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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2158


Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (17:01): One of my earliest political mentors was a great guy by the name of Doug Puxty, a resident of my hometown of Cessnock. He and his wife, Helen, were and are close friends of my family. Doug has been an amazing contributor to his community as a careers adviser at the local high school, as a member of the Labor Party and as a member of the Catholic Church, particularly his work with St Vincent de Paul, the Two Bishops Trust and many others. He's not particularly well at the moment, in his early 80s, and I wish him the very best for the future.

I mention Doug Puxty because I've never forgotten that Doug Puxty, in a very simple way, gave me my first realisation of how badly our Indigenous Australians had been treated. Yes, I knew the history, but he somehow brought it home to a personal level. He told me that he remembered playing football with Indigenous players and going to the pub after for a drink—as you did in those days, and some possibly still do now—but without his Indigenous teammates. His Indigenous teammates weren't allowed to go to the pub for a drink. As members know, they weren't allowed to visit hotels. That story, as simple and obvious as it seems, has always stayed with me.

I've been in this place 22 years and I've had many occasions to be emotionally overwhelmed by events before the House, but three stand out which are relevant to the motion from the Prime Minister that we are addressing today. The first was early in my time here, in 1997. It was the time of the debate around the government's response to the Wik decision. They were energetic and robust times. Of course, the Howard government—and I have no intention of politicising this debate—wasn't providing a response which was welcomed by the Wik peoples or Indigenous Australians more generally. I vividly remember what must have been more than a thousand Indigenous Australians forming a ring around Parliament House. I believe we may have sat right through to Saturday on that occasion to finish the Wik legislation, to shepherd it through the House. There had been a number of amendments, and I'm pretty sure we were kept back to finish our work. I remember very vividly being dropped off at the base, if you like, of the Reps—the ramp up into the Reps entrance—and encountering this ring of Indigenous Australians, and walking to the Reps entrance and sort of high-fiving them or tapping their hands as we walked up to the entrance. It was a nice time to be a member of the Labor Party because we felt we were delivering a greater level of justice than the Howard government had provided.

The second time was throughout the period immediately after the tabling of the stolen generation report, the Bringing them home report. Again, John Howard, the Prime Minister at the time, had determined that he would move in the House a motion of regret for the impact of what had happened to so many Indigenous Australians through a dark period of our history. The Labor Party was rightly, in my view, of the view that we needed a stronger form of words than that, and Kim Beazley, the Leader of the Opposition at the time, had moved an amendment changing the words to a full apology. If I remember correctly, that debate rolled on for many days, if not weeks, somehow. The Labor Party's tacticians, I suppose you would say, determined to present our case, decided that every Labor member, every member of the opposition, would use their adjournment speech to read one story out of this amazing, challenging and confronting report. I remember people being in tears as they read these excerpts out of the report. It was a very emotional and confronting time, and a time that none of us should forget.

The third occasion, of course, was when Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister finally delivered the apology to the stolen generation—the event which we are commemorating today. I remember the apology very well, and it was an emotional time. The galleries were packed, of course. People were expressing their emotions. But I remember even more vividly sitting in the Members' Hall, where we must have been watching, observing what was probably a smoking ceremony, amongst other things. But they had people re-enacting the events of the earlier period in our history, including women sitting on the floor in their traditional dress, charcoaling the faces of young children—and, as we all know, mothers charcoaled the faces of their children so that their children wouldn't be taken. The authorities had made the determination that full-blooded Indigenous Australians were beyond help, were beyond redemption, and they were left with their mothers, and so their mothers would attempt to make their children's faces darker—so they wouldn't be taken away.

So it was a historic occasion, 10 years ago. We've come a long way, but we have so much further to go. The Closing the gap report tells us that. We must all unite, surely, to ensure we go the next yards. The fact is that Indigenous Australians are still more likely to be unemployed, less likely to own a home, likely to die younger, more likely to be in jail—the list is long. While we've made some gains, we do have a long way to go. I'm very proud that the Leader of the Opposition has put forward a commitment to a compensation scheme and other arrangements. My strongest hope is that the parliament in the future avoids the divisions that I've experienced in the past in this place, can speak with one voice and ensures that justice is finally delivered.