Bill's Speeches

SPEECH - REMARKS TO THE INDIGENOUS YOUTH PARLIAMENTARIANS RECEPTION - MURAL HALL, CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 24 MAY 2017

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Good evening everybody.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, I pay my respects to elders past and present.

This is, was and always will be – Aboriginal land.

And I have to say, thank you already - there are not many days like this in parliament where perhaps, some of the conventional business-as-usual partisanship is put on hold.

But when we have these days, and you have contributed to such a day today - I think this parliament is a finer destination than it normally is.

I also acknowledge the very thoughtful remarks of our Prime Minister.

My colleagues and I - Pat Dodson, Malarndirri McCarthy, Linda Burney had a real treat this afternoon. We got to speak to the members of the Indigenous Youth Parliament.

It is on this day of anniversaries, an exciting and profound occasion to be in the presence this morning of people who have changed the world for the better, and to finish in the afternoon talking to young people who will change the world for the better in the future.

Today we celebrate two momentous victories.

Victories not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, although they most certainly were - but they were actually victories for all Australians.

These victories though were not happy accidents, not just strokes of luck.

No-one gave it to the campaigners – they were earned. People had to fight, and they had to win.

The people we celebrate today with these anniversaries remind us of an essential truth about politics, society in this country and progress.

There can be no advancement without struggle.

House-by-house, town-by-town, community-by-community, conversation-by conversation Australia was changed forever.

And while there were setbacks, delays, struggles and frustrations – those '67 campaigners never lost heart.

Courage never faltered.

Hope - the essential flickering element which drives societies - was never dimmed in the hearts of those campaigners.

Friends

Essentially tonight, I just want to ask two questions:

To the living legends here in this room – I ask did you imagine when you started, what you would accomplish?

And to all the rest us, I ask can we imagine what now needs to be done and what our future should look like?

To those campaigners I ask in the country you were born in, the Australia of institutionalised racism and prejudice – did you imagine that 50 years on, people would be celebrating and cheering you?

Did you ever imagine the day when you could table 100,000 names in the parliament in support of the referendum?

Did you imagine a day that 91in every 100 Australians voted with you on an issue that at the start must have seemed like a mountain very hard to climb?

Did Doug Nicholls imagine that after he was driven from his first footy club because of the colour of his skin, he would become one of the brightest stars in Australia’s game?

I wonder if the people who walked off Wave Hill imagined the day in the future that the Prime Minister of this country would sit in the soil and gather up a handful of their amazing red soil and pour it into a great man’s hands?

Did Eddie Mabo and the plaintiffs who fought for justice alongside him imagine the day that Native Title would be the law of this land?

Did those mothers of the Stolen Generations who had their children taken away from them imagine the day when this entire parliament would stop and say sorry to them?

It is incredible.  You imagined it perhaps but you most certainly delivered.

And that’s where my second question comes into play. 

Can we who are gathered here, we who have power in this country, the privileged position of leadership: is our imagination now up to what it was of the campaigners we celebrate 50 and 25 years ago?

This is a challenge. It is a challenge for our current generation.

Can we imagine an equal and reconciled Australia?

Can we imagine a country where the gap is closed?

Can we imagine an Australia where young Aboriginal man is more likely to go to university than to be jailed?

Can we imagine an Australia where every Aboriginal child grows up happy, healthy, loved – on their country, with their family.

Can we imagine an Australia where Aboriginal mothers no longer have the anxiety that their children will be taken away?

Can we imagine an Australia where the lingering stain of racism is removed forever?

Can we imagine an Aboriginal Prime Minsiter, an Aboriginal Governor-General or an Aboriginal President?

Can we imagine a Constitution which recognises the first Australians?

Can we imagine an Australia which deals with reparations for the Stolen Generations - which has honest conversations about treaties as well.

I think the young people we have been privileged to meet - they can imagine it.

My question is: can we who are powerful in parliament, privileged, elected to lead - can we imagine it?

Do we have sufficient imagination amongst us to foresee and deliver this future?

I believe the answer is yes. I believe we can imagine these things and we can build these things.

And I believe this because the example of the '67 campaigners, the courage of Mabo, the idealism of the young people we were privileged to talk to.

I believe that if this celebration tonight is to matter at all in the future, then the parliament of today and this year - we need to imagine a better Australia.

Because when our first Australians are equal Australians, we are all better Australians.


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