puts it at 10.6 years for Indigenous men and 9.5 years for Indigenous women. Employment, numeracy and literacy indicators in other areas remain mixed and unlikely to reach targets.

Clearly, more needs to be done by governments to close the gap. In the absence of sufficient government focus, however, there are many community groups and individuals around Australia doing amazing work to fight this uphill battle. In my electorate, the Centre for Hope assists both Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people who are in need of intervention to improve their educational and life outcomes. The centre's vision is to empower young, disadvantaged Australians to respect themselves, connect with the wider community and create an inspired life. The Centre for Hope has created several highly successful programs such as student mentoring, Wheels for Hope and the drop-in centre, both located at Lake Macquarie shopping centre, a homework centre at Windale library and the Supporting Families program.

I also recognise the work of the National Rugby League [NRL] in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and equality. A perfect example of this is the annual week-long event that celebrates Indigenous Australia, culminating in the Indigenous All Stars versus World All Stars match, which I had the pleasure of attending in Newcastle—the first time it has been held in New South Wales—last Friday. To watch the Indigenous players and local Aboriginal people perform the war dance before the game was spine-tinglingly powerful, and the final score was a massive 34-8 win for the Indigenous team. The women's game held earlier in the afternoon also resulted in a win for the Indigenous women, with a 14-4 victory over the favoured World All Stars. The players on both the women's and men's teams, as well as the programs run by the NRL to work towards the strengthening of Aboriginal leadership, pride and culture, are inspiring.

Other local groups that work to enhance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership, pride, health and wellbeing and that are important to recognise are the Bahtabah Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Windale Interagency and Community Alliance [WICA], the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, the Police Citizens Youth Club at Windale, and Tunbilliko, which works to improve the relationship between our local First Peoples and police, as well as the many Landcare groups in the electorate, particularly those in the Belmont State Conservation Area and Warners Bay. Community groups are doing huge amounts to close the gap; governments clearly need to do more. I call on the Liberal-Nationals New South Wales Government to do just that, because achieving a measly one out of seven targets to close the gap is just not good enough.