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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 721


Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:00): Nine years ago, we met here in this chamber, here on Ngunnawal land, which we acknowledge every day, and heard Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver the apology to our First Australians. It was a remarkable and historic moment. The galleries were filled overwhelmingly with our First Australians. There was almost no room in the Great Hall. The area in front of the parliament was a sea of humanity, expectation and support. The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, gave an apology on behalf of us all for the laws and the policies of successive parliaments, successive governments and successive generations. In particular, he apologised for the policies that removed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. It is an apology that today we reaffirm and it is an apology that has echoed through the years and will echo for centuries to come. It was an apology whose time had come.

As we look ahead to a better future, we know that acknowledgement is the seed from which hope and healing are sown. In that spirit, we acknowledge the enormous strength and resilience of our First Australians who have overcome and are overcoming the disadvantage that was woven into their lives by policies like that. We acknowledge the mums and dads, the grandparents, the aunties and uncles, and the brothers and sisters who strove against overwhelming odds to find their lost children. And we acknowledge the suffering of those little children, crying for their mothers and their fathers and the warm embrace of kin. We acknowledge the disruption to culture, the loss of language and the destruction of community. Above all, we acknowledge the lifetime heartache that has been endured by each child and each parent who suffered and who continues to suffer. To all those families, we acknowledge that your suffering cannot be healed by words alone, and so we commit ourselves again to address the disadvantage that has stemmed from those past policies.

Tomorrow I will present the Closing the gapreport, a gap we are as determined now as we were in 2008 to close. We look forward to receiving the recommendations from the Referendum Council so the parliament can complete the work of a constitutional amendment to recognise our First Australians. The Referendum Council is undertaking its process of consulting with Indigenous Australians. The Leader of the Opposition and I are looking forward to receiving the recommendations from the council, because then it will be the parliament's task, a parliament with distinguished Indigenous Australians among its members, to then shape the amendment and present it to the Australian people.

Most importantly, we do all of this together. We face the future more hopeful than ever because our relationship is based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. And it is one that must be filled with optimism. The apology was a very sad and solemn moment, but we see so many stories of remarkable enterprise, resilience, courage and achievement among our First Australians.

I was discussing with Chris Sarra only the other day, an Aboriginal man whom I quote a lot and whose writings I have found profoundly instructive. When we talk about the challenges that we are working on together, we must not solely focus on the deficit side of the ledger. There are great stories of achievement. We are looking at them here in this House: the first Indigenous Australian to be a minister in a Commonwealth government, Ken Wyatt, and Linda Burney, in her own right the first Indigenous woman to be a member of his House and a minister, of course, in the New South Wales government previously. So there are great positive stories to tell and we have to be focused on them as well.

Our First Australians lead lives as diverse and different as any of us, from the most remote communities to the centre of our busiest cities and to our parliaments themselves. They are citizens of our modern multicultural nation, contributing to our society, their families and our community, playing a magnificent, resilient, enterprising part in our great nation. So today we not only reaffirm the apology that was given by Prime Minister Rudd but, while we recognise the importance of words—after all, this is a House of words—we recognise nonetheless that it will be deeds that will set us surely and truly on the path of reconciliation and recognition.