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Speech: Closing the Gap

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 11 Aug 2021

I speak to the Prime Minister's Closing the Gap address and associate myself with the heartfelt comments made by my colleagues Senator Thorpe and Senator Siewert. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the many lands that we are here from today and pay my respects to elders past and present. I'm on the land of the Gadigal of the Eora nation, but no matter where we are in this country we are on stolen land. I do this acknowledgement in full recognition of the fact that we are still so far away from justice for First Nations people.

As we strive for justice and equality, First Nations people and their voices must be front and centre of the struggle, because there can be no social or environmental justice without racial justice and there can be no racial justice without First Nations justice. Australia has a colonial past and a bloody history that is tainted with dispossession and violence. This violence against First Nations people has never ceased. It continues to this day in the settler colonial systems and structures of this country. The depth and breadth of prejudice against First Nations people is still rooted in law enforcement and societal attitudes and institutional systems.

It is also, sadly, rooted in this parliament and this chamber. Listening to this morning's debate, I hear a lot of sadness and reflection but I also hear some ignorance and malice. There are still members of this place who refuse to acknowledge the systemic racism, who refuse to acknowledge the suffering and our collective need to address it. The 2021 Closing the Gap report shows that almost all key indicators have gone backwards since the Liberals came into power. Rates of suicide have worsened, and thee are rising numbers of First Nations children being removed from their families and of young people and adults in prison. It breaks my heart as a mother and as a human being that almost 19,000 First Nations children are currently removed from their families, 11 times the rate for non-Indigenous children. The violence that I speak of is inherent in our systems that are still taking babies away from their families, the systemic failure that ensures that ever more First Nations people are being imprisoned and the structural inequalities that push people to the brink.

From 2016 to 2019, almost a quarter of deaths of young First Nations people were by suicide. First Nations young people and children are constantly told to be resilient. It's actually not anyone's job to tell First Nations people to be resilient. They know what resilience in the face of colonial oppression looks like. But, Mr Morrison, it is your job to upend the systems that continue to perpetuate injustices against First Nations people. You've only come to the table on reparations to stolen generations after hundreds of survivors said that they would sue the federal government for compensation. It's still too little and too late. The racist harm and violence caused to people through stolen generations cannot even begin to be addressed by the insufficient reparations that have been announced by this government.

First Nations' disadvantage results in their shorter life expectancy and poorer health. They're disproportionately over-represented in prisons. It's been 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, yet we are still in a horrific place where ever more First Nations people are dying in police custody. Almost 500 First Nations people have died in custody since the royal commission. If this isn't a call to change the system, then I don't know what is.

In his address, Mr Morrison never once mentioned climate justice. We know that remote communities and people connected to the land are most affected by the climate emergency we're in. Two centuries of colonisation have wrecked the millennia of care of country by First Nations people. There can be no environmental justice without First Nations justice.

The target set for reducing imprisonment of First Nations people is also so utterly inadequate, and there is no immediate new funding to support the government. This needs to be addressed. This government and their predecessors have tinkered around the edges but have never committed to what grassroots First Nations people have been demanding for years—for decades. Put First Nations communities at the grassroots level, in the driving seat, and fully fund their work. Commit to and start a process for treaties. That will be a start towards the healing and justice that is so needed in this country.

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