Bill's Speeches

GARMA FESTIVAL - GULKULA - SUNDAY, 31 JULY 2016

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Thanks very much Pat and when you see Australian politics elect a Senator of Pat Dodson's calibre, it should give us all hope we can do great things. 

Thank you very much Pat, you're a great man. 

I'd like to acknowledge Galarrwuy and the Gumatj for hosting today.  

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

This beautiful country, this special place, is, was and always will be Aboriginal land. 

My wife Chloe, our youngest daughter Clementine and I are so happy to be back here at Garma to share in the music, the bunguul, the food and the friendship and of course the discussion.

I understand that Garma is not about balanda giving long speeches. 

It is a place for balanda to sit down with people, to listen and learn.

And I understand in particular at the moment following the events of last week, that there are a lot of people here, a lot of people in the broader community, who are hurting right now.

I know there is a lot of pain, great frustration that families feel and of course anger, legitimate anger. 

This week, the media and the ABC spotlight illuminated a horrific failure.  

The abuses of young people in the Don Dale detention centre, right here in the Northern Territory. 

No young person should ever be treated in such a barbaric fashion. 

On Monday night, Australia and the world witnessed a low point in Australian justice.  

Australian justice can never be a 14 year old boy hooded, stripped and strapped to a chair. 

It is a disgrace.  

The ABC brought this into the lounge rooms and the daily lives of all Australians, the ugly truth which many already knew about the juvenile justice system.  

Yet, tragically, unforgivably, there was nothing especially new about those terrible images that people were witness to.  

This week - like last week - around Australia, Aboriginal people, young Aboriginal people, have been arrested. Taken to court. Locked up. 

How can a parent, an Aboriginal parent, when their teenage child is watching that television, how does the parent explain to their son of teenage years that this is Australia.  

How can any young Aboriginal teenager watching those images not feel, in some fashion, made unwelcome in their own country. 

It is not right to have that sort of humiliation, that sort of degradation.  

A justice system unworthy of its name.   

And a child protection system which has so obviously failed. 

What we see here is people in custody because of neglect, not because of their wrongdoing.  

And worst of all, this is treated as business as usual. 

A shoulder-shrugging, desensitisation which says that the inevitable outcome of our justice system has to be somehow the incarceration of a disproportionate number of young Aboriginal children. 

In modern Australia we cannot accept the desensitisation that we see, that too many people in positions of authority accept as an inevitable policy. 

Abuse, is not the inevitable policy of our justice system.  

The ‘tough on crime’ mentality and rhetoric, beloved of some in our political system and some in the media cannot mean abandoning the rule of law in favour of torture.

 In recent days, a lot of people have said: "I cannot believe this was happening in the Australia of 2016." 

Mind you, someone reminded me coming here, last year people "couldn't believe" that Adam Goodes could be racially vilified.   

And yet again we gather and yet again we can't believe it.  

A lot of people have asked me: ‘Why didn’t people know this was going on?’ 

I bet some of you were thinking: 'We tried to tell you but you didn't listen’. 

There have been boards of inquiries. These scandals have been reported. They have been litigated. 

But there's no mistaking the power of that image on the television less than seven days ago. 

If nothing else, this week has forced many non-Aboriginal Australians to ask ourselves the most basic human question:  

How would I feel, if that was my child I was witnessing being treated like that?  

How can we rob parents of that sense of the ability to protect their young, the welfare of children?  

It robs parents of their identity as parents, it robs children of their youth.  

It robs this nation of a part of who we believe we are.  

How do we expect these kids to just simply return back to school?  

To settle down, to listen in class, to play footy with their friends, to dance, just to even laugh. 

How do we expect them to leave this trauma behind? 

How does this sort of trauma rehabilitate or assist any human being?  

Those questions are important, but what happens next also matters a great deal. 

Labor welcomes this Royal Commission, the establishment of it. 

Yet we are gravely concerned at the lack of respect, yet again, being shown to Aboriginal people in the Territory, by a failure to consult.

What is it that people in power don't get, that you can treat young Aboriginal people in this way and yet we don't give Aboriginal people a voice in the redress and the remedy and the solution? 

It is a failure to listen, a failure to learn.

The true test of this Royal Commission, will be the way it is conducted, what the commissioner recommends and what it does. 

The true test will be not reporting the problem alone, it will be responding to the problem.  

Twenty-five years after a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the incarceration rate has more than doubled and there are more women being jailed.

It's twenty years after a parliamentary inquiry into Aboriginal children being placed in out-of-home care.  

But the number of children growing up away from their families and their communities has increased by 440 per cent, this is about 15,000 children.

Things are getting worse not better. 

I take nothing away from the good news stories, but when you have shelves filled with reports written about the problem in juvenile detention and child protection, how can things be getting worse not better?  

Currently, 97 per cent of those in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory are young Aboriginal people. 

And the problem of unfair incarceration extends well beyond the Territory.  

How can this possibly be? 

It is an indictment on our nation. It is a shameful indictment on our nation as a whole. 

What has gone so very and horribly wrong here? That the problem is getting worse not better.  

I think though, the real test, for all of us and indeed far beyond this gathering, is not just in asking the questions, but having confidence that action will come from the answers that are provided. 

In setting new justice targets for ourselves, measuring our progress and our failures with complete honesty. 

I want to make it clear that Labor believes it’s not just about making sure the kids who are in custody are treated decently. It’s about asking why so many kids are in custody. 

I cannot believe it is beyond the wit and wisdom of our nation that the only solution we have for kids at risk, for kids doing it hard, is to slap them into jail.  

That is laziness and it's desensitisation. 

We can work together to halt the failed path of incarceration as the only solution.  

Switching off that remorseless conveyor belt that sends young people to prison, when we should be extending the opportunities that good education can provide.  

We can replace the revolving door of hopelessness with a genuine vision for the future.

Jail should not be considered a rite of passage for young Aboriginal men simply because this nation lacks the commitment to provide alternatives.    

We need to help the families as well. 

But you cannot find the answers if governments ignore the voices of Aboriginal people.  

You know when you're being treated with respect and respect starts with listening to people. Not top-down solutions. 

Families have learnt to live with disadvantage, and overcome it. And they are the lessons that need to be learnt.  

People on the ground, making difference every day. 

Marvellous Aboriginal Rangers, caring for the environment. 

Outstanding Aboriginal teachers, setting an example for kids in school. 

Aboriginal health workers playing such a key healing role. 

Aboriginal businesspeople, creating local jobs and growing communities.

And Aboriginal parents, trying to pass on to their kids a life better than the one they were born into. Even those who stumble from time to time because of the pressures they grapple with.

We need Aboriginal voices at this Royal Commission. 

Not just telling their stories as victims, not just giving evidence of the abuse, but as the people in charge. As the co-commissioners, giving solutions.  

We won't achieve anything in this Royal Commission, in my opinion, unless the people with the stories to tell are telling it to commissioners who are Aboriginal

and understand that the  solution can only come by empowering people.   

Now, two Saturdays ago, I took on the job of Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs. 

It's a continuing journey for me but I’m very lucky to have a Yawuru man of great wisdom, Patrick Dodson, to guide me.

A Wiradjuri woman, Linda Burney.

A Yanyuwa woman, Malandirri McCarthy. 

I’m proud that after this election - and this is a matter of personal pride and they'll never launch a navy or write a poem about it - but I'm personally proud that after 116 years the Labor party in an overdue fashion has more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MPs than ever in the history of federation.  

Garma is a great gathering and all of you listening are a reason for hope.  

I've learned a lot since I most recently come to Garma in 2014 with my family. 

But my belief is that leaders don't have to have all of the answers - you can leave the messiah theory at the gate.  

I don’t take a paternalistic view of what the future needs to be.   

It’s not the business of a particular politician to stand here and give everyone else a lecture about what they should do or shouldn't do and how they should do it and with whom they should do it.   

I don't think we need to just find one magical solution to solve every problem. 

I don't think that a few well-intended sentences can overcome the sweep of more than 200 years of injustice and prejudice and racism.

But I do know that Australia can do better.  

I do understand that when we work together we are capable of quite remarkable outcomes.  

And all of us have an obligation to do better.   

To seek better harmony, a deeper respect, greater empowerment.

Something that Galarrwuy spoke of in his landmark essay this month. 

A sense that:

“All is equal and in balance.

Where older men have guided the younger ones and, in turn, taken knowledge from their elders.

Where no one is better than anyone else, everyone is equal, performing their role and taking their duties and responsibilities.”

Because untill and unless all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are equal, empowered partners in the pursuit of justice, we will continue to repeat the failures of the last 200 years.

This is true for justice, for jobs, for schooling and education, for tackling family violence. 

For eliminating preventable diseases like trachoma and and investing in the early years. 

It is true for Constitutional Recognition, which needs to be shaped and informed by those whom we are finally and belatedly recognising.

And it is true for treaties.

Recognition is the next step on the road to Reconciliation, and it should not be treated as too hard a test.  

But no-one has ever said it was the last step. 

Practical reconciliation doesn’t compete or conflict with symbolic action, each makes the other stronger. 

This has been a hard week, it's been a confronting week for all Australians. 

But we should not waste this last week. 

We should convert this national nightmare, which we witnessed last Monday night into a national turning point. 

It is an opportunity to actually reverse the debate, to stop the desensitisation and the shoulder-shrugging and saying this is the inevitable consequence of keeping some people happy that other must suffer. 

We can make our society a place where justice truly belongs to all Australians. 

Regardless of where you live, who you are or the colour of your skin.  

I firmly believe that we can make justice for all a reality in the country if we work together.  

If we listen to the voices of those who are disempowered and we provide an equal state for all in our community. 

Australians can accomplish anything we turn our mind to, when we work together.  

Manymak. 

Thank you 

ENDS


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