TRANSCRIPT - Tabling of the report following the Inquiry into Indigenous Participation in Employment and Business
30 August 2021
I too appreciate the opportunity to speak on the committee's report following the inquiry into Indigenous participation in employment and business. At the outset, I do want to acknowledge the work of the chair, the member for Berowra; the secretariat; and my parliamentary colleagues for their very collaborative approach to this inquiry and report. I also want to acknowledge those who made submissions and gave evidence at public hearings. Your insights and expertise have been invaluable. The committee received some 85 submissions in total and conducted 19 public inquiries, consulting with a diverse range of community groups and stakeholders. I support all 17 of the committee's recommendations but, given the limited time available today, I want to focus on just two: recommendation 12, regarding the Community Development Program, and recommendation 8, which underscores foreign trade and investment opportunities.
One of the key issues identified by the committee relate to the Abbott government's punitive Community Development Program, or Welfare to Work, policy approach to unemployment in regional and remote communities. Since its inception in 2015, the CDP has had significant negative repercussions for First Nations communities across Australia, with poverty rates rising and income levels falling. Underpinned by purely punitive and discriminatory measures, CDP has torn at the fabric of remote communities, deeply affecting families and kinship networks. The harms are now well documented.
As part of the committee's responsibilities it was important that we reflected on the key lessons learned from the inadequacies of the current CDP to ensure that the harms experienced by participants and communities are avoided into the future. In my view CDP is a shocking public policy failure, and recommendation 12 provides the Australian government with an opportunity to co-design a successor program that moves away from the top-down, short-term, inflexible approach of CDP and moves towards a model that is place based, flexible and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled and would foster long-term social and cultural development.
I want to turn to recommendation 8 of the report, which creates a new pathway to advance Indigenous economic development through trade and investment. OECD countries like Canada, the USA and New Zealand already have inclusive trade clauses within their free trade agreements, and it's time Australia caught up. That's why the committee is recommending all future free trade agreements contain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inclusions and make use of geographical indicators to protect Indigenous knowledge and products alongside our national interest.
Just like the French winemakers from the Champagne region have exclusive rights to name and market their sparkling wine as champagne, Australia should follow their lead and protect the thousands of Indigenous botanicals that are currently at risk. The uniqueness of these botanicals comes specifically from their geography, from their location and from the cultural practices of propagation, maintenance, harvesting and uses by First Nations people, so it makes sense to include them in a list of geographical indicators for protection. Likewise the committee recommends that the Australian government support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to foreign direct investment. This additional and significant source of money could be injected into investment-ready Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises.
In closing I also want to acknowledge the work of June Oscar AO in her landmark report Wiyi yani u thangani—women's voices: securing our rights, securing our future, which lays out what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls consider to be their key strengths and concerns and considers what principles they think ought to be enshrined in the design of policies, programs and services and what measures they recommend ought to be taken to effectively promote the enjoyment of their human rights into the future. The chapters on learning and education, on pathways of employment and empowerment and on economic participation are especially relevant and should help shape the government's thinking on how to improve the economic participation of First Nations people.
Now is the time for government to forge genuine partnerships to better support the health, wellbeing and economic aspirations of First Nations people wherever they live. On that note I commend the committee's Report on Indigenous participation in employment and business to the House.