Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (15:13): I rise today to speak on the Children and Health Legislation Amendment (Statement of Recognition, Aboriginal Self-determination and Other Matters) Bill 2023. This is an incredibly important bill that addresses the many issues facing Indigenous people and their broader communities. The electorate of Shepparton district is home to a large percentage of Indigenous people, and in fact we have one of the largest populations outside of Melbourne. If you come into the Shepparton district you will see such an incredible history of Indigenous people, our street art, our celebration of the Indigenous history and such a strong connection to country. I do not think there is anywhere else in the nation that celebrates and expresses the reasoning behind this bill and the opportunity for change, which is what I need to express today.
Whilst there are only some minor changes to the bill, the bill will give direction, and it acknowledges the need for change to achieve far better outcomes. As outlined in the bill, self-determination is a step towards closing the gap. The Victorian statistic of having the highest rate of Aboriginal children in care is alarming and continues to increase. It is something we must work harder to change, and that is what we are here really wanting to achieve with this bill today. Alongside reform to important child protection legislation, this bill presents an opportunity in addressing the way we deal with Aboriginal children, families and the varied Aboriginal services. There is an opportunity for some really great work to be done through this bill and a way of moving forward that hopefully will achieve far better outcomes and opportunities, in particular protecting the Indigenous and Aboriginal children within the broad communities.
I have proudly worked closely with many of our Indigenous communities and community leaders, tirelessly trying to help bring about far better outcomes. I am so inspired by the commitment and the want for their people. With challenges also come an opportunity for change – more support, more guidance, more legislation that will give clear direction but also empower the Indigenous community to really play a part in what that should look like.
I want to share some amazing stories that are happening within my community to show the Indigenous leaders that are really wanting to drive change. For example, the soon-to-be-built Munarra Centre for Regional Excellence will be located beside the Rumbalara Football and Netball Club. It aspires to achieve and enhance Aboriginal culture and identity and will work towards creating education and important employment pathways for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. It will combine education, culture, the arts and sport to create healthy people and healthy communities and the leaders of tomorrow, which will be inclusive of our Indigenous people. The Kaiela Institute, the University of Melbourne and the Greater Shepparton City Council are working very closely, and this is one of many examples of what they are trying to achieve. It is an example of creating opportunities for Indigenous people led by, as I said, Indigenous leaders.
I also acknowledge Uncle Bobby from the Shepparton reconciliation action group and many others within his formation within that group that tirelessly are working and progressing better outcomes for Indigenous people. We have had many conversations about what that should look like. I know this legislation is going to be something that we can all work together with, not only within my community and in this place but across our state, our country and hopefully more broadly, so that the future of young Indigenous people is not only safer when it comes to their housing and their family’s environment but also their opportunities. I often ask: why don’t we have more Indigenous children, teenagers, involved in more community activities, particularly employment? We go to McDonald’s, KFC, the many places that we see teenagers and young people employed and we do not see enough Indigenous people. How can we improve those outcomes? How can we improve engagement to make it a culturally safe experience and place? Hopefully we will create much better interaction and opportunities as we move forward.
The safety of children is paramount, but it is also about making sure that families have the support that they need so that we can improve on this legislation so the outcomes are so much better than what we have seen. Closing the gap – it has not worked. It has not worked to the capacity that any of us had hoped. What can we do differently? We know that this legislation will be that driver, along with many other things.
My close friend Aunty Fay Lyneham from the stolen generations tries so hard to make a better life for her people. We have so many conversations about her experience. She does not want to see those experiences still happening today, and in some cases they still are to the same extent that happened many years ago. Why have we not progressed to the point where we are now having a much different conversation and much better statistics? There is so much work to be done. I think it is so important the collaboration of the different service providers but also as we say the empowerment of Indigenous people. We want their voices to be heard. We want to support them in the ways that they need support, whatever that looks like. Let us have those conversations. Let us work together as communities. Let us work together as a state. I really, really hope that we can achieve an inclusive environment where they feel heard.
I am surrounded, as I said, by incredible First Nations people who are leading the way for their people, and I know that the people that I have mentioned today and many others and all of us here collaborating and driving change and working with this legislation and this new bill will give hope, but that word ‘hope’ is an easy one. It is an easy one to throw out. We have always had hope, but that hope for change is why we need to do things so much better. I support this legislation. I support this bill, but more than anything it has got to be more than words.