Bill's Speeches

SPEECH AT HMC PORTRAIT UNVEILING - THE HON. LINDA BURNEY MP - PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2019

 

 

Thanks Jenny and good morning, everybody.
 
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
 
I acknowledge all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have come from across Australia to share in this marvellous, marvellous event.
 
They don't often say that it is lucky to be the Opposition Leader but I am sure all of my colleagues could equally give a speech about Linda and today and I am lucky enough to be in that position to speak on behalf of all of your colleagues who love you very much.
 
There is one perk of being Opposition Leader which is not a well-known perk but, when you don't have many, you remember them. It is one of the peculiar conventions of the Parliament that I’m required to give my approval to each new portrait, along with other important people.
 
Now, of course, I thoroughly approve of this striking, evocative work. And I am looking forward to seeing the reaction of so many people who will see it for the first time, I think you'll be simply amazed. I congratulate the artist for capturing so much of Linda.
 
I am very happy that Linda’s portrait will have a place of honour here on the walls of parliament.
 
I am also even happier that Linda is currently a member of parliament and a member of our Caucus and, I hope, a future member of a Labor Cabinet.
 
But when you consider the journey behind the portrait, it is remarkable.
 
Linda spent the first ten years of her life here in Australia living as a non-citizen.
 
As a little girl at school, she was taught – in her words – that she was descended from people who were ‘as close to Stone Age as possible’.
 
She wasn’t counted in the Commonwealth census until the age of 14.
 
But imagine from today, from that background, her portrait will hang on the wall of the Commonwealth Parliament for as long as we have a Commonwealth Parliament.
 
But what is noteworthy I suggest to you is the journey between those two points and it is Linda’s story to tell. It’s a story of personal resilience, extraordinary resolve, a fighting spirit worthy of the character of the great Wiradjuri people.
 
But when I look at the portrait, I will see simply a story of hope. It is the hope that I’ve also witnessed in the eyes of First Nations children, when Linda explains to them she’s a shadow minister, a politician, a parliamentarian.
 
The hope this portrait will offer to all of the schoolchildren who visit our nation's capital and our nation's parliament, who will pass through the space her portrait occupies.
 
I also think the story behind this portrait carries a lesson for all Australia.
 
It speaks a broader truth of the self-defeating folly of discrimination.
 
The fact it has taken 119 years to unveil a portrait of Aboriginal woman as a member of parliament is embarrassing. 
 
But the portrait will remind us that we are all - whoever we are and whatever our circumstances - that we are all collectively diminished by racism and prejudice.
 
Imagine the Labor Party without Linda Burney’s passion and idealism.
 
Imagine our parliament without her knowledge and skill and passion and love.
 
Imagine it without Patrick Dodson’s or Malarndirri McCarthy’s or Ken Wyatt’s.  
 
Imagine an Australia that systematically deprived itself of the wisdom and culture and courage and insight of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
 
That’s what racism and prejudice and inequality in all its forms actually does, it robs us of our best selves. It robs us as a people, it robs us as a country.
 
It is why Reconciliation is Australia’s unfinished business.
 
There is a lot of discussion about character in the parliament but Closing the Gap is actually a test of our national character.
 
It is why a Voice for First Nations peoples, enshrined in the Constitution, it matters to all Australians.
 
This nation cannot hope to be the nation that we aspire to be, the nation we want our children to see in the mirror, as long as First Nations peoples battle the problems of disease, poverty, family violence, addiction, incarceration out of proportion to the rest of the nation.
 
It is fantastic that today is the 11th anniversary of the Apology. Tomorrow, the Closing the Gap report, will remind us of the scale of the task ahead.
 
But today, today is a fine moment because we celebrate a woman who in every inch of herself is living proof that the gap can be closed, that disadvantage is not inevitable.
 
Linda, I know I speak on behalf of all parliamentarians, in particular the Labor Party who are so fortunate to have you serving alongside us in the ranks, you are a wonderful source of advice to me, to us.
 
You are an inspiration to every one of your colleagues.
 
You are an inspiration to women and girls, to First Nations people and to all Australians.
 
You have achieved so much - but I firmly believe the best is yet to come.
 
Congratulations.


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