Remarks at COAG Meeting

09 Feb 2018
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister


Can I welcome everybody and right at the outset can I say in the language of the Ngunawal people here in Canberra.

Yoonggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngoonawal dhowrrra.
Wanggarra lin jin yin marunn bulaan boogarabung.

Welcome, we’ve acknowledged we’re on Ngunawal country and we pay our respects to their elders past and present and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

I want to thank everyone for coming to this 45th meeting of the Council of Australian Governments and especially to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives of the Special Gathering. So welcome to all of you.

We met yesterday at the Special Gathering and it was very valuable, we learnt a lot.

Now this year marks the 10th anniversary of COAG’s pledge to Close the Gap and as you know, we have a lot more to do.

We’ve engaged in a discussion, a respectful discussion about refreshing and renewing the Closing the Gap targets. I want to thank you very much for your help there and contribution.

As you know I’m channelling our friend Chris Sarra who gave me some very good advice some years ago. He said we should be doing - governments should be doing things ‘with’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, not ‘to’ them. That has been the consistent principle that we’ve sought to follow and today is a good example of that.

Also I want to just touch on some of the other things we’ll be discussing today.

There is no more important responsibility for adults than caring for children. That threads through so much of our discussions.

But today, we are discussing our response to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and of course the Northern Territory Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had 409 recommendations and they proposed very significant reforms to ensure this national tragedy is not repeated.

As COAG, as Australia's governments, we owe it to the survivors for their courage in telling stories they have kept, they have been too afraid to speak of, often for decades. The average time between the offence, the abuse and people speaking about it is 24 years, think about that. And there were witnesses at the Royal Commission who were children, who the abuse that they had suffered was current. So it’s not simply a historical exercise.

Now, we have a formidable task in responding to those recommendations. As you know, we have a Task Group inside our Attorney General’s Department and we will be discussing our coordinated response in the course of our meeting.

We will be appointing a reference group with survivors and in terms of the parliamentary environment, with representatives from opposition and crossbench to facilitate the delivery of a national apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

I read yesterday a very touching letter from one of Warren Entsch’s constituents in Cairns - Warren is the Member for Leichhardt, as you know - who had been the victim of child sexual abuse and had written to Warren asking him to pass the letter on to me. He talked about the need for an event which would be an event of national healing and that is really what we are talking about here. 

We’ve got to bring survivors together, honour them, honour their courage and then provide an important healing account, a reconciliation, if you like, by way of that apology. It’s going to be a very important step.

Now, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory also has very important lessons for us all, around early intervention and preventing children entering into the youth justice and child protection systems. We will be discussing that as well.

Now all of us were heartbroken by the tragic death of Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett.

We are going to discuss further steps that we can take together to prevent bullying and cyber-bullying and our eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant will be coming to speak to us.

All of us have had experiences with families that have suffered from bullying like this. Lucy and I sat down with the Everetts, it’s a heartbreaking story. It’s becoming so widespread.

So this is the time for us to really pull together, to show that leadership, to say no to bullying in every sphere. Whether it’s what I would call bad old-fashioned bullying you know, in the way that many of us would have seen or experienced when we were children, or amplified on the internet and on smart phones.

We’ve delivered, the Commonwealth, a national, consistent needs-based funding approach for our schools, the first time ever. The challenge now is for us to make sure our collective investment improves results.

So I look forward to receiving David Gonski’s ‘Achieving Educational Excellence in Australians Schools’ report shortly and working together with everyone here to make sure our children receive a world-class education.

As a COAG, we agreed to settle long-term hospital funding arrangements this year and we have put forward a generous funding offer that provides stability and certainty. It’s entirely consistent with the current arrangements and it goes out to 2025, with an additional $30 billion. In fact it’ll be more than that, over that period. So I look forward to discussing the reforms we need to undertake to improve patient choice and health outcomes for all Australians, especially in regional and remote Australia.

So it’s a very full agenda, there’s a lot to do. Thank you all for being here in Canberra at COAG and thank you above all again, to our representatives from the Special Gathering.

There is a lot of work, so let’s get down to business.