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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1950


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:40): I thank the member for Page for putting this stolen generations motion before the parliament and I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate. I hope it does say something that there are two members speaking from the North Coast of New South Wales, an area quite often forgotten in debate around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when looking at demographics and where people live. More than 50 per cent of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live in a corridor on the coast between Sydney and roughly Rockhampton. The very large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of the East Coast are an important part of the story of Australia. I am very pleased to once again make that point to the House. I hope to see more work done in public policy on the east coast of Australia.

I was not in the parliament when the sorry speech took place. I was travelling through Sydney airport the day after. It was really noticeable that there were many people travelling home from that speech. People were 10 feet tall. Walking through the airport, I saw some very proud individuals on the back of the sorry speech and the sorry day and the significance of that to their lives. That really drove home to me the message about how important that moment was, not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but for all Australians as a step on the journey of reconciliation and building the best possible Australia for all of us.

I have heard simple words. I have heard it called symbolism. We just heard some reflections that we do not want to build a culture of sorry. I do not think that is what this was about at all. It was something that should have been done a long time ago and it was long overdue and I am glad it was done. But, on the fourth anniversary, it should not be the only bit of work on the journey of reconciliation. Whilst it was one important step, it is one part of a myriad of work that community and government are doing, and trying to do, in partnership with community.

I often hear people in politics talk about the government doing this, we do that and they—as in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders—should do something else. I hope we all in public policy recognise that some of the best work in recent times has been done not in Canberra and not in public policy but in the hearts and minds of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who understand their history better than any of us and are determined through a whole number of ways to build a generation of change. I think that is some of the most exciting work being done within all our communities. It really does not involve us much at all. It is a determination by a community that for a long time has been marginalised for a whole number of reasons by the Crown but, despite that, shows incredible resilience as individuals and as a community and as a culture. So whilst sorry and the sorry message were incredibly important I would hope the resilience of the world's longest-standing culture is remembered above all, and I am very confident that we live in a generation where it is going to shine and, hopefully, we in public policy can keep up with community delivering a standard that Australians should celebrate, not feel in any way guilty about at all.