Speech: Address-in-Reply 01-09-16

I rise to contribute to the debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech marking the opening of the 45th Parliament. I once again acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to the elders both past and present. In my first official speech to this Senate during the 44th Parliament I made this statement, which I proudly repeat again today:

I acknowledge and pay my respects to Australia’s Aboriginal traditional owners. I share their blood, culture and history through my mother’s, Sue Lambie’s, family. We trace our history over six generations to celebrated Aboriginal chieftain of the Tasmania east coast, Mannalargenna.

Following that statement a member of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre complained about my claim and my family's claim to Indigenous heritage. As you are about to discover, Mr Acting Deputy President, the system for recognising Indigenous heritage and identity is very different and more complicated in Tasmania than in other Australian states; however, the TAC member's argument was essentially this: if he and his mob didn't recognise my Indigenous heritage then I simply wasn't Indigenous. While that argument personally hurt my family, it also gave me an opportunity to thoroughly investigate the process by which Tasmanians are officially afforded recognition of Indigenous heritage by their state government.

Before I provide the detail of my investigation, it is worthwhile briefly and broadly commenting on the history of Indigenous Tasmanians. Noted Australian historian and academic Henry Reynolds says it best in the foreword to a new book by Murray Johnson and Ian McFarlane, Van Diemen's Land—An Aboriginal History. Mr Reynolds points out:


Indigenous Tasmanians—

had lived in isolation for as many as 300 generations after the flooding of Bass Strait. The earliest occupation of what had been the Tasmanian Peninsula went back 30,000 years into the heart of the Ice Age.

After the destruction of Tasmanian Indigenous society by a bloody frontier conflict of the 1820s and early 1830s, Mr Reynolds writes:

Generations of Tasmanians consequently grew up with the belief that there were no Aborigines on the Island. The truth of the matter was a further cause of interest in Island history. The emergence of an assertive, self-conscious Aboriginal community in the middle years of the twentieth century was a confounding experience for the wider community.

Following the personal attack by members of the TAC I was horrified to discover, after many questions in this place, meetings with the federal minister for Indigenous affairs, research and overwhelming community feedback that I was not the only Tasmanian to be discriminated against and defamed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

Official statistics provided by the federal government—and then finally by the Tasmanian state government, which tried for so long to cover up this scandal—showed that approximately 20,000 Tasmanians with strong Indigenous heritage and who were officially recognised and funded by the federal government were denied recognition by the TAC and consequently the Tasmanian state government.

For decades the Tasmanian government along with the TAC had taken Commonwealth funding for up to 26,000 people, while only recognising up to 6,000 people. Of course this means that up to 20,000 Indigenous people were denied their identity and heritage by the Tasmanian state government and the TAC. It leaves many unanswered questions, but one of the most important questions is: what happened to the billions that were allocated by the Commonwealth government for up to 26,000 Indigenous Tasmanians when money was spent on only 6,000 Indigenous Tasmanians?

I am happy to report that the Tasmanian state government, after a lot of pressure from me in this Senate, has taken some positive steps to remedy this injustice. Tasmanian state Premier Will Hodgman, in his 2016 Australia Day speech, talked about his government's commitment to 'reset our relationship with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community'. In his speech he acknowledged:

… the Federal Government contributes almost half a billion dollars in funding to Aboriginal Tasmanians, compared to about $8 million from the State Government.

He also acknowledged the serious systemic flaws in the Tasmanian state government process for determining Indigenous status. I again quote from Premier Hodgman's Australia Day speech:

While this policy was written with good intent; to focus programs and services to better assist the Aboriginal community, and establish consistency across agencies, it has not succeeded.

I continue to quote Premier Hodgman:

It hasn't been fixed, and my Government is determined to do so, because the policy failure brings negative outcomes; it's harming Aboriginal people.

Our existing policy is a long way from aligning with the Commonwealth's process meaning Tasmanians can be recognised as an Aboriginal in a national context, but not in their own home state of Tasmania.

Some Tasmanians are eligible for Federal support, but not for any support or access to cultural activities here in Tasmania.

It is an issue that even statisticians can't agree.

The last census in 2011 found there were 19,625 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Tasmania.

The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2014 reported 25,845 Indigenous people in Tasmania.

Yet, under the current Tasmanian government policy, it's estimated that there are just 6,000 Indigenous Tasmanians.

Something is very wrong here.

As indicated by Premier Hodgman, something was indeed very wrong when it came to the management of Indigenous affairs and billions of dollars of taxpayers' funds in Tasmania. I described the gravity of the situation and different injustices when I wrote to Premier Hodgman earlier this year in February, and stated:

The new facts and disclosures revealed in your Australia Day speech, are proof that a situation was engineered over time by politicians and others - where tens of thousands of Indigenous Tasmanians were deliberately disadvantaged - by having access to hundreds of millions of dollars in health and social services denied to them by the Government of Tasmania.

Your research into this rort will have also revealed that it was not only the physical necessities of life that successive State Governments denied to 2 out of every 3 Indigenous Tasmanian—but Labor/Green and Liberal Governments also wrongly fully and criminally denied to - roughly 20,000 Indigenous Tasmanians - cultural identity and democratic rights - including the right to vote and stand for election to Indigenous councils.

Premier, you will have been made aware - through the state based Tasmanian Electoral Commission - how Indigenous Tasmanians, who were tested and found by Federal Tribunals in 2002 "to be of Aboriginal Race"—were denied by your laws, the ability to enrol on the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania Electors' Roll and vote or stand for elected office.

The Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman really only touched the tip of iceberg when he admitted:

Something is very wrong here.

Unfortunately for the taxpayer, Premier Hodgman is behaving like a policeman who is faced with a body at a crime scene but has lost his will to bring the guilty to justice. Serious questions have been raised about the management, mismanagement or maladministration of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. To date, not one politician, apart from myself, has supported an audit and a thorough forensic investigation of Tasmania's Indigenous affairs budget for at least the last 10 years.

However, I have not given up hope. I have to acknowledge the interest and hard work that the federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Minister Scullion, has given to this matter. After my meeting and briefings with Minister Scullion in this parliament—my meetings with Minister Scullion began soon after my first speech in the last parliament—he applied pressure to the Tasmanian Premier which led to the tightening up of the Indigenous financing system. He is aware of my request for a rigorous investigation and audit of the accounts of Tasmania's Indigenous affairs budget for at least the last 10 years. Minister Scullion has my respect and I am confident he is prepared to properly account for a decade of Commonwealth funding to Tasmania's Indigenous people.

I prefer not to talk about the plebiscite for gay marriage. I think there are more urgent and important issues that deserve to be talked about. For example, involuntary treatment of drug addicted children, serious lack of jobs, out of control living costs, cuts to aged care, over stretched public health systems—the list goes on and on and on.

However, after listening to many elected representatives argue against the plebiscite by saying that the debate would cause young people to take their own lives and open the floodgates of hate, I am forced to remind those people of a famous quote by Pericles of Athens which was made about 400 years before Christ was born. The quote is written on a wall not far from this chamber, and says:

We Athenians make decisions for ourselves, or at least participate in the full discussion of them: for we do not regard debate as a barrier to effective action, but a necessary condition for acting wisely.

My advice to those politicians who are trying to emotionally blackmail the Australian public—in a very juvenile and dangerous manner—into not having a national debate and a plebiscite on gay marriage is this: the question of gay marriage must be put before the people of Australia, and no barrier must be placed in the way of this debate between the Australian people.

Australia is a mature democracy which should not shy away from this debate. After the people have their say, no matter what the result, there will be people who, for very good and legitimate reasons, will have very hurt feelings. If a plebiscite of the people is used to test Australia's conscience on this matter then whoever is on the losing side of the debate will be in no doubt about the will of the Australian people. Therefore, they will be able to heal, unite and move on a lot more quickly.

Australia is facing a situation it has never seen before, because of a combination of substance and illicit drug abuse, gambling addictions and an unemployment crisis. Many of our families are experiencing third-generation welfare dependency. Many children are being neglected. Some are forced to go to school hungry as family budgets are being fed into pokies and drug dealers' pockets. Tasmania is at the heart of this issue, as well as other parts of the country. And this crisis does not discriminate—it can affect you if you are any race, colour or creed. Many governments have simply swept this problem under the rug, and it is now time to acknowledge the efforts of this government and Minister Alan Tudge, who have established trials of the Twiggy Forrest inspired healthy welfare cashless card.

Earlier this month, the ABC reported that Ceduna has seen a drastic drop in the amount of welfare money being spent on gambling and alcohol. Ceduna Mayor Allan Suter said:

It was quite common to see intoxicated people in the street pretty much every day of the week, and we also saw large numbers of intoxicated people being admitted to the sobering-up centre. Now, both those things have certainly improved quote significantly.

A cashless welfare card quarantines 80 per cent of welfare payments from gambling or alcohol. The final 20 per cent of the welfare payment is paid in cash. The early results of the trial in Ceduna, South Australia have been encouraging. Drug dealers have been run out of town, and there has been a great deal less money being spent on alcohol and gambling. The kids are being looked after and families now have food back on the tables to feed their kids.

In conjunction with some very important supporting initiatives, once the trial is over and is proven to be a complete success, I have made it very clear to the people of Tasmania that I would like to see it being rolled out right across Tasmania. Let me make this clear again: I support a state-wide trial of the cashless Healthy Welfare Card with a number of supporting initiatives, including this very important point if they are to roll it out in Tasmania: that Tasmania be declared a payroll tax free state at the same time. This will cause a dramatic growth in business and job opportunities at the same time as the rollout of the cashless welfare card so people will have a better chance of getting off welfare and earning a wage.

Tasmania collects about $400 million of payroll tax, which is really a tax on jobs, while spending about $410 million on its jobs package. While I would like the federal government to help compensate the state for a loss of payroll tax revenue, the state government could stop its jobs package and declare Tasmania payroll-tax-free. Tasmania would receive positive massive national and international publicity and interest within the business community if it came became a payroll-tax-free zone. Tasmania would get greater jobs and business growth payroll tax free than under the current system, which typically taxes established, successful businesses greater amounts the more workers they hire.

Before I close, I think it is important to make a point in the debate surrounding donations linked to the Chinese Communist government to Australian political parties. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi lecturing this parliament and displaying mock outrage regarding Labor Senator Sam Dastyari and Chinese political donations is like an angry prostitute lecturing us about the benefits of celibacy. Before I receive unfair criticism from sex workers, I apologise to them profusely for comparing them to Senator Bernardi—I know that is a really terrible low-down thing to do. I can tell you, prostitutes are far more honest, sincere, humane, compassionate and give you a better bang for your buck than Senator Bernardi will ever be able to deliver.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Senator Lambie, resume your seat. Senator Seselja, on a point of order.

Senator Seselja: Senator Lambie has reflected on Senator Bernardi in a particularly aggressive way. It is against the standing orders, and I would ask you to direct her to withdraw those imputations.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Lambie, I think in the ordinary course of the chamber's deliberations, it is best to reflect as kindly as possible on members of other side of the chamber. If you feel you can rephrase, please do so.

Senator LAMBIE: When it comes to political donations linked to the Communist government in China, Senator Bernardi and his Liberal colleagues are rank hypocrites. The Liberal Party and former Liberal colleagues are under the spell of the political donations linked to the Chinese government.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Lambie, resume your seat. Senator Seselja, on a point of order.

Senator Seselja: I have two points of order. One is the further imputation in Senator Lambie's language in relation to the word 'hypocrite'. There was clearly an imputation earlier, a very aggressive imputation, against Senator Bernardi. It would be reasonable for Senator Lambie to withdraw. It is unparliamentary so she should withdraw and in addition she should withdraw the further imputation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Collins, on a point of order.

Senator Jacinta Collins: I think Senator Lambie was actually attempting to follow your instruction, Mr Acting Deputy President, which was that she rephrase her earlier remarks. In doing so, she made some further comments which Senator Seselja believes are inappropriate. But if I recall correctly, she referred to those on the other side in a collective sense as being 'rank hypocrites' and I do not think that is out of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Lambie, I would ask you to consider the orderly business of the chamber. I do take note of Senator Collins's point of order. You did use 'hypocrites'—plural—but please tread carefully.

Senator LAMBIE: I have considered that, Mr Acting Deputy President. The Liberal Party and former Liberal colleagues are under the spell of the political donations linked to the Chinese government just as they are under the spell of political donations from the banks. If Senator Bernardi is sincere then he would immediately disclose the amount of money linked to the Chinese government that has been given to the Liberal Party over the last 20 years. I say bring it on. And he can continue doing so in real time and stop the Liberal's cover-up of political donations.