Bill's Speeches



Thank you Mr Speaker

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

The tradition of recognition goes back millennia.

This parliament and the nation we call home is, was and always will be, Aboriginal land.

Where we are, so too are Aboriginal peoples.

-         From the Noonga near Perth.

-         To the Eora of Sydney

-         The Nunga of Adelaide

-         The Kulin around Melbourne

-         The Palawah of Tassie

-         The Murri of Brisbane

-         And Torres Strait Islander peoples 

We are one country, enriched by hundreds of nations, languages and traditions.

Mr Speaker

After the last election, I took on the Shadow Ministry for Indigenous Affairs.

My family and I went back to Garma, to listen and learn.

I met with Northern Territory leaders, defending the young men being abused in juvenile detention.

I travelled to Wave Hill, to commemorate the courage of Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji.

And I looked to my Indigenous colleagues for their wisdom.

They are as inspirational as they are modest.

-           A Wiradjuri woman in the House, a Shadow Minister

-           A Yanuwa woman in the Senate, heading our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Caucus Committee

-           And a Yawuru man, the father of Reconciliation, my mentor and my Assistant Shadow Minister.


I also recognise the Member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt – and congratulate him on his historic appointment.

I recognise too Senator Lambie.

Mr Speaker

I will never forget walking into Cairns West Primary on Djabugay country on the first day of last year’s campaign and seeing the wide-eyed smiles of so many young Aboriginal students, as I introduced them to Senator Patrick Dodson.

The value of role models, of the next generation seeing faces like theirs in places of power, cannot be underestimated.

It should not be the exception and I want to make it the rule.

In the Labor Party, we are doing better than we have - but what we did before was simply not good enough. I want us to improve.

Not just at a Federal level – at every level of government.

So many first Australians are in the galleries today. You, your friends and your peers would elevate and enrich our parliament with your talent, whichever party you chose.

And I look forward to the day, and can imagine the day, when one of the first Australians is our Prime Minister or, indeed, our head of state.

As the Prime Minister mentioned, the Referendum Council are continuing their important community conversations.

And after the Uluru gathering, it will be time for the parliament to step up and draw upon these consultations - and finally agree on a set of words to put to the Australian people.

Let me be clear: this parliament, this year – must agree on a way forward.

Not a vague poetic statement, offending no-one by saying nothing.

A meaningful proposition every Australian can understand and - I remain confident - will overwhelmingly support.

Recognition is not the end of the road.

But it should be the beginning of a new, far more equal relationship between the first peoples of this nation and all of us who have followed.

And that is where the listening and the learning must reach beyond the walls of this chamber.

Mr Speaker

Today, I do not seek to present a balance sheet of the good and the bad.

Not a list of top-down programs,  imperfectly managed.

Not the same old story, of reports written but not read. 

Instead, I believe in a new approach.

We must forget the insulting fiction that the first Australians are a problem to be solved.

And instead, take a new approach, to listen to the people who stand on the other side of the gap.

A new approach that from now on, the first Australians must have the first say in the decisions that shape their lives.

A new approach that means a stronger voice for the National Congress of Australia’s First People – and the resources to make it happen. 

A new approach to extend ourselves beyond hand-picked sources of advice.

A new approach to be in the places where our first Australians live, work and play: in Mount Druitt and Logan, in the APY Lands and East Arnhem. 

Not treating local consultation as a box to be ticked – but applying the wisdom of the people who know.

Understanding and recognising there are many Aboriginal nations across this country:

·        Waanyi and Warlpiri

·        Badi and Gumatj ,

·        Tharawal and Kuarna

·        Yorta-Yorta and Narrunga 

And all of these nations have the right to the control of their future. 

Mr Speaker

The change required is deeper and more profound than where we visit and who we talk to.

The first Australians want a way to be heard – in a voice they are in control of. And I want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to know - Labor hears you.

We understand the need for a structure that isn’t at the mercy of cuts, or seen as a gift of largesse.

A voice that cannot be kicked to the kerb by a change of government or policy.

An entity that recognises:

-           Culture

-           Kinship

-           Identity

-           Language

-           Country

-           Responsibility 

And the pride that comes from knowing who you are, where you come from and the values you stand upon.

A system where culture is central and fundamental.

And, have no doubt, this can be done.

We see it when a Pitjantjajarra person seeks out a local healer, a Ngankari, in addition to a GP because their spiritual wellbeing can’t be treated by a packet of Panadol.

We see it in the Koori Court in Parramatta, using diversionary sentencing as an alternative to incarceration. 

-           Where elders sit on the bench alongside judges.

-           Elders asking the right questions of young people, they give them a sense of belonging

-           And if they muck-up, the elders address them with the straight-talking freedom of family and culture. A frankness and reassurance that even the judge can learn from. 

The court, the police, the prosecution and the defence show sensitivity to culture - yet still deal with a young person who has behaved in an anti-social way. 

This cross-cultural approach enhances the system. 

Bringing Aboriginal cultures to the centre - allowing justice to be done, without diminishing the individual or denying identity. 

It Australianises justice - and makes it work better. 

We see this in the best of Australian theatre, in art, education and literature. 

And if we can accept the value and richness of the Indigenous cultural genius and allow it to impact and transform our justice system and our arts We can do it with the Australian parliament too.  

In this peoples’ place, we can grow an enhanced respect for the first peoples, for their unique societies, for their values, for their experiences. 

At Redfern, Paul Keating threw down a gauntlet to us, the non-Aboriginal Australians 

He posed the question we had never asked. 

“How would I feel, if this were done to me?” 

25 years later that question stands before Australia still. 

-           How would we feel if our children were more likely to go to jail than university?

-           How would we feel if our life expectancy was twenty years shorter than our neighbour?

-           How would we feel if because of our skin colour, we experienced racism and discrimination.

-           And how would we feel if every time we offered a solution, an idea, an alternative approach we were patronisingly told that government knew best?


This is about our ability to walk in another’s shoes.

And so our test as a people and a parliament is not just to craft a new response – but to rediscover an old emotion.

To recapture the best of Australian compassion.

To wake up brotherhood and sisterhood.

Love for our fellow human being, dedication to our neighbours.

Weary Dunlop’s devotion to his troops – love of others over risk to self.

Fred Hollows’ life of service, Nancy Wake’s courage.

A spirit we see in millions of ordinary Australians: carers and teachers, volunteers, and emergency service personnel.

It is the story that Pat told me about the matron at his school demanding that this young boy had sheets on his bed like every other young boy. 

It was about the lady in Casterton who said no-one was gonna treat Pat different to any other boy.

Courage comes in all forms - that’s the spirit we need.

There's a spirit of courage which lurks in the hearts of all Australians.

There's that sense that we, at a certain point, we'll be pushed no further, that we will not stand for it any more.

It's that spirit to reject discrimination, it's that spirit to reject inequality.

To simply say: this cannot continue.

To simply say: Aboriginal people do not have to put up with this rubbish any more.

So my message today is not just for the people in this chamber - but for the first peoples of this nation.

We seek your help, your partnership, your inspiration and your leadership.

Because things cannot continue as they are.

The audit of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy tells a worrying, familiar tale:

-           Concerns about consultation

-           Cuts

-           And paternalism – a slide backwards. 

This is not a comment on the Coalition or Labor. It's a comment about parliament.

We see too often the legitimate cynicism of our First Australians towards the efforts of this place because there are failures written across the land.


-           In suburbs and remote communities

-           In schools and hospitals

-           In women’s refuges – and the courts of this country

-           In the targets we fall short of today.

-           In the staggering 440 per cent increase in Aboriginal children in out-of-home care. 

Mr Speaker

It has been twenty years since Bringing them Home, the report that brought tears to this chamber.

Nine years since Kevin Rudd and Jenny Macklin’s apology to the Stolen Generations.

And I wish to acknowledge former Prime Minister Rudd's presence here today in the gallery, visiting his former workplace.

I say this, Kevin: you can take well-deserved pride in your leadership on the 2008 apology.

But now, we have more Aboriginal children than ever growing up away from home, away from kin, country and culture.

We know many members of the Stolen Generation are still living with the pain of their removal –  the harm done by years of having their story rejected and denied. 

This is why I applaud the State Governments of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania who are already taking steps toward providing reparations to families torn apart by the discrimination of those times. 

Decency demands that we now have a conversation at the Commonwealth level about the need to follow their lead on reparations. 

This is the right thing to do. It is at the heart of Reconciliation: telling the truth, saying sorry, making good.

Mr Speaker

The Closing the Gap Targets were agreed by all levels of government, not just the Commonwealth - the States and Local Government, in partnership with Aboriginal people. 

Driven by the understanding:

-           that  your health influences your education

-           your education affects your ability to get a job

-           and that good jobs make things better for families, relationships and communities. 

The Closing the Gap framework is an intergenerational commitment to eroding centuries of inequality.

It outlives governments, parliaments, prime ministers and opposition leaders - but it also requires renewal.

This year, many of the current targets are due to be renegotiated.

And there are also new areas we must consider:

Labor continues to demand a justice target. 

Because incarceration and victimisation are breaking families and communities across the country.

Today we propose a new priority on stronger families –adding a target for reducing the numbers of Aboriginal children in out of home care.

The Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, has shone a light on the grim reality:

One in three children in statutory out-of-home care are Indigenous.

And Indigenous children are nearly ten times more likely to be removed by child protection authorities than their non-Indigenous peers.

Labor will listen to, work with SNAICC - and most importantly work with communities themselves - to look at new models and new approaches.

Mr Speaker

Breaking the vicious cycle: 

-           of family violence

-           of women murdered and driven from their homes

-           of unsafe communities

-           of parents in jail and kids in care 

Requires more from us than doubling-down on the current system.

We need to learn from places like Bourke and Cowra and their focus on justice reinvestment – on prevention, not just punishment. 

From Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who are making men face-up to their responsibilities and forcing a change in attitudes, supporting initiatives such as the “No More” campaign.  

And that should be the story across the board:

-           In preventative health

-           In education

-           In employment

-           And housing 

It’s time for humility.

To admit we don’t have the answers here – and to go and seek them out.

It’s time for truth-telling.

Our ancestors drove the first peoples of this nation from their bora ring, we scattered the ashes of their campfires.

We fenced hunting grounds, we poisoned waterholes, we distributed blankets infected with diseases we knew would kill.

And just as much damage has been done in different ways with better intentions, by the belief that forced assimilation was the only way to achieve equality. 

So today, I come not to tell – but to ask.

Because where we have failed –the first Australians have succeeded.

On the road to Reconciliation, our first Australians who have led the way.

Giving forgiveness, as we seek forgiveness.

Walking off Wave Hill Station for the right to live on their land, in their way.

Charles Perkins and the Freedom Riders who opened the eyes of a generation to racism and poverty.

Jessie Street, Faith Bandler, Chicka Dixon, Joe McGinniss and countless others who rallied support for the 67 Referendum under the banner ‘Count us Together’.

And Eddie Mabo, who told his daughter Gail:

‘One day, all of Australia is going to know my name’.

The success of Aboriginal leadership can be found in every corner of the country.

I have seen them with my own eyes.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health organisations, providing essential primary care.

Indigenous Rangers, in Wadeye and Maningrida, the Central Desert - or the Kimberly working on country and on the seas and waterways – doing meaningful jobs for good wages. 

The Families as First Teachers program – which has given culturally-appropriate support to over 2000 young families: helping with health, hygiene and preparing for early childhood education.

Money Mob – teaching budgeting and planning skills.

Deadly Choices, through the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health in Brisbane - improving preventative health.

The Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre in Darwin.

The Stars Foundation, inspiring Indigenous girls – modelling the success of the Clontarf Academy for Boys.

And the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, connecting Aboriginal university students with high-achievers at school. 

On every issue, at every age, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are demonstrating that solutions are within their grasp. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know what needs to be done – what they need from this parliament is recognition, respect and resources.

We cannot swap the tyranny of bureaucracy - for funding cuts and neglect.

The people on the frontline, elders, leaders, teachers and health-care workers know what to do.

We need to take the time to listen. We need to respect the right of Aboriginal voices to make decisions, control their own lives, give them their own place and space. They just need us to back them up.

Mr Speaker

Fifty years ago, Oodgeroo wrote: 

“The victory of the 1967 Referendum was not a change of white attitudes.

The real victory was the spirit of hope and optimism.

We had won something.

We were visible, hopeful and vocal.” 

All too rarely – before and since – has that been the story for Aboriginal people.

Instead, it has been a tale of exclusion.

Exclusion from opportunity, from the pages of our history.

And exclusion from the decisions which effect their lives.

It’s time to write a new story.

A story of belonging.

Because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples belong to a proud tradition.

To nations who fought the invaders.

Brave people who fought – and died – for their country – at Passchendaele, Kokoda and Long Tan – and now in the Middle East and Afghanistan. 

Who have fought and continue to fight for justice, for land, for an apology, for recognition.

You belong to a tradition of sporting brilliance, in the face of racism from opponents, teammates, administrators and spectators.


You belong to humanity’s oldest continuous culture – more famous around the world now than ever before. 

You do not belong in a jail cell, for an offence that carries an $80 fine.

You do not belong strapped to a chair, with a hood on your head.

You do not belong in the back of a windowless van, away from your family and loved ones.

You do not belong in a bureaucrat’s office, begging for money.

You do not belong on the streets, with nowhere to go. 

You belong here, as members of this parliament, as leaders of this nation.

You belong in the Constitution, recognised at last.

You belong in schools, teaching and learning.

You belong on construction sites, building homes and gaining skills.

You belong on country, caring for the land.

You belong here, growing up healthy, raising your children in safety, growing old with security.

You belong here, strong in your culture, kinship, language and country.

You belong here, equal citizens in this great country, equal partners in our common endeavour.

This is your place. This is our place.

Our future is your future.

As Senator Dodson has explained to me in the language of his people, he says:

"Let's go. The best advice is - let's get on with it."

As he would say:

“Umba imbalan!”


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