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Closing the Gap — Premier's Speech

19 March 2015

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where we are meeting today, the people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present, and all other Elders here today.

I make that acknowledgement not because I have to, but because I choose to. Because it’s the right thing to do.

I welcome everyone here today – Jill Gallagher, Jason King and all the staff at VACCHO, my colleagues, and all the community members.

And I do so with a spirit of partnership – and bipartisanship.

Some issues are too important, too urgent, to drape in the colours of our politics while nothing gets done.

That’s why Mr Guy and I will be issuing a joint statement about our shared goal to close the gap and lift the living standards of Aboriginal Victorians.

But I didn’t seek the gift of Government just to say things and sign things.

I’m here to do things, and our work is underway.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Natalie Hutchins, will be running through some of our recent progress.

She’ll also have some words to say about a great friend and leader, Alf Bamblett, who left us on Saturday.

First, I want to talk about where we’re at, and where we’re headed.

Collectively, we have much to celebrate.

Compared to 2008, I can tell you that, in Victoria, we’re closing the gap on perinatal mortality.

We’re retaining more Aboriginal students to year 10 and beyond.

More Aboriginal people between the ages of 20 and 65 have post-school qualifications.

On almost every measure, there’s good news.

But, despite these efforts, there’s also bad news.

The number of 3 year olds in kinder – no change.

Halving the gap for Aboriginal students in reading, writing and numeracy – no trend.

Homelessness, over-consumption of alcohol, access to disability services – no impact.

Smoking – backwards.

Psychological distress – backwards.

Adult justice supervision – backwards.

We must recognise and thank the many dedicated organisations, staff and volunteers here who are working hard to turn this around.

We’re doing your work a disservice if we’re celebrating the good news without acknowledging the bad.

Closing the Gap targets exist to keep us accountable and we need to be honest.

Let’s consider early childhood development and education.

An early start to learning can change a child’s future.

And a quality primary and secondary education is about giving every child every chance for their life and their career.

Education is the roadmap to reducing Aboriginal disadvantage – it’s should be the essence of our effort.

But it’s clear that – despite flashes of good news – we’re not making the traction for which all governments aspire and all communities deserve.

There’s something else that’s close to my heart.

Something that affects every Victorian, whether they realise it or not.

And that’s family violence.

It’s the number one law and order issue in this state – the number one crisis in this country.

And I want to make this clear:

Family violence is not a low household income problem.

It’s not an Aboriginal problem.

It’s a Victorian problem.

It’s everyone’s problem.

Family violence can happen anywhere, to any woman, any child, in any home, in any postcode, in any city, town or community.

And we have to dedicate ourselves to its reduction – everywhere.

That’s why I was proud to establish Australia’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence.

It will investigate our system from the ground up and nothing will be off limits.

It will look at courts, sentencing, alcohol and drug services, mental health services, hospitals, police – even the things our kids are taught in the classroom.

It will complement the work – honour the work – of our community organisations.

It will give us the answers we need.

And it will only succeed if it hears the views of Aboriginal people and responds accordingly.

But on all these issues – health, schools, family, justice, fairness – it’s not just about getting the right answers.

We need to make sure we’re asking the right questions.

And right now, I don’t think we are.

When government talks about this vital effort to close the gap and improve the living standards of Aboriginal Victorians, we must remember that those standards aren’t for governments to decide alone.

There’s a gap that we don’t talk about enough, and this is it:

Some communities in this country can determine their own identity and some can’t.

Why – amid all the good work we’ve all done – why have we stopped talking about self-determination?

Why – since the Intervention – have we stopped talking about self-determination?

Why – when we’re standing here measuring the things that make us healthy, the things that make us human, the things that make us whole – have we stopped talking about self-determination?

Too often, governments don’t extend real autonomy to Aboriginal Australians – because too often we’re there telling them what their street and their school and their lives should look like.

We come along and tell them precisely when they’re healthy and precisely when they’re not.

I’ll say this – I know you can be healthy, but that doesn't mean you’re included.

You can meet a target, but it doesn’t give you a voice.

It’s not government’s job to dictate to our Aboriginal communities what a good future looks like and feels like.

Instead, we need to ask them.

Mick Dodson said that “imbuing young people with a strong sense of their culture and identity gives them the best chance of finding their way in the world.”

So, Government must help them live fulfilling lives in their own identity.

Yes, closing the gap is important – more important than ever.

But we must not turn a qualitative debate into a quantitative one.

Closing the gap must not become an accountant’s spreadsheet.

Because then we’d be imposing metrics of survival upon a people who have survived longer than us all.

We’d be lecturing about survival to members of the oldest continuous culture known to human history.

In Victoria, we rightly celebrate migrants who have recently made their country their own and pass on their culture to their grandchildren – pass on their culture to us all.

Aboriginal Victorians have that right, too. But we’re getting in the way.

Yes, I want to talk about improving aboriginal health outcomes, but there’s a fact we must accept:

Aboriginal health outcomes are best when Aboriginal Victorians control them.

And that’s the direction we have to lead.

At the moment, our definition of leadership is giving Aboriginal Victorians a seat at our table.

But real leadership is about making it their table, too.

Our effort must have heart and it must have ears.

It must be for Aboriginal people and by Aboriginal people.

It cannot simply be an obstacle course full of whitefella targets.

It cannot be a cold and clinical checklist that fails to reconcile with the past or reach for the future.

Justice isn’t about hectoring, lecturing and measuring.

Justice is about a decent, fair and healthy standard of living – with Aboriginal Australians as its guardians and interpreters.

Clearly, we’ve got a lot of questions to ask.

And a lot of work to do.

And I will have a lot more to say about this soon.

But I know this for sure.

I don’t want to tell Aboriginal Victorians what their future looks like.

I want to hear it from them – in their own voice.

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Reviewed 19 August 2020

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