6 September 2023
Parkes Electorate: Aboriginal Constituents
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (19:30): One of the privileges of representing an electorate like mine is that you get to meet some very interesting people. Last week I got to meet some young ladies who were part of the Sistas in Trade program. They are young Aboriginal women who have decided to have a go at careers that might traditionally be seen as male careers—construction and those sorts of trades. They were just about to graduate from this course. I got to have a cup of coffee and a yarn with them—a great group of young people.
It got me thinking. Over the last few months in this place I’ve heard some incredibly patronising speeches made about Aboriginal people. In the seat of Parkes, I happen to represent in this parliament the second-highest number of Aboriginal people, and I want to tell you that there are some incredible things happening out there by these people. The idea that nothing’s happened, nothing’s worked and we’ve got to come up with a body in Canberra to help them out of this cycle they’re in couldn’t be further from the truth.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I was at the sod-turning for the Barker cultural centre in Wilcannia. This is a program that’s being run by a local committee. It will be a magnificent facility that will feature cultural icons of the Barkindji people, a place where visitors can come and understand a bit more about the culture, and a reason to stop in Wilcannia, learn more about it and understand the beauty of that town. Just around the corner there’s a new medical centre built by Maari Ma Health that will provide wonderful medical services in Wilcannia. The Regional Enterprise Development Institute has taken on the store, the supermarket, at Wilcannia because people were getting ripped off. It’s now run by local people. The Wilcannia store has got fresh fruit and vegetables, everything any other supermarket would have, at the same price, and is employing local people.
At the other end of my electorate, at Goodooga, it’s the same thing. There’s a brand-new store run by local people, catering for up to 50 vans a night that are coming to the Goodooga bore baths. That was upgraded, guess what, using local people, and now it’s a tourism icon. While I’m on Goodooga, with the assistance of REDI.E, young Tyron Cochrane, an Aboriginal lad of 18, went to New Zealand and beat the Kiwis at their own game of shearing. It’s the first time since 1962 that an Aussie has beaten the Kiwis at their own game of shearing, in New Zealand. He’s now mentoring other young people in the Dubbo area and working with a shearing contractor.
I got a photo sent to me last week of a young lad from Walgett, aged 15. The shadow minister at the table would understand what this means, but this young lad of 15 sheared his first 100. He was a young fellow that was probably getting into a bit of a dark area with the law. The local police recommended he go to REDI.E, and now he’s focusing on his craft. Do the maths; it’s about $4 or $5 a sheep. He’s 15 years old.
In Brewarrina Shire, six of the nine councillors are Aboriginal. Dave Kirby, the general manager, is a local Aboriginal man who has worked his way up to that position. Eighty per cent of their workforce is Aboriginal. Their local workforce have done, I think, about 150 kilometres of new road in the last three years. They run the cultural centre there. They look after the fish traps. The Brewarrina fish traps are one of the oldest structures on earth. They predate the pyramids—60,000 years.
All of this is going on while we’re hearing patronising comments from this place about how hopeless they are. Through the Clontarf Foundation and others, 76 Aboriginal kids did their HSC last year in Dubbo. They’re going into trades, they’re going into the professions: we’ve got nurses, we got doctors, we’ve got teachers. The office manager in my office—these are Aboriginal people in the Parkes electorate. They are not helpless. They are doing great things and they should be acknowledged for that.