Mr COULTON (Parkes–The Nationals Chief Whip) (10:27): Last night on its 7.30 program the ABC ran a very powerful piece, which I think is to be concluded tonight, about the village of Toomelah. Toomelah is a small Aboriginal community in the northern part of New South Wales at the top end of my electorate. Unfortunately, the horrifying images that were shown on 7.30 last night are very close to what is happening there now. In the year 2012 it is an absolute disgrace to have people living in those conditions in Australia and it is something that we as a country should be ashamed of. Having said that, I am not trying to lay the blame at anyone’s feet. Government departments, both state and federal, over a large number of years, with the best intentions, have put a lot of resources into Toomelah. But unfortunately we have got to a point where, if the community of Toomelah does not have the ability to turn the situation around from within, I believe we are going to need a combined effort to help those people.
We have seen programs go in there. The last thing we need to do at Toomelah is put in place programs where people are being paid to mow their own lawns. Most of the residents there have a certificate to use equipment such as bobcats and backhoes, but no job. There has been a focus on training but, if there is no job at the end of it, what is the use?
It is not as though Toomelah is in the middle of nowhere. It is within a half-hour’s drive of the regional town of Goondiwindi in southern Queensland. Indeed, that state border is one of the problems that confront us. I think we need to have an approach that involves the Queensland government, the Goondiwindi Town Council, the Moree Plains Council, the New South Wales government and the federal government.
I spoke to Minister Macklin’s office a couple of weeks ago. I offered my services to coordinate this, to work with the government and take the politics out of it. I am prepared to be the one who is the bearer of news that may not be well received. But the time is past for avoiding this, shutting our eyes and pretending that the issues at Toomelah will go away. I know these people. I know most of the residents personally. I am very fond of them. They are wonderful people, but they are living in a very troubled society. While it may be fair for adults to choose how they live, the children that live in that community have no say as to the poverty they are brought up into, and they need their safety secured. (Time expired)