NAIDOC Week - The Senate - Canberra - 11/11/2020

11 November 2020


I acknowledge we meet on the land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people.

I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Earlier this year I asked if this Parliament takes the pride it should in our First Australians.

It is a profound honour to work for the custodians of the oldest continuous civilisation on earth.

And it is a profound honour to sit in a Federal Labor caucus with a growing First Nations Caucus – the Member for Barton, Linda Burney, Senator McCarthy and the father of reconciliation, Senator Dodson.

I also want to acknowledge and welcome Senator Thorpe, who has recently taken her place in the Senate.

And I thank Paul House for his welcome to country and smoking ceremony yesterday.

NAIDOC week is about celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It was a moving act of reconciliation this week, when Indigenous Australians sought to have the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags displayed in the Senate, despite years of being failed by the people who have filled these benches.

It was an embarrassing lack of grace, that in this week of all weeks, Morrison Government senators said “no”.

And it is another reminder to all of us non-Indigenous Australians this NAIDOC week of the importance of listening and learning.

Not just in NAIDOC week, but all year round I am grateful to be able to learn from our First Nations Caucus.

In the interests of listening, the majority of Labor’s speaking time today on NAIDOC week will be taken by Senator Dodson and Senator McCarthy.

But as part of my support for our First Nations Caucus, and my determination for First Nations people know they have allies in this place, I want to reiterate Labor’s commitment to listening and learning - which goes to the core of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Labor is committed to the Uluru Statement in full.

We are committed to the Indigenous Voice to the Parliament enshrined in the constitution.

There should be no controversy over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being consulted about issues that directly affect them.

We are committed to a Makarrata Commission that will oversee agreement and treaty-making.

And we are committed to a national process of truth telling.

We have to acknowledge and address the facts of our history, or they will haunt us forever.

It is a history that is still not known widely enough; the crimes and massacres perpetrated on Aboriginal people and their culture - including the Frontier Wars and the Stolen Generations – and ongoing injustices.

And even less known are many of the achievements of Aboriginal civilisation.

Thanks to the work of writers like Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage, popular understanding of our continent before European colonisation is growing.

We are no longer trapped in the ignorance of our own assumptions and prejudice – premised on the underlying supremacism of the narrative that white people know best.

Bruce Pascoe writes of Australia before colonisation, with First Nations people engaging in complex water management and agriculture, and living in sophisticated housing among villages:

“none of which fitted the definition of a hunter-gatherer.”

“Could it be,” he asks,

“that the accepted view of Indigenous Australians simply wandering from plant to plant, kangaroo to kangaroo, in hapless opportunism, was incorrect?”

Bill Gammage describes “trade webs meshed thousands of kilometres” among extensive systems of human communication.

He compares the comfortable lives Indigenous Australians built for themselves with those of “landowning gentry.”

Without knowing this and so much more, we allow ourselves to diminish the value of the lives and culture that were upended with European colonisation.

But when we listen, and learn, we can come to understand the true, rich history of the land we live on, the place this has been, and the country we could become.

And we can then share the passion and pride that Indigenous Australians so rightly feel.

And we can understand the truth that for too long was not taught.

That this is a land where sovereignty was never ceded.

And it always was - and always will - be Aboriginal land.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.