Creating a moment of empathy when so many Australians are financially hurting

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Adjournment Speech, House of Representatives

13 September 2023

Mr Speaker,

This is a serious time for our country.

Australians are facing greater pressures on their lives than ever.

Australians are feeling a growing disconnect between their aspirations and the opportunities they can grasp.

Last week, I met with some young people in Adelaide.

They were smart, undertaking study, with the world at their feet.

Yet they reminded me that whilst there is no shortage of jobs, good paying jobs are getting harder to find.

This economic pressure is being felt by young and old alike.

I received an email yesterday from a constituent named Les. He’s a retiree.

He wrote:

“Today I filled up at the pump and paid $2.28 a litre for unleaded. Premium was over $2.50.

I got a script at the chemist on Saturday and it had gone up by 18% compared with what I paid a month ago.

I was also told I was not entitled to this new 2 for 1 script pricing arrangement because I wasn’t a card holder. And in any event, you had to spend a minimum of $30. When I said to the chemist that’s the first time I heard that, he said it had been miscommunicated by the government.

Our power bill has gone up 30% this year. Where is our $275 rebate that Albo promised.

And if you do the shopping like me every week, grocery items are increasing. So the staple loaf of bread has gone from $2.50 to $2.70 in the last 3 months.”

All fair points.

And I have made several speeches on the cost of living challenges being faced by our

Then Les questioned why I was advocating for the Voice when so many Australians were hurting. Surely, I had better priorities.

It’s a legitimate question to ask. I think many Australians are asking why should we vote yes in this referendum when the economy is so tight?

For me, my response starts with my values.

As a Liberal, I believe in opportunity. In creating the settings where people have opportunity. I want to give people more choices and more opportunities to take risk and succeed.

And as a conservative, I believe that the strength of countries is found in the bonds between us all. It is found in citizens feeling connected to their country, neighbours, and culture.

My concern as a Liberal, is that indigenous Australians are not sharing in this country’s opportunities.

It’s the opportunities that come from

…growing up in a peaceful and secure home – where the taps work, there’s food in the kitchen and is free of alcohol abuse, and violence.

…of being able to concentrate in school because you have good hearing and eyesight, you are not hungry, and you are not sleepy because you were out on the streets because home felt unsafe.

…of having good health and being free of diseases such as rheumatic heart disease – a childhood disease prevalent in Northern Australia which means you will most likely die by middle age.

…and having the economic and social opportunities that come from having an income and a job.

Paul Kelly, the songwriter, writes “How long can we keep walking with this stone in our shoe?”

I believe the disconnect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia is the root cause of the economic disconnection in Indigenous communities and lives.

In our country, the Indigenous employment rate is around 49 per cent. This compares to 75% for non indigenous Australians.

In terms of household income, the latest data of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that 43% of Indigenous adults receive a total weekly pre-tax income of $500 a week or less.

The poverty line in Australia is $489 a week for a single person.

Almost one in two Indigenous adults live on the poverty line.

Closing the gap means creating economic opportunity.

It’s about jobs not welfare.

It’s about universities not prisons.

This referendum is about voice.

It is also about empowerment, respect and the strengthening of Indigenous civic infrastructure, all within our democratic system.

These are deeply Liberal and conservative ideas.

Mr Speaker, Les’s email reminded me about where I started this year.

It was at the Young Liberal National Convention and I spoke about the Voice and also about empathy.

We often think empathy is about identifying with people “just like us”.

But that is not an understanding and a reckoning with difference, it’s not true empathy.

Empathy is bigger.

It’s not about accepting and embracing people because we can see ourselves in them. It is about standing with people and their right to dignity, freedom, and self-expression when we can’t see the similarities.

Les is right – Australians in our suburbs are feeling great pressure.

Pressures we have to work harder to alleviate.

This is an opportunity to help take the pressure off the federal budget.

It’s an opportunity to ensure that we get better value for taxpayer dollars spent on indigenous affairs where we have too little to show for all our efforts.

And so I want to invite all Australians to lift up their eyes, and despite their own challenges, to see the gap that does not close.

The Voice is not about special treatment or privileges.

It’s simply about trying to get Indigenous Australians to the same starting line that other Australians are at.

It’s about listening.

It’s about Indigenous children, their lives and their future.

And trying to create the conditions so that Indigenous children can walk confidently in two worlds.

This is a moment of empathy – a moment of shared understanding – and a moment of consequence.

I hope that we seize it.

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