Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE LAND COUNCIL MEETING - BARUNGA, NORTHERN TERRITORY - FRIDAY, 8 JUNE 2018

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I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I acknowledge the Chairmen and all the Members of the Northern, Central, Tiwi and Anindiliyakwa Land Councils.

I acknowledge Chief Minister Gunner – congratulations on the leadership you are showing today, thank you for the opportunity to be a witness to this historic step forward.

Thirty years ago Bob Hawke met with the leadership of the Central and Northern Land councils here on this sacred ground.

It is true and sad that some of those who celebrated that day have passed on. 

We remember them with respect, including the great Nugget Coombs.

But it also fills me with a sense of that history to know that some of those who were there, with the memories of 30 years ago, are here again today.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Jack Ah Kit, David Ross, Geoffrey Shaw and many other Land Council members and employees. 

I'm proud to be walking on this ground today with the now Senator Patrick Dodson, who was a director of the Central Land Council then, and Warren Snowdon, who was the Member for the Northern Territory back then. 

Patrick, Warren and I are joined by Senator Malarndirri McCarthy of the Northern Territory, Linda Burney, Luke Gosling from the Darwin area, and many more of our Labor colleagues. 

You should please take as a mark of respect of this gathering, that so many members of the Federal Labor Party are here today, because we think today is important.

I also want to acknowledge Barbara Shaw Senior and Margaret Yunupingu, who played such a big part of the organising ceremony and hospitality for Bob Hawke and Hazel Hawke.

It is a reminder of everything that Aboriginal women do to keep families and community together - and it is proof that we need the voices of women heard in meetings like this, and in every decision we make. 

I should also mention Bob Hawke and Gerry Hand, his then Minister, who would love to be here but are currently not well. 

I want to say directly to all of you - today is about truth-telling.

And the hard truth is that the Parliament of Australia has not lived up to the promise that was made 30 years ago.

Too many words from the Barunga Statement of 30 years ago have not become reality.

As Senator Dodson said to me last night, "people out here cannot understand why you white fellas haven't got the message after 30 years."

Today, I am here to listen, to learn but I also want to talk to you about things that we can do.

I want to put to you that there are things that we can do based on four values: 

  • Honour
  • Equality
  • Respect
  • Recognition

Honouring our First Nation leaders who have shown the way forward for our nation over the generations. 

Equality; equality in the courts and in the law, equality in education, and in housing and in jobs, equality.

Respect for the world's oldest living culture - for its thousands of languages, for values that have sustained the people who have cared for this land for over 65,000 years. 

But along with honour and equality and respect, there must be recognition. 

Recognition that Aboriginal people never willingly gave up their country, their land, their languages, their families. 

Recognition that things were taken without negotiation, without agreement, or compensation.

And recognition that these injustices must be made right - including through compensation for the remaining survivors of the Stolen Generations here in the Northern Territory and elsewhere.

I am optimistic that we can build a reconciled Australia, built upon these four values of honour, equality, respect and recognition.

And I am confident that there is a new momentum for a voice, and new hope for agreements and treaties. 

Yesterday, in my home state of Victoria, we saw what happened.

What is happening here today is a strong foundation with the leadership of Michael Gunner. 

A strong foundation that we can do at the national level to build both decision-making, agreement-making and self-determination. 

I think perhaps in our busy world, it is easy to forget our history sometimes.

Not all Australians would recall that ATSIC was actually a product of the Barunga Statement, and its call for greater self-determination. 

30 years on we now have a new proposal, shaped by 1,200 consultations and an historic summit at Uluru. 

The Statement from the Heart calls for a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

It is a new proposal for a very old aspiration. For the First Australians to have a meaningful say in the decisions which govern their lives, which govern their land and govern the future. 

I understand that the voice must be shaped and designed by the people it seeks to speak for. 

It must supplement and complement existing local and regional statutory bodies - not replace them, nor reinvent them. 

I know there is more work to do. But I stand in front of you today telling you that my party, the Labor Party of Australia has taken the Statement from the Heart into our hearts.

A new Labor Government will legislate to establish a voice, and we will seek to establish the bipartisan and national support to enshrine it in our Constitution. 

We will establish a Makarrata Commission to work with National Congress, to work with land councils, First Nation leaders, the States and the Territories to continue the work of truth-telling and agreement-making. 

None of this is about symbolism or gestures. It is about self-determination, it is about making sure that Aboriginal people are at the front of mind in national policy-making.

Because when you look at the practical solutions to the evil of poverty, the evil of disadvantage, of incarceration and violence, discrimination and racism, the solutions must be authored, and owned, and driven by the First Australians. 

It's why, if I am successful at the next election and Labor forms a government, we will immediately hold a National Summit, to tackle the unacceptable crisis of Aboriginal children growing up away from country, culture and connection. 

It is why I am committed to seeing more First Australians serving in the Parliaments of Australia, making laws for all Australians. 

And we will put focus on practical programs which Aboriginal people control.

We will double for example, the number of Indigenous Rangers working on country. 

We will ensure Indigenous ownership of decisions of the Aboriginal Benefits Account, and we will be guardians supporting the Land Rights Act. 

There is a lot of learning which we can do here today, but I want to just conclude with this point. 

For a very long time, we as Australians have read all the reputable reports, we have seen all of the investigations, we understand what needs to be done. 

We understand that there is unfinished business. 

We need no more evidence of it, no more inquiries about it, no more reports about it. 

The time has come to finish the unfinished business of achieving a reconciled Australia. 

No Australian can pretend that they don't know. 

And what we will need to do is not just here, but we will need to appeal to the goodwill of all Australians, if we are to achieve long-overdue equality, respect, recognition and honour. 

I believe that our fellow Australians are up for this journey, they just need leadership. 

Most Australians I believe, would be in sympathy and solidarity and agreement with what we talk about today. 

The process of truth-telling and agreement-making and treaties is not beyond the capacity of Australians to embrace. 

It is not beyond the capacity of Australians to support a vision for a reconciled Australia. 

But we need to ensure that we bring the people with us, their response will be crucial, making the case will be crucial.

We need the public with us, and to bring the people with us we need leadership. 

This is not an excuse, but it is a recognition that for a reconciled Australia, it must be built upon the principle of honour, on the principle of equality, on the principle of respect, and the principle of recognition. 

Good morning. Thank you very much for inviting me here


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