Pama Futures Agenda

Garma Festival

2018 August, 4

Pama Futures Agenda

The Minister and I are going to give an overview of the work we're doing in Cape York Peninsula to advance what we call Pama Futures.

I said yesterday that Pama is our word for Yolngu Aboriginal people. Ancient word across the region. The work that we've been doing over the last 12 months has been directed at re-thinking and reviving our Cape York Agenda as we've called it over the last 20 years. Our Cape York Reform Agenda, all in the pursuit of closing the gap on disparity.

Can I say that our basic theory is this; that we can close the gap on disparity over the next two, three, four generations if we do two things: if we have a set of structural reforms and one of which in my view is constitutional reform, but the whole cascade of structures that affect our people's lives. If we had those structural reforms, legislation institutions, and ultimately constitutional reform accompanied with agency.

Our people getting up and pursuing our own destiny. So a combination of structural reforms and indigenous agency we believe is the means by which we close the gap over time, and if those two things can act in concert with one another we will indeed start to compress the gap over generation.

We've had a very strong belief in favor of agency over the last 20 years in Cape York. A strong argument that we have a right to take responsibility, a strong belief that government can never do anything for us that we're unwilling to do for ourselves. Government can never do anything for us that we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Our friends on the progressive side of politics have not understood our argument in this respect, but it is a basic argument about nobody's going to save us except ourselves.

We need support, we need government to step up, we need structural reforms, but at the end of the day the closing of the gap requires indigenous agency and we've had a very strong, if controversial, emphasis on that.

That means that at the end of the day the staircase to a better life is embarked upon by mum and dad clutching the children and climbing with their own legs to a better life. That's how it happens for everybody else in the world and we are not exempt from that. I am where I am because my father and mother climbed modest stairs to try and get something better for themselves and for their children. It is ever the case it is always the case that a jealous mum clutches her baby to her breast and starts climbing to a better life. And the idea that somehow there's a magical process by which people are uplifted by some ephemeral force from somewhere for good, is wrong. It's families taking their children with them to better opportunity.

So indigenous agencies is now very much embedded in our conversation in Cape York. It used to be controversial, but everybody understands that the stairs need humans to climb them. Humans who want something better for themselves and for their children and for the extended family and for their community and for their people. Ambition for their people.

In my own community, my ambition is that our people may live long on the earth. That's our ambition. That we may live long on the earth and in order for that to happen we have got to take charge. But, as energetically and relentlessly as we encourage indigenous agency, we push against the tide if the structures don't work with us.

So we need structural reform as well. These are the structures that are outside of the control of our people. Mum, dad, community leaders, they've got very little control over the structures. None in fact. Those structures are controlled by people like the Minister, Parliaments governments, political parties and systems. Systems of health, systems of education, systems of justice, how do you move those things? How do you make sure those structures work for you rather than against you?

At the moment we have an education system in our remote schools that is determined for most of our children to end up illiterate. We deliver schooling week in-week out to this day that will allow perhaps 25% of our kids to read reasonably well and another 50% to read poorly and another 25% never read at all. That's what we deliver through those systems and we allow it to happen year in year out, if we don't reform them. These are the systems where if there's agency and a mum presents their children to the school full of vita-brix and Vegemite, nevertheless the school doesn't teach them how to be literate. Blames it on the kid.

So we have to reform the structures of education health and we've got to get organised. Some of these systems routinely fail our people and we let them. So we need the jaws, the two jaws to come together: one of structural reform and the other of indigenous agency. And we've got to be pushing both towards a closing of the gap.

Now in Cape York we believe that, our theory is that, what will close the gap is that if we incrementally build capabilities, build the capabilities of our communities, of our families, of individuals. It's by building capabilities that we will eventually see these indicators close the gap.

So what are these capabilities that we think need to be built? You could cut them in many different ways and the way we cut them is simply our own way of thinking about the thing. I'm sure you could name these things differently and you could tackle these capabilities differently, but we've identified 15 crucial capabilities that we need to incrementally build in Cape York.

First one is: we need to establish the prenatal foundations for lifelong health. That's the first task.

Secondly, we need effective education from early childhood.

Thirdly, of course, we need strong nurturing families.

Fourthly, we need villages with social capital trust and participation. Social capital is so important. Trust and participation of community members in the life of the village.

Fifthly, we need villages with respect for norms, for our customs and our laws. We've got to have law and order. But, not just law, respect for our customs and our traditions and rituals.

Sixthly, we need girls’ freedom and empowerment. We need freedom for our girls and their empowerment. We have to build that. We’ve got to enable that.

Seventhly, we need boys’ self-esteem and self-respect. We've got a provision for the boys to grow up with self-respect and self-esteem.

Eighthly, we need strong ancestral languages in rich cultural capital. Crucial to it, we're going to maintain and revive our ancestral languages and we need to rebuild the rich cultural capital of our communities.

Ninthly, we need natural leadership and good governance. All our organisations need to be governed good and we need to recognize and promote our natural leadership.

Tenthly, we need work for income and self-reliance. Not just employment; work. Sometimes you got to work not for money, but so that you have a better garden or a better house or a better home land. A better place for your children to love down at the beach. If you want those things, it requires work. Sometimes the work might be for livelihood rather than salaried employment, but it is just as important to rebuild an ethic of work if we're going to enjoy the privileges we have living in these bountiful and wonderful places.

Eleventhly, we need enterprise and industry, very hard, but we've got to turn our minds to building enterprise in industry.

And twelfthly, we need stewardship of the land and resources for sustainable development. We’ve got to look after the country. But the country can't just be a zoo under national park regimes, the country has got to sustain us, sustain our people. Can’t just locked the whole thing up because that is what the greens or the people in southeast Queensland want. We've got to preserve the land for economic development opportunities to sustain our people. We can't just lock the whole thing up.

Thirteenth, we need to build a tribal wealth for intergenerational equity. Whenever we get windfall resource returns, we can't chuck it up against the wall. We have got to build tribal wealth. Those resources, particularly non-renewable resources are not just owned by the current generation; they're owned by the past and the future. It is not our entitlement to blow it all now on consumption. We've got a moral obligation to all of the children who are going to come in the future.

So, that means only very narrow purposes should we be spending our non-renewable resource rentals on. We need a capability to build the tribal wealth.

Fourteenth, we need access to vibrant accessible markets. Our communities are places where supply and demand just simply don’t work. There is a huge demand for accommodation, for bureaucrats and visitors and tourists. All that demand is never met by supply. We could ask ourselves; what are the constraints? What are preventing the operation of vibrant accessible markets in these places? And we need to fix those constraints.

And lastly, we need infrastructure to sustain villages and the economy. Of course, we need infrastructure. No economy, no market, can operate without infrastructure. Communications, physical infrastructure, and so on.

So, those are the 15 things that we are focusing on building. It is not all going to be built at once. It is incremental, but by building those capabilities and having reform and agency come together, we'll close the gap.

And that is why our partnership with Minister Scullion in our Pama Futures agenda is really about our Cape York agenda coming to fruition. We really feel after 20 plus years working on this that our agenda is coming together. We are moving beyond the trial phase to the implementation of a regional approach of the ideas that have worked. We have learned what fails, what does not work, we have learned from what partially works and, we understand that some of the things we will do are likely to fail as well. We are going to have a go. We have still got a lot to learn but we have learned a great deal about a whole range of things. And the agenda that we put forward to the minister - initially I went to him to talk about the fact that we are reaching the end of the land rights phase. Land claims are going to conclude over the next few years in Cape York and we want to talk about how we use our land, develop our land, manage our land.

So, we are anticipating the post land claims process in Cape York. And we went to the Minister to talk about the change that we anticipate and he came back to us and said ‘I'd liked you guys to also think about your empowerment agenda. Social and economic empowerment’. How do we respond to the Empowered Communities agenda via your Cape York approach? And the second thing he said to us was: you need a strong emphasis on economic development.

So, we went away and we conceived of our Pama Futures agenda, which is a comprehensive agenda to close the gap.

Focusing on a post land claims process, a social and economic empowerment agenda, and a strong focus on enterprise and industry. We proposed a new governance model to interface with both levels of government, and we believe that a Cape York regional interface has to be legislated by the commonwealth.

And we put a proposition to the minister about that, that a regional approach to establishing a partnership with both levels of government, is our agenda.

In a region such as Cape York it is not just regional, we have a network of communities and so we need a kind of federal model within the region where each of the communities are able to interface with government in relation to their own plans and their own agendas.

Hope Vale, Aurukun, Lockhart River, Coen. 12 sub regions across the Cape need to have the opportunity to sit down with government from both levels in relation to their plans.

So, that's our Pama Futures agenda. We really think that we're entering a new phase. We’ve been knocking on this door for many years and we think the door is opening for us on a new phase in our agenda.

So, when people talk about closing the gap, we think we're starting to get a response to the structural reforms that are needed. It's something like 36 billion dollars we're told every other week, spent in the name of black fellas in this country. 36 billion dollars per annum, of course we’re not seeing it, they’re massive industries within government and within non-government around that money. We need structural reforms to make sure that the majority of that money hits the ground and enables the development of the kind of capabilities we’re talking about.

So, I'll now end by my talk on the Pama Futures agenda in Cape York and hand over to the Minister.

Thank you.