Parliament Updates

Closing the Gap speech in Parliament

26 February, 2020

Zali Steggall MP would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people whose land we meet on today, the Elders past, present and emerging. May we work together to promote harmony and learning; and let us safeguard this land together for generations to come. I would also like to acknowledge the Gayamaygal, Cammaraygal and Borogegal, the first people of Warringah.


Last Sunday evening I sat down with my three teenage children and watched the Adam Goodes documentary, The Australian Dream. The documentary deconstructs racism, racial politics and discriminatory treatment of Adam Goodes throughout his AFL career and of many other Aboriginal players. It's not easy to watch, but I think it needs to be seen by everyone. As it ended, my family and I sat there in disbelief. How could one of our greatest Australian sportsmen be treated so abhorrently by football fans, media commentators, anonymous trolls online and many in the public? As a former athlete I know it's hard enough maintaining your fitness and preparation for competition, let alone dealing with disgusting racist taunts and vilification for so long. To every person out there: imagine being booed every time you go to work or play sport for your local team, all because of what you look like. Sadly, the Adam Goodes story is not unusual for Aboriginal people living in Australia, and we should be ashamed of that.

Only last week, social media was flooded with support for a young nine year old Aboriginal boy, Quaden Bayles. He has a dwarfism and was being relentlessly bullied. His mother, Yarraka Bayles, posted a video on Facebook of Quaden crying and threatening to harm himself after yet another bullying attack by children at his school in Brisbane. In the video, Yarraka said that many people didn't understand how Quaden's treatment was a double-edged sword, by being both Aboriginal and living with a disability. The heartbreaking video has now gone viral and on Saturday young Quaden led out the NRL All Stars onto the field for the All Stars match, receiving support from celebrities around Australia and internationally. These included Hugh Jackman, Piers Morgan and American comedian Brad Williams. But how did we get to this? How, as a society, do we need such a tearful video and such extremes for us all to stop in our tracks and actually take notice?

Racial vilification is not okay, and neither is the conscious or unconscious discrimination against Aboriginal people in our country. This treatment infiltrates and erodes every aspect of life, which is demonstrated through the annual Closing the Gap scorecard. That was delivered in the last sitting week and it paints a dire picture. Aboriginal children are still far behind non-Indigenous children in literacy, numeracy and writing skills. In its key findings, the report shows that only two out of seven outcomes are on track: the early education and year 12 attainments. The outcomes that weren't on track included child mortality, literacy, numeracy, employment, school attendance and life expectancy, and that is just the most shocking one of all.

It's hard to believe that this is the 12th year that the report has been tabled in parliament, and yet the outcomes are not improving. Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded that the outcomes for closing the gap should come from someone within the Indigenous community rather than from a top-down, government-knows-best approach. I completely agree.

The outcomes are disappointing, but I do believe there is hope. Last week I ran around Lake Burley Griffin here in Canberra with the Indigenous Marathon Foundation. It sponsors Indigenous runners and it's a health promotion charity that uses running to celebrate Indigenous resilience and achievements to create inspirational Indigenous leaders. I'd like to thank Rob de Castella, who established the Indigenous Marathon Project many years ago. This first lead to four Indigenous Australians making history by running in the world's biggest marathon, the New York City Marathon.

Since its creation, the project has had 86 graduates finish a major international marathon, including the New York, Boston, London, Paris and Berlin marathons. It's programs like this, which celebrate Indigenous achievement and positive outcomes, that we should be promoting and supporting. Ironically, it uses sport to encourage positive messages—the very same arena where it was not afforded to Adam Goodes during his AFL career. 2020 is the year to stand up against racism and for knowing that we need to do better. It falls on everyone of us to take responsibility and to do more. Thank you.