About 10 Coalition MPs have walked out of parliament after Bill Shorten attacked government budget cuts during his speech on indigenous disadvantage.
Mr Shorten’s address on the seventh Closing the Gap report – usually a bipartisan affair – took aim at government budget cuts, after it was revealed Australia was destined for failure on several of the report’s aims.
He said indigenous affairs was an area where “every opposition wants the government to succeed”, but continued to list examples of how cuts could damage progress in improving the welfare of Aboriginal Australians.
“Right now, a host of vital organisations don’t know if their funding will be withdrawn,” he said.
“This report confronts us with two nations, two Australias.”
Andrew Nikolic, Russell Broadbent, Melissa Price, John Cobb and Ken O’Dowd were among those two walk out of the chamber in protest.
“I went you’re joking, and I stood up and walked out,” Mr Nikolic said on Wednesday.
“It demonstrates an appalling lack of judgement and leadership,” he added.
In his speech, Prime Minister Tony Abbott acknowledged progress on Closing the Gap had been “profoundly disappointing”, but warned against political point scoring on the topic of indigenous affairs.
“Despite the concerted efforts of successive governments since the first report, we are not on track to achieve most of the targets,” he said.
“Two centuries of occasional partial success and frequently dashed hopes has taught us that neither side of politics can achieve meaningful progress without working with the other.
“So none of us should seek to score a point or defend a legacy here.
“Just to reach out across the aisle, because that is the only hope of lasting success.”
Mr Shorten’s speech attracted applause from the gallery, while Mr Abbott’s speech received a comparatively flat reaction.
Promisingly, Mr Abbott said the government was on track to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment rates for those aged 20 to 24, while the target to halve the gap in mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children looked achievable by 2018.
Targets to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians within a generation, however, have either not been met or are not on track.
Under the government’s plan to improve outcomes in relation to community safety, better alcohol and drug prevention and the treatment programs and improved policing and support for the victims of crime would be introduced, Mr Abbott said.
In regard to employment issues, opportunities and incentives for businesses to take on indigenous workers will be increased, and the public sector will take on more indigenous public servants.
Indigenous-run small businesses will also be invited to tender for government business worth an estimated $39 billion a year.
But the government’s plans have come as cold comfort to indigenous leaders, who expressed frustration at the results of the Closing the Gap report.
“The sad fact … is that really we are slipping and we are going backwards in a number of very important areas,” Warren Mundine, chair of the prime minister’s indigenous advisory council, said.
Indigenous Labor senator representing the Northern Territory Nova Peris said Aboriginal people felt “let down in so many areas”.
“There’s not a lot to smile about on a day like today”.
– with AAP