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28 November 2023


First Nations Australians

House of Representatives (19:35), 21/11/2023

"All of us, regardless of race, culture or gender, share a strong identity as Australians wanting to build a common, tolerant and prosperous future together."

These were the words of Senator Patrick Dodson seven years ago, in his maiden speech. Today he announced his retirement. These words remain powerful today. Pursuing peace over conflict, he is fondly regarded as the father of reconciliation. He has inspired a generation with his spirit of healing and forgiveness. Sometimes we come across giants in our lives, and occasionally these giants are elected to our parliament. He will be greatly missed. I stand here to thank him for his service. His wisdom throughout his career should continue to guide us in this place. Reconciliation with our First Nations people will make Australia whole. As a nation, we need to understand our past so we can reconcile it with the present to simply build a better future.

Australia, with its rich tapestry of cultures, traditions and landscapes bears the weight of a troubled history. It's a past marked by dispossession, discrimination and an attempted erosion of Indigenous culture. The mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the impact of policies like the forced removal of children, and the denial of basic rights are painful chapters in our shared history. Senator Dodson, in his first speech, talked about how he, as a child, hid in the long grass in Katherine, watching his friends being taken. This is something that would be heart-wrenching for a mother to watch. I cannot imagine what it would be like for a child to watch this. Today we must confront this history with humility. We must acknowledge the deep scars and we must follow in the footsteps of Senator Dodson to commit ourselves to a path of reconciliation.

In my mind, this goes to the core of what it means to be Australian. It's about a fair go but it's also about belonging. Good friends make commitments to healing historical wounds. This is also something that mature countries do. This is why I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Senator Dodson in the heart of Swan, at Curtin University, and campaign on the Voice referendum. While we didn't achieve the outcome that we were hoping for, I know that all of Australia has now seen the richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. It is amazing that we are part of the world's oldest continuous culture, and this is a source of pride for all Australians. But what we also saw was social disadvantage being highlighted to all Australians. The thing that I think Australia is united on is that the gap is unacceptable, and we must work together to close it. During the campaign, I saw a grassroots community movement in my electorate, Vic Park for the Voice, who threw their heart and soul into the campaign. We will not rest until we close the gap.

One of the things that I have seen post-referendum is the way that children play change-maker roles. Knowledge is power, and education is a tool to share power. That's something that we must all work on together. Local Salter Point student Ethan Widjaja won the national Indigenous history award this week. He explored the importance of how Indigenous storytellers are reclaiming the space from the colonial tradition. These are our leaders of the future and will be the architects of a fair and just future for Australia.

As we navigate this path forward, let us be guided by the spirit and leadership of Senator Dodson. These are the principles of justice, respect and equality. The way that I have to reconcile the future is that, while we didn't achieve constitutional recognition in the referendum, I believe in a future where we will achieve this. The history books will look back, and I am confident that Senator Dodson played an important role in this. Thank you so much for your service.