Bill's Speeches



Good evening everyone

Thank you, Aunty Donna for your welcome.

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

Long before this vast chamber was carved into this headland.

Long before the wharves and cranes of the shipyards were built - and demolished.

Barangaroo and her sisters fished in these waters, she and her brothers cared for this place.

She saw the tall ships on the horizon, she saw those ghost-white strangers come ashore, bringing with them the diseases and the alcohol.

She witnessed her people stand proud, and resist.

Friends, this was, is, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

Prime Minister, distinguished guests one and all.

I won’t make a long speech tonight.

Let us be direct instead.

Let us agree that when it comes to Constitutional Recognition, there has been enough talk.

2017 has to be a year for action.

The good work of Recognise has laid the foundation for change, now we need to build upon it, all of us: the wider community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is time to settle the referendum question

It is time to set a date.

It is time to campaign together for Constitutional Recognition.

It is time to make sure Aboriginal people are enrolled to vote for that change

It is time to make clear that whilst Recognition is the first step, it is not the end of the road, that we are capable of delivering post-recognition settlement.

And it is time for the wider population to recognise, once and for all, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were here first.

The Referendum Council are doing good work, they are continuing their community conversations about options.

And after the Uluru gathering, I know Malcolm and I, indeed the whole parliament will draw upon this vital work, to help us agree on a set of words to take and put to the Australian people. 

A clear proposition that all of us – black and white, Liberal and Labor and any other political party, city and country, can understand and vote for with one voice.

I feel, at the moment it is too easy to say you support Recognition and too hard to specify what Recognition is. 

Recognition cannot be a piece of poetry appended to the constitution.

Removing the stubborn stain of racism and prejudice is more than a matter of changing a few words on a document signed by Queen Victoria.

We need to recognise that some of the terrible statistics are getting worse, not better:

-       Family violence

-       Thousands of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care

-       Kids in custodial detention betrayed by a failing juvenile justice system

-       Incarceration rates out of control

These stories are becoming industries in themselves. 

The reports have all been written before, they have sat on the shelves – and while they gather dust, we keep repeating the same mistakes.

And first and foremost – the mistake is a lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander empowerment.

That’s why true reconciliation requires a broader conversation – a bigger circle.

I say to those who feel that Constitutional Recognition is a second-order issue and that matters of treaty are a greater priority.

I say to you, Recognition is not a roadblock to treaty.

It doesn’t close the way, or stand in our path.

Recognition is the next door this nation needs to walk through, together – like the ‘67 Referendum, like Mabo, like Native Title, like the Apology.

It is time for some Australians to move beyond knee-jerk panic and unthinking outrage every time the word ‘treaty’ is mentioned.

It is time to put away the old labels of the history wars – and to talk about what unfinished business really looks like, what treaty really means:

-       Time to acknowledge the special status of the First Australians

-       Time to work together with Aboriginal community organisations and with peak bodies like Congress, to deliver change at the grassroots – from the grassroots. 

-       Time for reliable, secure funding – not the periodic demeaning begging and the over-the-top compliance we ask of Aboriginal-controlled organisation.

-       Time for a much more equal relationship between government – of all political persuasions - and the First Australians.

-       Time for a better balance between decision-making and responsibility.

These types of agreements to which I refer, have already been invented, they already exist at a local and regional level.

To me, post-recognition settlement, or treaty or treaties, is about building new frameworks for government to engage with, and empower,  the First Australians.

Surely we are smart enough as a nation, generous enough as a nation, to have this conversation and still achieve Recognition first.

Let me be clear, Constitutional Recognition should be our first priority.

We want to get Recognition done and we want to get it done now. 



-       Treaty

-       Closing the Gap

All depend on the same spirit of respect, co-operation and engagement.

It is not a choice between a place of honour on our nation’s birth certificate – or a place of respect in our economy and society.

And it is not enough to eliminate racism from our laws - we must stamp out racism wherever it occurs: from the classroom to the workplace to the sporting field - and the cowards booing from the grandstand, no more.


Earlier this year I had the privilege of being at Wave Hill for the 50th anniversary of that hot August day when a group of modest heroes gathered their belongings, marched off the station and marched into history.

Vowing not to return, until justice was done.

And Aunty Shirley, fifty years ago, you and many others were campaigning to be regarded as Australians.

But the gift you and all those others gave us, you made us all proud to be Australian.

Half a century on, our generation faces a new test.

Today, nearly half of all Aboriginal people are under the age of 18.

As someone said to me this afternoon, Aboriginal kids are not empty vessels, waiting to have excellence poured into them - Aboriginal kids are already excellent.

How amazing to have 40,000 years of pride and resilience flowing in your veins.

That is what we have to recognise.

In our Constitution – and in all the unfinished business between our First Australians and those who’ve followed in the last 228 years.

Have a lovely evening. 

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