I am so glad to be here in Emerton today and I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners, the Darug people of the land on which we meet, and by paying my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I thank the Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation – both for your generosity in welcoming me today, and for all your incredible work. What we have here is the result of the dream of five great elders: the dream of providing practical ways to improve the lives of local Aboriginal people. It is a dream you have turned into a reality. From Baabayn I acknowledge: Daisy Barker, Jenny Ebsworth, Margaret Farrell, Mary Kerr, Karen Syed, Mia Jackson, Sue Martin and Trish.
As we gather here in Holy Family Catholic Primary, a true home of reconciliation here amid Australia’s biggest urban Aboriginal population, I would also like to acknowledge local elders Uncle Wes and Aunty Pat, Blacktown City Mayor and member for Blacktown, Stephen Bali, and of course our outstanding local federal member, Ed Husic.
Whenever I sit down with Aboriginal people, I learn something, and that’s a real privilege.
You find a lot of blokes my age who have stopped learning and, even worse, stopped listening. It’s possible some of them are in Parliament.
I hope I never stop. More importantly, as leader of the Australian Labor Party, I hope we never stop. Because even though I lead an old party with a proud history of supporting the aspirations of First Nations people, we still have so much to learn.
Throughout my time in politics, I’ve had the privilege of listening to and learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from Gadigal land, where my electorate is, and from across Australia.
In the past few years I’ve also had the privilege of working closely in Federal Parliament with a growing group of Indigenous representatives.
We are so much stronger thanks to the contributions of Senator Patrick Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, and of course my colleague the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney.
What a warrior she is. And of course I acknowledge the important contribution of Ken Wyatt, now Minister for Indigenous Affairs, not least his commitment yesterday to Indigenous constitutional change.
NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for all Australians to learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and celebrate the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
And not just the strength. We also celebrate the creativity, the generosity, the tenacity, the humour, and the success.
It is more than a decade since the Apology.
It is more than a lifetime since that great Yorta Yorta man William Cooper – a great unionist too, I might add – rallied Aboriginal Australia to demand a voice. Eighty-five years ago he was speaking about this. Eighty-five years!
It is well past time the Parliament heard an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a rightful place in the beating heart of our democracy will be a significant change, but it will not be the reinvention of Australia – rather, it will be the realisation of a greater Australia.
It will not diminish any us, but will instead make us stronger. It will be the ultimate fulfilment of that most Australian of instincts: the fair go.
The Parliament could listen, and the nation could learn – with open ears, open hearts and open minds.
I want Voice and Treaty and Truth to be part of our nation’s journey, part of our national life – learning the truth about our past, learning the antiquity of traditional custom, learning the truth about the history of Indigenous agriculture, and learning to draw together the strands of the many nations that make up this land into one mighty cord.
Or in other words: learning from you.
This about all of us coming together to celebrate the oldest continuous surviving culture on the planet.
It’s not just about respect and redress. It’s about progress and change. And that should be entrenched in the Constitution. We should also acknowledge the patience and persistence of First Nations people and their wishes, including the nature of future agreements with them that was made so clear in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Parliament should show its respect for the strength and the determination of First Nations people by working with you to progress the agenda of the Uluru Statement, to establish a Voice, to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution, and to slam shut the gap which remains so vast across so many categories: child removal, incarceration, health and youth suicide.
The truth is, that the gap will only be closed when self-determination is at the heart of what we do. Self-determination isn’t just a theory. We see it every day – successful approaches delivered by Aboriginal community controlled health, housing, child support, legal and family violence prevention services across the nation.
We see it as this amazing new generation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, lawyers, teachers, managers and community developers graduate from university and fan out across the country to serve their people by working for their organisations.
We know that you have the solutions to the issues facing your communities. And we know that this is the pathway to closing the gap. And that is what will give proper weight to our celebration of your strength. Our celebration of the work you do here. Our celebration of the many millennia of Australia’s First Nations.
And our celebration of the truth that this was, this is, this always will be Aboriginal land.
Thanks for having me on it.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.