Anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations - 15/02/2022

15 February 2022


I want to begin by acknowledging the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, on whose land this parliament stands, and that the electorate of Canberra is their land. I want to acknowledge our Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, our shadow minister for Indigenous affairs, Linda Burney, Senator Patrick Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator Jacqui Lambie, Senator Lidia Thorpe and Senator Dorinda Cox. I also want to acknowledge today any members of my community who were members of the stolen generation or whose families were members of the stolen generation.

Fourteen years ago Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised to the stolen generations on behalf of the Australian government. It was an important and long-overdue moment in our nation's history. Like millions of Australians, I clearly remember the feeling of that day and the importance of that moment that so many had fought for and worked towards over many, many years. It was to be not the end but the beginning of a new chapter, looking to a future where we are honest about our history and come to terms with it as a nation. At the time, Prime Minister Rudd said:

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

The apology was a significant step towards reconciliation, and it's time we had the courage to continue that journey. That is why the Australian Labor Party is committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. It has been almost five years since Australia's First Nations peoples called for voice, treaty, truth, and it is clear that these should be our next steps. It's why we must confront the truth that we continue to fail First Nations peoples. Today, First Nations peoples have a shorter life expectancy, the highest rates of incarceration in the world, lower levels of education—and, still, too many First Nations children are being removed from their families.

My friend and colleague Linda Burney, the member for Barton, speaking about the impact of the apology yesterday, asked Australians to use our imaginations, to envision what life is like in remote communities during the pandemic. She said:

Imagine what living in a remote community is like, with 15 or 20 people in a three-bedroom house. What that's like? Imagine not having enough RATs to go around when local services are failing because there aren't any staff to step up when those on the front line have to isolate, and when less than half of the community is vaccinated. Every day, I hold my breath and hope, because that failure could mean the end for far too many who carry our culture and language. Our elders are our libraries. They are our internet. They cannot be replaced.

I am so proud to work with Linda in our party and to work with her in our First Nations caucus committee and I am so proud that she is leading our policy platform for First Nations peoples. We have to ask ourselves: would these issues persist if the voices of First Nations people were heard by this parliament in the way they have asked them to be? Self-determination is a vital step towards reconciliation, and it is one that Labor is fully committed to. We are the only party that is fully committed to this. I'm proud that Labor is committed to this.

Labor will establish a makarrata commission as a matter of priority and enshrine it in the Constitution with a First Nations voice to parliament. Labor will also expand justice re-investment, establish consolidated real-time reporting of First Nations deaths in custody at a national level and double the number of Indigenous rangers. These are the next steps that Labor will take, that Australia must take.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was an incredibly generous gift from First Nations people to Australia, and it called for those three key things—voice, treaty, truth. Voice: an Indigenous voice to our parliament, enshrined in the Constitution, advising our nation's legislators on matters affecting First Nations communities. Treaty: Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that is yet to sign treaties with First Nations people. Treaties are an essential step in acknowledging and giving legal effect to the rights and interests of First Nations Australians. And truth: a comprehensive process of truth-telling about the true history of this nation, once marred by dispossession, conflict and genocide, one which acknowledges the truth strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Labor is fully committed to the implementation of these things.

I want to finish my speech today by reading into the Hansard once again the incredibly moving words of the Uluru statement. It is important that we remember these words and the wishes of First Nations people when we have these debates.

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from 'time immemorial', and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or 'mother nature', and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia's nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

This statement came from the most comprehensive deliberative process of First Nations peoples in Australia ever undertaken. This is what they have asked of their parliament. How could we not accept this generous gift and walk together into a better future? Voice, treaty and truth—this is what we need for healing. This is the next step in reconciliation. I am so proud that a Labor government would do this, and I look forward to our parliament doing this, hopefully in the next term.