The Politics    Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The opening gap

By Paddy Manning

The opening gap

Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt. © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Without his colleagues behind him, Ken Wyatt can only do so much

Northern Territory Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy gave a devastating interview this morning, ahead of today’s annual Closing the Gap address, drawing a direct connection between the ongoing failure to meet targets to reduce Indigenous disadvantage and the policies of the Coalition government. Starting with the Abbott government’s decision to cut the Aboriginal affairs budget by half a billion dollars, McCarthy then cited the disastrous Aboriginal work-for-the-dole scheme (the Community Development Program), the cashless welfare card that “entrenches First Nations people in poverty in this country”, and the out-of-hand rejection by the Turnbull and Morrison governments of the First Nations voice to parliament requested in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. “All of these things are connected to Closing the Gap and improving the lives for First Nations people,” said McCarthy, who went on to slam as an “absolute disgrace” the abandonment of any referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians after a backlash [$] in the Coalition party room yesterday.

The key findings of the 12th annual Closing the Gap report, tabled in parliament today, received blanket coverage this morning: only two out of seven targets have been met, on early education and Year 12 attainment, while the other five targets on child mortality, school attendance, literacy and numeracy, employment and life expectancy are all off track. The government has responded by seeking to adopt new targets expected in April, drawn up after a year’s consultation by the Coalition of Peaks representative body chaired by Pat Turner, from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, under a new national agreement to be signed by COAG. Both PM Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese gave set-piece addresses, and the debate continued into Question Time, with no real progress. Fine words every Closing the Gap day achieve nothing – as Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$], the sentiments are often the same, from PM to PM, from year to year.

In a debate this afternoon, shadow Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney gave a moving speech citing former social justice commissioner Mick Dodson, who said Australians suffered from an “industrial deafness” to the statistics of Indigenous disadvantage, accepting them as almost inevitable. “We die silently under these statistics,” Burney said, flagging that Labor looked forward to supporting new and ambitious Closing the Gap targets. Failure was not inevitable, she said, adding that “once again we offer bipartisanship from this side of the house”. In reply, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt also stressed the need for bipartisanship, saying: “All of us have failed in the Closing the Gap journey over the last 10 years. The intent has been good … but the model has been broken.” Then he veered into unconvincing management speak: a different paradigm, turning the dial, joint and shared decision making, better ownership at local level, and the engagement of mainstream Australia.

While nobody is doubting that Wyatt is genuine about his portfolio, it will amount to little if his government colleagues are not behind him. It will be a tragedy if it turns out the first Indigenous minister for Indigenous Australians was appointed for cynical political purposes, and was nobbled from the start.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“This weekend I will travel to the United Kingdom at my own expense to visit Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison and to lobby the British Government for his release.”

“For the next 10, 20, maybe 30 years the most efficient way [to bring renewables] into the system is to support it with natural gas.”

Outgoing chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel, speaking ahead of his National Press Club speech in Canberra today.

The love story behind Australia’s biggest political donation
Scott Morrison received the biggest individual political donation in Australian history. Behind it was a love story – and a man who asked for nothing in return.

The estimated cost of upgrading the NBN to make it fit-for-purpose after the multi-technology mix’s June-scheduled rollout is completed, according to RMIT’s Mark Gregory.

“Until the final report provided by the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Phillip Gaetjens, to the prime minister in relation to the application of the Statement of Ministerial Standards to the former minister for sport, the Honourable Senator McKenzie’s, award of funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program, is tabled … Senator Cormann be prevented from: (a) being asked or answering questions which may be put to ministers under standing order 72 (1) where such questions are directed to the minister representing the prime minister; (b) representing the prime minister before a legislative and general purpose standing committee, including during consideration of estimates; and (c) sitting at the seat at the table in the Senate chamber that is ordinarily reserved for the leader of the government in Senate.”

From a Senate motion rejecting the government’s bid to withhold the Gaetjens report on public interest immunity grounds, originally backed by Labor, the Greens, Centre Alliance, One Nation and Jacquie Lambie. It was subsequently reported that Pauline Hanson withdrew her party’s support.

The list

“On the morning of December 20 last year, the farm’s power went out. This was their first sign of what was coming. Marc drove Estelle and Roarie to safety, in the unthreatened town of Gawler, then picked Rhiann up from work. They drove back to the farm. By now, the winds had changed. They could see the smoke. They grabbed a few belongings, left quickly. By evening, their home, workshop and sheds were gone.”

“There is no doubt international students and Chinese students account for an enormous percentage of the universities’ revenue, but the consequences will be a lot broader than the universities … A lot of parents come to visit their students while they are here, and students while they are studying here find it cheaper to travel around Australia over summer than overseas.”

“While the average person may not follow all the financial and technical details of the NBN, most people do suspect that something has gone badly wrong with what was a popular and greatly needed national infrastructure project … Moreover, people know that it is incredibly short-sighted to spend billions of dollars to build a major piece of national infrastructure that just about meets today’s demand, but doesn’t allow for any significant growth in that demand over the next 10 or 20 years without very large upgrade costs.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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