Bill's Speeches



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

So many of us – in politics, in business, in the community sector – begin our speeches with those words.   

They speak for a historical truth Australia has – at long last – come to acknowledge.

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

For me – for the Labor party I lead – those words are more than a gesture of respect.

They are a promise for action.

For real improvements, real investments and a genuine commitment to Close the Gap.

Today, National Sorry Day, speaks for a dark shadow in our national history we took too long to face.

It underscores the generations of uncaring wrongs white Australia inflicted on peoples and cultures who had cared for this continent, their home, for more than 40,000 years.

Above all – it reminds us of the bigness of spirit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people found to accept the apology when it was offered – to grasp the hand of national healing.

But saying Sorry – like Constitutional Recognition – will always be about  more than words.

More than an acknowledgement of past injustices.

Every milestone on the road to Reconciliation must be paired with meaningful, practical improvements and genuine progress.

Equality in our Constitution must be matched with equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in every part of our national life: from education and employment to justice, housing and health.

Historical justice needs to reflect real justice, before the law.

And – as leaders and as governments - we must measure our successes and our failures with unflinching honesty.

We must face the cold, hard indicators of the unequal life dealt to too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

From the soul-shattering inequality of family violence, suicide, incarceration and preventable diseases.


Election campaigns can narrow our national gaze – they can boil everything down to the here and now.

Politicians clinging to short scripts, press packs hunting a daily ‘gotcha’ moment.

But this campaign – the longest in 50 years – is a chance for a bigger, broader debate.

A chance to put the national spotlight on issues that all too often are overlooked, minimised or ground-down by the tyranny of low expectations.

I am proud that on the first day of this campaign I stood alongside Senator Pat Dodson in Cairns to announce Labor would provide 400 new scholarships for Indigenous teachers.

And an extra $96 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The resources to support the next generation – and the role models to inspire them.

I’m proud the first policy I announced as Labor leader – back in March 2015 - was better funding for Aboriginal Legal Services, to help women fleeing family violence.

I’m proud that – for three years – Labor has championed a new, empowered, inclusive approach to closing the justice gap.

I’m proud to mark Sorry Day here in Darwin – with new initiatives for Indigenous health and for training and skills. 

I am determined that a Labor Government will be guided by the wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Working together, in a partnership of equals.

In the 37 days before the polls close, let us find the time - and make the effort - to ask why Australia sends more young Aboriginal men to jail than to university.

Let us ask why we are the only developed nation in the world whose people still suffer from the third-world disease of trachoma.

Let us face up to the devastating fact that an Aboriginal woman is 34 times more likely to be hospitalised by family violence and 11 times more likely to die.

Let us acknowledge that those truths, and the gap between our two Australias, demands greater effort and energy and urgency from all of us.

Because, until we are an equal Australia.

Until we can sing ‘We are One’ and mean it.

Until the fair go truly is colour blind.

Sorry Day will always remind us that there is further to go, and more to do. 


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