Jul 2, 2019

Speech – Reply to Welcome to Country – Parliament House, Canberra – Tuesday, 2 July 2019

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal people, of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

To the Prime Minister, to Mr Speaker, my parliamentary colleagues, fellow citizens.

I particularly acknowledge the presence here today of the Members of Parliament who are Indigenous Australians: Minister Wyatt, I congratulate you Ken very much on your appointment. It is indeed a historic occasion.

To my local member Linda Burney, who will be his Shadow Minister and I am confident that –  I don’t think I break any confidence here to say that when the Prime Minister and I eventually got together to chat about my election as Leader of the Labor Party, the one issue that we discussed was reconciliation, it is the first agenda in which we need to cooperate as a Parliament not as partisan political operators.

And I am very confident that both Minister Wyatt and Shadow Minister Burney, along with her colleagues as well – Senator Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Senator Jacqui Lambie – will also participate in that process and in that journey.

Thank you Tina to yourself and your wonderful family, what a fantastic performance to begin this eventful day in Parliament House. I am so grateful to be welcomed again to Ngunnawal country by the traditional owners here. Linda said to me this morning, Wellama, we’ll be back. We always do come back.

When I was elected to this place some twenty-three years ago, there was no welcome to country, simply because the Parliament didn’t ask for one. I came down from a lifetime in in the Inner West of Sydney, the land of the Gadigal/Wangal clans of the Eora Nation, to a new career here in this Ngunnawal and Ngambri country, without any acknowledgement of the cultural significance of that moment.

What a lost opportunity to learn about this place.

We now begin every Shadow Ministry meeting with the acknowledgement to country from Linda Burney who informs us about the cultural significance of where we are meeting, wherever it is.

Just like of course the Parliament didn’t ask to be welcomed by your leaders when we first met in this building in 1988, nor when we first met in this city in 1927.

But even when the Parliament has tried to ignore First Nations, First Nations people have been here.

And the Prime Minister has outlined that extraordinary history with Jimmy Clements and John Noble, proud Wiradjuri men and the actions that they took and the response that they got from their fellow Australians.

I also think of the first Welcome to Country here – when we gathered in this place in February of 2008.

I am very proud to have been Leader of the House of Representatives when we instituted that reform. It’s a great example of whereby I think people at the time thought why haven’t we done this before.

And once done, just like the Apology, no one could imagine us not doing it.

It was indeed a rare moment where the Parliament showed humility and respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

What I remember most from that February day was the same strength  – the strength of your culture, to survive everything that has been thrown at you – to survive everything that this institution has done to you – and the strength of your character, to welcome us with the oldest continuing human culture and custom in the world – customs whose antiquity stretches back beyond our comprehension.

The generosity of First Nations people to offer that welcome is quite extraordinary.

So I welcome the fact that we now regard this as an essential component of the beginning of the Parliament.

We know that for the Parliament to asked, to be welcomed by the traditional owners of the land on which we meet is a very modest step.

It is more than a decade since the Apology; it is time to go further in reconciliation.

The Parliament should show its respect for the strength and determination of First Nations peoples by working with you, to progress the agenda of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to establish a Voice, to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution, and to close the gap which remains so vast across so many categories.

We have to acknowledge the patience and persistence of First Nations people and their wishes, including the nature of future agreements with them that was made clear in the Uluru Statement.

The Parliament should do more than hear an Aboriginal welcome.

The Parliament should also hear an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

That would be significant change for our country.

We would all be stronger for it.

And once done, we would wonder, just like the Apology, just like this Welcome to Country, why we hadn’t done it before.

So I say to the Prime Minister: I look forward to working with you in the spirit in which we’ve already had discussions.

We will work with you.

This thing can be done.

We have been welcomed to this country today in such a generous spirit, by such a hopeful heart, and we should respond with courage and kindness and with determination.

Forty-five times we have opened the Parliament in this country without a Voice to Parliament for the First Nations of this great land.

This 46th Parliament should be the last time in which we do that.