Appropriation Bills; Health and Community Services Committee

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (11.22 pm): Thank you for the opportunity to reply to the estimates committee report for the portfolio of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs. At the outset I thank the chair of the Health and Community Services Committee, the honourable member for Kallangur, for his diligence and the competent conduct of the hearing.

The estimates process in my situation showed a lack of understanding by some members of the committee about the activities covered by my portfolio. These are revealed in the statements of reservation lodged by the member for Bundamba on behalf of the opposition and also by the member for Gaven. I will just deal with the member for Gaven first. He asked during the committee hearing about the provision of fresh water for Torres Strait Islander communities, and I told him at the outset that the provision of water was not something that came within my portfolio responsibilities. I had to repeat that twice more and advise him that that was the case. I advised him again tonight that the responsibility lies with Minister McArdle, but more particularly Minister Crisafulli. The member compounded his lack of understanding by noting in his statement of reservation that I did not understand the responsibility for the provision of fresh water. There is only one of us here who understands their responsibility in that particular regard.

I will now deal with the opposition’s misleading statement of reservation which was made by the member for Bundamba. Some of the following may have been avoided if the author of the statement of reservation had actually been at the hearing and taken part. Unfortunately, she missed it for the second year in a row. The statement complains that I opted to deliver a lengthy opening address. It was the same standard five-minute address that was allowed to all ministers. The opposition’s inability to ask cohesive, relevant questions led the member for Bundamba to the erroneous conclusion that I was keen to avoid non-government members’ questions. I can assure the members of this House that I have absolutely no fear whatsoever of any question that comes to me at any time by a member other than those on my side. A perusal of Hansard shows that non-government members were able to ask 19 questions during the process, compared to only three from government members. I was pleased to take opposition questions, but I was disappointed that they were asked with negativity rather than a genuine sense of inquiry. I am also sorry if non-government members thought my answers were too long. The member for Bundamba’s statement asserts that the opposition had prepared a series of questions to the minister ‘on multicultural affairs, but didn’t have time to ask them’. The only reason the opposition did not have time to ask these alleged questions is because the member for Mulgrave used his allocated time for multicultural affairs to ask for more Indigenous related questions.

The other estimates opportunity that the opposition had to inquire about multicultural affairs was questions on notice, and again they demonstrated a lack of interest in the area. Not only was there not one question on notice about multicultural affairs, but they could not even come up with their quota of ten questions. They only had seven questions on notice, and one of those again was within the local government portfolio. The only committee members to ask questions about multiculturalism, whether on notice or in the hearing, were government members.

One observation I would share with the opposition is that I did not have enough time to talk about the many great things initiated by this government and undertaken by my department, so I will use what time I have left to mention some of the initiatives that I did not get a chance to canvass during the hearing.

The Newman government’s Indigenous agenda is focused on ensuring that state government programs and funding are directed towards improving the stability and sustainability of Indigenous communities. Some of the areas where we have already made progress include: negotiating agreements with mining, construction, agricultural and tourism companies for Indigenous employment opportunities; creating options for homeownership on Indigenous land; and working with Indigenous councils to implement their community plans. Employment, sustainable enterprise and land tenure reform to provide improved options for homeownership are high on my list as a means for Indigenous people to achieve better outcomes.

One of the principal mechanisms for realising those priorities will be through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander economic participation framework currently being developed. The Queensland government is committed to removing the barriers for home ownership on Indigenous land and removing bureaucratic roadblocks to give a fairer deal for home and land ownership for Indigenous Queenslanders.