Page 500 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 13 February 2013

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Memorable and telling was the emotion of Aboriginal families who heard in the words an unreserved “we are sorry”. From the public gallery at Parliament House to the live coverage on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney, and through the living rooms of every Australian, we all felt the power of that moment.

As Dr Tom Calma, a recent Canberran of the Year award recipient, said at the time:

Through one direct act, the parliament has acknowledged the existence and the impacts of past policies and practices of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their families, and by so doing has paid respect to the Stolen Generations for their suffering and their loss, and for their resilience, and ultimately for their dignity.

It was only last week that the current Prime Minister made another important speech about Australia’s work towards closing the gaps and rectifying the disadvantage facing many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that still exists, and may unfortunately exist for some time.

The Closing the gap report 2013 highlights the genuine desire to work for, and with, Aboriginal people and organisations to improve areas of strategic priority. In the ACT this is focused on indicators of early childhood, education, health, economic participation, healthy homes, safe communities, and governance and leadership.

The report also acts as a reflection on Australian society by presenting some positive movement, some areas for improvement, and some areas where the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are still shameful, all of which are underpinned by hope, goodwill and aspirational targets for a more equitable future. This is also reflected in the ACT’s 2012 reporting on the measures, with many positive and commendable programs and partnerships indicating a genuine intention to work towards a fairer and more just society.

However, while we can acknowledge the good and be proud of our territory’s progress compared to other jurisdictions, this cannot be used as an argument to rest, or to take the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community or their needs for granted. We must pause in this place sometimes and be absolutely clear that while we are talking about indicators, frameworks and statistics, we are talking about helping people—families and individuals; Australians—whose very life expectancies are still less than those of other Australians, real people with unique circumstances and personal stories.

We are lucky in the ACT to have such strong advocates and passionate organisations working with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our shared community. In particular, I have been impressed in the short time I have been a minister by the hard work and dedication of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, who have recently handed over their latest report to government. I would like to thank them for their work on this report and acknowledge that the ACT government has further work to do on a local level to maintain and further strengthen this and other important relationships.

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