Bridging the gap: Indigenous Minister Linda Burney responds, Jacqui Lambie unleashes

Jacqui Lambie says Labor’s plan to constitutionally enshrine indigenous rights in parliament “will not close the gap” if it is purely symbolic.

Her comments come amid a shocking new report that says efforts to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians are ignominiously failing.

As for Labour’s plan to hold a referendum, Senator Lambie said she would not participate in anything that would further divide Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“I would be very interested to see how it is worded; if it’s only symbolic, it won’t do anything to close the gap,” she told Sky News.

“I would like to see how the Labor Party is going to sell it. I want to see the wording and what it looks like, but do it.

“Because right now it’s taking too long and people are moving away from it… Keep going.

“But will it close the gap? I don’t see that happening at the moment.”

On Wednesday, during her first speech, North Carolina Senator Jacinta Price said Labor’s referendum plan was a “handout” and a “virtue signal.”

“We hear platitudes about motherhood from our current prime minister who, without any evidence, suggests that the right to vote in parliament, granted to us through a virtuous act of symbolic gesture by this government, is what will give us strength,” – she said.

“His government has yet to demonstrate how this proposed vote will bring practical results and unite rather than further drive a wedge between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

“No, Prime Minister, we don’t need another flyer … and no, we Indigenous Australians have not come to terms on this statement.”

Senator Lambie also condemned the Labor government for phasing out the cashless debit card system, saying it would fuel an increase in domestic violence and substance abuse.

“I have attended more of these trials than any other politician I have known since 2014 and I can tell you the difference and reduction in domestic violence when indigenous children are fed is absolutely phenomenal,” she said.

What are you going to put in its place?

She also denounced the NT government for lifting the alcohol ban, stating that it would also fuel more violence.

“Removing that alcohol control is not the answer,” she said.

“Something needs to be put in its place, and we must do it, but do not give me symbolism. I want to see the gap close.”

Senator Lambie’s comments follow the release of the Performance Commission’s damning assessment of the “Closing the Gap” national targets, showing five key areas woefully behind, just two years after the revised targets were set.

The areas most in need of improvement are child development, out-of-home care, adult incarceration, suicide, and maritime rights and interests.

“There are some disappointing results in the latest data – it’s clear that more work needs to be done,” Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said in a statement.

The report notes that there have been “minor improvements” in child outcomes, better early childhood development with healthier birth weights, higher school attendance rates, and lower youth retention rates.

The National Agreement to Close the Gap includes 17 socioeconomic goals developed in collaboration between state and federal leaders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

While previous iterations of the initiative focused on health outcomes and life expectancy, the new agreement, signed in July 2020, aims to remove any additional factors.

Between 2015 and 2017, life expectancy for Indigenous men was 71.6 years and for Indigenous women was 75.6 years.

In comparison, life expectancy at birth for non-indigenous peoples was 80.2 years for men and 83.4 years for women.

“Closing the Gap architecture can only work when all parties are committed and there is a coordinated effort across jurisdictions in partnership with Indigenous Peoples,” said Ms Burney.

“I’m keen to learn more about how priority reforms are being implemented across the country.”

Next month, the Joint Council on Bridging the Gap will meet in Adelaide to discuss the way forward to achieve the goals.

Originally published as Jacqui Lambie rejects idea as major national failure exposed