Bill's Speeches



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

I acknowledge all Aboriginal leaders who are here this evening.

From Darwin, where I started my day, to the small community of Maningrida  on the coast of Arnhem land, where I met with remarkable Aboriginal Rangers this afternoon, to the great city of Melbourne where we gather tonight.

This mighty continent is, was, always will be Aboriginal land.

It’s always a privilege to hear from Tom Calma, a great Australian. 

And I’m pleased to be here with my colleagues, Shayne Neumann and Warren Snowdon.

And Labor’s newest Senator – Patrick Dodson.

I acknowledge Alan Tudge, Rachel Siewert – and the many other distinguished guests here tonight.

This week, Reconciliation week, reminds us, after 25 years we have done some things well.

But we have not yet shifted the systemic problems of division and distrust.

We are all embarked on a Constitutional recognition journey:

  • Parliamentary committees
  • Expert panels
  • Other submissions

…have all informed this conversation.

A future Labor government will advance Recognition in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A Labor Government will be forward-leaning – conscious that changing our Constitution is about agreeing on a head of power for the parliament to use to make laws.

We understand Aboriginal peoples have been here for more than forty thousand years.

Constitutional recognition is to enhance the Parliament’s recognition when making laws.

But we must be honest.

The relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians is still not working.

How do we reset this relationship?

How do we achieve real equality?

It comes from being truthful.

It comes from mutual respect for both our rich heritages and our mutual contributions to this wonderful land of ours.

Right now, there is not fundamental agreement about how the country was taken from Aboriginal people.

Or the issues about settlement, and colonisation.

We need a process to find the common ground, on such matters, for the common good of our nation.

The disgraceful fiction of the doctrine of terra nullius has been disproved.

But without a future framework agreed with Aboriginal people, all the arguments from 1788 onwards will continue to plague us.

Our goal should be to agree to a future which gives us all pride and respect.

Finding what it is that we can all accommodate, has been the basis of the Reconciliation Council’s work.

Ensuring the respect, the richness of the cultures of our first peoples, along with our Western traditions and our modern multi-culture - enriches the identity of our nation.

We must acknowledge there is unfinished business – and there are new pathways to be developed.

The reconciliation process has provided a constructive opportunity for our nation to find agreement on these fundamental issues - or at least help us settle them.

But the concept of Reconciliation has – for too long – been split by some into a false dichotomy.

‘Practical’ reconciliation on one hand – and ‘symbolic’ actions like compensation and agreements on the other.

The truth is we need agreement on both paths.

The ‘practical’ focus has been on Recognition Action Plans, jobs, industries, codes of conduct in sport to stop racism and in program-setting and implementation.

A lot of real effort by police and courts has been made, a lot of individual courage and leadership on both the indigenous and non-indigenous side has been shown.

Unfortunately, we cannot truly celebrate these wonderful achievements – while there is still a sense of injustice lingering in the hearts and minds of the first Australians.

Because we have not settled the issues that mitigate against every good intention we embark upon as a parliament.

  • Land taken – and still being taken through the extinguishment of Native Title.
  • Destabilised indigenous societies, and communities
  • Children taken away   
  • The underpayment of wages – and lost wages

And systemic racism is still far-too prevalent.

The insidious nature of stubborn racism is still a reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals – regardless of the status and stature they achieve in our society.  

Every generation of Aboriginal athlete, from Doug Nicholls to Nicky Winmar to Michael Long to Adam Goodes has known this.

And this sense of discrimination percolates down to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the street every day.

I know racism is not true of most Australians.

I’m proud of those many Australians who stand up against heinousness of racism.

But there is more we must do – as parents, as educators and indeed as leaders.

I’m proud that for the past two days of this campaign:

I’ve met with members of the Stolen Generation on National Sorry Day.

I’ve seen the success of Aboriginal health services, of Michael Long’s leadership centre, of the Stars Program for Girls.

I’ve visited traditional owners on their country and – seen the pride Aboriginal Rangers take in their work, looking after our coasts and managing our national estate for the benefit of all Australians.  

These issues deserve to be in the centre square of national politics. 

They might not change an election – but they could well change our nation.

We must commit ourselves to addressing the hard issues of inequality, injustice and a post-Constitutional settlement.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be equal, empowered partners in deciding what such a settlement should look like.

Only then - when we work together - will we be in a place to resolve the gnawing, unresolved divisions...

…and celebrate the unity of our achievements with pride. 

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