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Thursday, 31 May 2012
Page: 6532


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:03): This coming Sunday, 3 June, marks the 20th anniversary of the Mabo judgment, a sublime moment in the life of our nation. This was a judgment of the High Court at its finest, led by the brilliant Justice Mason, having a case brought by one of the most remarkable plaintiffs ever to grace a court room, the late Eddie Mabo, someone whose story is very well known, and becoming increasingly well known as a result of the recent film Mabo. The case brought in his name was no dry legal or constitutional argument but went to the core of our identity and integrity as a nation. Mabo fundamentally readjusted the terms upon which black Australians and white Australians share this land, reaching across two centuries to erase our nation's founding lie, the lie of terra nullius. Instead, Mabo acknowledged and affirmed in law what Indigenous Australians always knew: this land was not empty and vacant, but occupied by a proud and ancient people who maintained the oldest culture on earth.

My distinguished predecessor Paul Keating recognised Mabo for what it was: not a burden or a problem, but an opportunity. It was an opportunity to take the principles of the High Court judgment and inscribe them in Australian law forever. It was an act of courage and conviction for which Mr Keating will be lastingly honoured. It was also a reminder that the big things, the great things, in Australian politics never come easily and are always purchased at a high price but a price worth paying.

Of all the millions of words written and said about Mabo, the best were those spoken by Pat Dodson when he remarked that the judgment should be received in a spirit of joy and celebration. The fear and division abroad in 1992 meant that our nation did not have the chance to receive Mabo in such a spirit at that time. Perhaps now, 20 years later, when we see that the dire predictions have not come to pass and native title is a routine and accepted part of our legal machinery, we do have the perspective that enables joy and celebration. We should celebrate with proud and generous hearts the fact that Mabo righted a grave injustice and set our nation ever more firmly on the path of reconciliation, a path upon which we will continue with the work of healing—and more healing has to be done. I commend this anniversary to the House.