SORRY DAY 2017

Acknowledgements omitted –  

I wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Most of all, I would like to acknowledge the members of the Stolen Generation here today and your very powerful stories.

We gather here today to hear your voice, to mourn with you, to acknowledge your pain, and to say sorry.

This has been a significant week of commemoration and acknowledgment for our nation.

Earlier this week in Parliament, and indeed across the nation, we marked two monumental moments in Australian history, the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s Mabo decision.

The Referendum bought Australia together and it bought us out of our shadowed past as Australia voted to be counted as one people.

And 25 years later we reached another milestone – Mabo.

Eddie Mabo’s name is now iconic in Australia.

He was correct when he told his daughter Gail:

‘One day, my girl, all of Australia is going to know my name’.

The Court case he initiated set the basis for Native Title in Australia, overturning the offensive terra nullius and reaffirming what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders always knew, that this land, its waters and its wonders were and will always be Aboriginal land.

After the historic High Court decision, Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating took this moment, a watershed moment, and bought together Aboriginal leaders, including my Labor colleague Senator Pat Dodson to enshrine Mabo in the Native Title Act.

While Eddie sadly passed away before his goal was achieved, his courage and spirit carried on, and changed everything.

And today, all of Australia knows his name.

These were not easy victories.

It was hard work.

They were hard won achievements, fought for in the face of indignity, indifference and institutionalised prejudice.

The men and women who achieved this momentous progress fought not only for themselves, but for their children, their grandchildren and ultimately for every one of us in Australia.

Australians cheered Polly Farmer on the footy field but they didn’t count him in the census.

In Vietnam, at the Battle of Long-Tan, Buddy Lea took three bullets and died for a nation that still did not consider him an Australian.

My Parliamentary Labor colleague Linda Burney was 10 years old at the time of the 1967.

Now, a Federal Member of Parliament and powerful voice in our nation, she was considered by law an outsider in her own country for the first decade of her life.

For many of our younger generation, it might seem unthinkable that these injustices took place within living memory, within the lived experience of our families, friends and our colleagues.

And I know that for Linda, as I am certain is true for many of you, these experiences have had a profound influence on your lives. For Linda, it has driven her to a life of public service, of fighting for the rights and welfare of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians alike.

Of course there is another mark on Australia’s history that continues to cause pain for so many Aboriginal Australians – the experience of the Stolen Generation.

Again, within the lived experience of too many as we heard, mothers lived in perpetual fear that their children would be taken away from their family and their culture and their connect to land.

My words will never capture the horror of that cruelty, it is not something one can fully comprehend having never experienced it. But instead I can honour those of the stolen generation who are with us today, and who will share their stories with us today and remind us of our won past.

But as members of the Australian government we can and we must acknowledge our past, we can and we must take responsibility for it, and finally we can and we must commit ourselves to working every day to achieve a better future.

At the moment we are working towards that next milestone in the road to real reconciliation, constitutional recognition and treaty.

For this to be more than a symbol, recognition must be authored by our first Australian, not a bunch of white fellas in Canberra.

As in all aspects of reconciliation and Closing the Gap, it is Aboriginal voices that must ring out loud and clear.

In Canberra it is our job to listen.

Something our Parliament has failed to do in the past.

But we cannot afford to fail again.

I am proud to work with Aboriginal Australians in our Parliament, Linda Burney, Malandirri Macarthy and Pat Dodson from Labor, together with Ken Wyatt from the Liberals Party.

I know that Labor is working hard to make sure there are more and more Aboriginal voiced in political leadership across the nation and we will work with anyone keen to achieve this goal.

As we speak the debate around constitutional recognition is underway.

And today I recommit to always be here to listen to our local Aboriginal voices.

My door will always be open and, feedback will always be welcome and it is a wonderful thing to have the League in my electorate.

I would like to end with a message of hope, a message of success, in brief a message for the future.

In his Redfern address of 1992, Prime Minister Paul Keating said:

‘We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of disposession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation’.

Hear, hear.

I cannot.

Every day I see first Australians seizing opportunities, helping their community, leading our nation in Parliament, leading our nation in every sphere of endevour and empowering others through their acts.

Just this morning I joined Thornbury Primary School for their National Sorry Day commemoration. This was a beautiful experience and a beautiful school with an Aboriginal language program and a focus on Aboriginal history and culture.

I think that is the future of reconciliation.

A world where all Australian children grow up learning Aboriginal language.

Where all Australian children grow up with a profound love and respect for Aboriginal culture.

Where all Australian children learn Australian history that skips nothing.

There is still a monumental task ahead of us but with your voice, your experience and our national commitment, the seeds planted by people like Eddie Mabo, Pat Dodson, Doug Nicholls and the mothers of the Stolen Generation will bloom.

I cannot imagine it any other way.

26 MAY 2017.

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