Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Close the Gap – 10th Anniversary Parliamentary Breakfast

10 February 2016

Parliament House, Canberra

Prime Minister


PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much Artiene for that very eloquent and warm introduction. It’s a great honour to be here today. And thank you Aunty Matilda for your Welcome to Country on behalf of the Ngunnawal people who have been the custodians of this land for thousands and thousands of years, for time out of mind. And I want to acknowledge all of the distinguished guests here today and of course, above all today, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here among us and all of those across the nation.

Thank you, Mick and Jacqui, and all the members of the steering committee for inviting us to join you today. It's wonderful to see so many of the people here who a decade ago started the Close the Gap campaign to end the disparity between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australian's health.

Your vision called upon governments to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities to achieve the equality of opportunity that should be expected in any modern, just society, such as ours. And you should be very proud that your vision has led us on the journey we're all embarked on for a decade and are travelling on today. It's your leadership, your expectation that we can and must do better that's encouraged all governments to sign up to Close the Gap in a truly bipartisan initiative.

And I want to recognise the Leader of the Opposition here this morning as well as Dr Di Natale, Leader of the Greens and all our parliamentary colleagues. Under successive governments of both sides, progress across the Closing the Gap's target has been mixed. We have to be honest and recognise that reality. But I do believe we have witnessed true commitment and collaboration and we're seeing positive trends as a result. Our investments in parenting in early childhood education, in maternal and child programs have supported a positive start to life which is an investment in that child's future.

Indigenous infant mortality rates have more than halved over the past 16 years. Immunisation rates for Indigenous children are high and by the age of five more Indigenous children are immunised compared with the overall Australian population. As parents, universally, we want more for our children than was afforded to us by our own parents and society. That is a natural ambition. We want our children to have opportunities that we didn't have.

Now this grassroots movement has shaped and will continue to shape policy across governments and you should be so proud of that. But more importantly, it ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies born today live longer, are healthier, and have more opportunities to live and achieve their full potential.

That's something that should fill all of us with optimism about our future. Now our role as Government is to recognise the diversity of culture across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia and ensure that our policies and our programs offer a place-based approach to reflect that diversity. This is not a case for one size fits all. I think we all recognise that. Now while this must be underpinned by a strong evidence base, local engagement with Indigenous people provides local solutions and community-led approaches.

The message I've heard most consistently from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is their desire to work in partnership with government in a relationship based on mutual respect. And we must never forget that the success of Australia, the success of ours, the most successful multicultural society in the world is based on mutual respect. That is the glue. That is the absolutely essential element that holds us together and provides us with the ability to do better and better in the years ahead.

And so we need to listen to and draw on the wisdom, the ingenuity, the insights of Indigenous people across the nation from the cities to remote communities. The 10 year National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan and the subsequent implementation plan are good examples of governments listening and partnering. I want to commend all of those who worked on the Health Plan and I was pleased that our Government continued the partnership created under the former Labor Government and developed the implementation plan that will ensure real and measurable outcomes.

But we have to redouble our efforts to ensure effective engagement between the Government, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to build trust and develop further that respectful relationship.

Now as we continue to develop and refine those policies, again, I can't stress enough how important it is to allow decisions to be made closer to the people and the communities which those policies impact. So we have to emphasise the key priorities of health, education, employment, economic empowerment - will not change. They are, of course, the focus of the seven Closing the Gap targets I'll speak about a little later this morning.

These priority areas are intrinsically related providing children with a healthy start to life will give them the best chance of success in school and further education, which has flow-on effects for their employment opportunities. All of these policies are joined up, all of them are connected.

Last night I met and was inspired by young Indigenous entrepreneurs from across the nation. I know many of you were there last night. They demonstrated their imagination, their creativity, their resilience while embracing innovation and technology. And it was an opportunity to celebrate the really great depth of talent and ingenuity in Indigenous Australia.

Those young people are making a contribution to their families, to our economy, to our society, to their nation, to their own people. They are the most important role models, role models of success, role models for everybody, not just for other Indigenous people. And we want to acknowledge their achievements, commend the use of their imagination, admire their enterprise, their wisdom to drive innovation and secure their and our futures.

Now as you know, later this morning I will be tabling the latest Closing the Gap report and delivering my first Closing the Gap statement to the Parliament as Prime Minister. This report shows that while the results against the targets are mixed, there have been significant gains over recent times and we can be hopeful for the future, as Aunty Matilda was saying. While it's important to celebrate the successes there's much work to be done to meet the targets. And today I want to reaffirm my Government's commitment to closing the gap.

Everyone must play their part in this. Strong partnerships between governments and Indigenous Australians are absolutely essential for the achievement of this goal. Now, I know that many of you have dedicated your life to the service of your communities, to your families, to creating a life for your children that is filled with hope and optimism.

I want to thank you all for your ongoing commitment to ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can share equally in the opportunities of this great country. We have a great future together, a great task ahead of us with commitment, with love, with mutual respect, with an optimism and a confidence and our ability to overcome all these challenges - we will get there. Aunty Matilda, the ‘little koala’, and even some of the big ones, will get there.

Thank you very much.