Monday, 16 February 2015
Senator Nova Peris: "We are only talking in circles and using Aboriginal people - our lives and our disparity - as political footballs"
Senator Nova Peris, 13 November 2013. Photo: Mamma MiaLabor Senator Nova Peris on her feet in the Australian Senate at 4.36pm on 11 February 2015 (transcript from OpenAustralia.org):
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Ngambri-Ngunawal people, on whose land we stand today, and acknowledge my ancestors past and present and our future leaders. Today is an opportunity for all of us to speak out about reality. It is a day on which I stand here as an Aboriginal woman with the inherent responsibility to fight and sustain our culture for future generations. Unless you are on some other planet today what is being echoed in the walls of Parliament House by Aboriginal people who have gathered here today is that there are a lot of unhappy people out there.
Whilst a lot of people come to Parliament House to talk about Closing the Gap and walk away with a warm and fuzzy feeling about what it means to them and think that we are progressing, the gap in fact is not closing. People reflect on Australia as a nation of hope and a nation of opportunity, but we are a nation that continually lets down Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—we are failing citizens of this country. We are not on track to close the gap on life expectancy, and the gap is not closing because things that work are being ignored. I have been listening to Senator Nash—and I have the greatest respect for her—and she understands what she says. But here is big difference between actually understanding it and wanting to implement what people are saying out there in the communities.
I have been around a long time, and Aboriginal people feel that what we say is falling on deaf ears day in and day out. Today we heard the Prime Minister claim that he is profoundly disappointed that the Closing the Gap has stalled. It is great that he has said that, because today we have heard truth in this place. That is what happens when you cut the funding from frontline services that have been proven to work. It is simple: Closing the Gap has fallen through the cracks of a divided and dysfunctional government. When we heard the opposition leader talk about cuts to frontline services, I saw 10 coalition members just get up and walk out. We heard Senator Nash talking about that this has to be a bipartisan approach, but to sustain lives everybody needs to be at the table to give hope and to implement the right things that Aboriginal people need. That walkout showed a total disrespect not only for leaders of this country but for a race of people—the oldest collective race of people in this world whose lives we are trying to enhance and for whom we want to make things better. I just do not get that you have people walking out of the chamber.
I had a speech prepared, but I am not going to read a speech, because I should be able to speak from my heart to tell it how it is. When I see things like that, I think to myself: 'Why did I put my hand up for parliament?' Because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people who paved the way for me today.
All this rhetoric about how we have to get it right and we have to listen to people. There are so many times you see Dr Yunupingu and all these talking politicians—it just has to stop. Senator Nigel Scullion knows the Northern Territory very well—it is his backyard. He has respect for the people, and people respect him in the communities. But, Nigel, we cannot be serious about getting kids to school while your government closes 38 childcare centres. There was a report from Twiggy Forrest. Why do we have a wealthy man, who has never worked a day in the life of an Aboriginal person—he does not know what it is to live in poverty or how you get out of poverty—so why are we asking him to tell us how to live our lives? I do not get it. We are only talking in circles and using Aboriginal people—our lives and our disparity—as political footballs. I said that earlier today and it has got to stop. It really has to stop.
When we talk about constitutional recognition, there is the whole fear factor: what are we recognising? What have we got to fear? Every day we acknowledge the Ngambri-Ngunawal people. We exist. We acknowledge it here, and so what is so scary about acknowledging it in our Constitution. We cannot change the past. I said that in my maiden speech. We cannot change what has happened; we cannot drag the chains of this black history that this country has in order to move into the light. We talk about 600,000 Aboriginal people in this country, and yet every single day in the newspapers there is a story about an Aboriginal person. You do not see that about any other race of people in Australia; it is only Aboriginal people. It is almost as if we are a product of disparity. You talk about people coming in and walking together, but I have been to so many communities—and Senator Scullion knows this too—and how do you expect 25 non-Indigenous service providers to be delivering programs to a community of 200 or 300 people? There is not one Aboriginal person delivering those services. We have been oppressed and we continue to oppress citizens who have survived the 40,000 years in spite of continuous failed policies.
We cannot just keep talking about it. Every election cycle we make these promises; we say we are going to give you this and then, when we get in, we backflip on health and education. It is not rocket science. If you want to engage a child in primary school—to get them into school—they have to have a profound love of education. You cannot just say that it is about jobs; it is about housing. They are the basic fundamental things that we take for granted—every single one of us—but that is like asking a hen to have teeth. You are just asking for the basic fundamental human rights for people to have an opportunity, and we are denying the opportunity when we cannot get the basics right. It upsets me that Aboriginal people are coming to this place and begging from money to drive programs in their community. They should not have to do that. I do not tell anyone how to run their lives and so why are people telling Aboriginal people how to run their lives?
There is story I would like to tell, because it is important. We are Catholics and my grandson, who is 5½ years old, went to his first day of school this year. The principal, after welcoming everyone, talked about Jesus and God and then he said, 'And don't forget; let's us all be like Jesus.' My grandson turned to his mum, my daughter, and said, 'Well, who is Jesus?' The thing is that everyone has a religion, everyone has a spiritual belief, and this country is a multicultural country. We as Aboriginal people have our spirituality and our religion. We know what we want.
It is almost like our dreams and aspirations are continually controlled by the dollar factor. And it goes back to a Country Liberal government who wants to dilute the Heritage Act and the Land Rights Act. You have 35 per cent of people in the Northern Territory owning 50 per cent of the land. When you see incarceration rates escalating, not decreasing, what does that say about society? You just want to bulldoze the people out of the way who have control over what other people want. And that is not even telling a lie; that is telling it how it is. We heard a great speech by Joe Morrison today who said: 'We are not part of the problem. We are part of the solution'. If you want to progress this country for what it is meant to be—what other countries see it for—you need to bring Aboriginal people with you. And it is not by continually taking the top-down approach. To say that an Aboriginal kid has no dreams and aspirations is wrong. To tell an Aboriginal parent, 'you don't want your children to go to school'—that is absolute rubbish. We have the same dreams and aspirations. We should be allowed to flourish as human beings and as equal citizens in this country. This whole place needs to change.