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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2166


Ms PLIBERSEK (Sydney—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:37): On 11 November 1998, I made my first speech to this parliament. In that first speech, I said sorry to the members of the stolen generations. It seemed to me such a simple and necessary thing to do. I couldn't understand why it took 10 more years for the parliament as a whole to do that. But I was so proud when, in 2008, Kevin Rudd delivered the apology on behalf of Labor—the government of the day—and the opposition responded. The work that Kevin Rudd and Jenny Macklin did in drafting that apology and making sure that stolen generations members were able to fill the galleries, fill the parliament and fill the courtyard, and, for the first time, really make Parliament House theirs and truly a Parliament House for the whole nation was absolutely unforgettable.

We needed to apologise because governments removed Indigenous children from their families, from their homes and from their land not because of abuse or neglect but because of the colour of their skin. Families and communities across the nation were destroyed, and many have never fully recovered. There are many people who were never able to find the parents, the families or the communities that they were taken from. There are so many stories of people who found out where they were from just a little too late, whose parents had died before they reconnected.

It was Paul Keating in his Redfern Park speech who said about the treatment of Indigenous Australians by non-Indigenous Australians:

With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.

We failed to ask—how would I feel if this were done to me?

In the case of the stolen generations, there is no more powerful way of connecting with this issue than imagining how we would feel if our children were taken from us, or how we would feel if as children we were taken from our family and our community. It was a question that Australians had delayed asking themselves for too long, and it led, eventually, to the apology in 2008 and to our commemoration of it each year and today. It's not just about the past, of course; it's about the future because, as important as the apology was, on its own, it's not enough. What it is is a motivation for us to do better in the future, to take practical steps to redress disadvantage. There is so much unfinished business.

That's why I'm so pleased that Labor have committed to a stolen generations compensation fund for the survivors of the stolen generation from the Northern Territory and the ACT—the two Commonwealth jurisdictions—and why we've committed to $10 million in funding for the Healing Foundation to help the descendants, because we know that the trauma of removal ricochets through generations. In government, of course, we'll convene a national gathering, a summit on First Nations children, because, while of course our first priority always has to be the safety of children, we cannot have another generation of Indigenous children growing up in out-of-home care away from family and country.

I believe it's important to acknowledge our mistakes but also to be positive about the steps we've taken to redress disadvantage—most of those steps, of course, led by our first peoples. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum and we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Paul Keating's historic Redfern speech. And we hoped, also, for the next significant step on our reconciliation journey—a referendum to acknowledge that Australia's First Nations have a unique place in the life and the soul and, of course, the Constitution of our country. In 2017, a gathering was held at the centre of our nation, and from it emerged the Uluru Statement from the Heart, with two powerful calls: an Indigenous voice to parliament formally enshrined in the Constitution and a makarrata commission established to work through a treaty process and truth telling.

For our part, the Labor Party have made it clear that we support a formal Indigenous voice to parliament and that we are prepared to legislate for it. We were very disappointed by the government's very quick rejection of this idea, really without any consultation with Indigenous people, and also by the Prime Minister's dishonest effort to paint this as an undemocratic body—as somehow a third chamber of the parliament. The Prime Minister has declared that he will make Labor's support for an Indigenous voice to parliament an election issue at the next election, and it is disappointing that bipartisanship has been abandoned in this area. If the Liberal government is unwilling to act, Labor governments will, at both state and federal level. So, while I'm proud of the commitments we've made, I am also delighted to see that the New South Wales opposition leader and other Labor states have begun the process of negotiating treaties or committing to negotiating treaties. If Canada, New Zealand, the United States and many other countries can do it, surely it is not beyond us here in Australia.

While the federal government has turned its back on the message from Uluru, many Australians have heard it. We know that the time for empty platitudes and token acknowledgements has passed. We need to build on the history of activism of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities—the demands for justice, acknowledgement and a true reckoning of our history—and take the next step forward.

And I think that no doubt much of this next step will come from my electorate, as many of these moves have in the past. It was Redfern that attracted Aboriginal people from all over New South Wales to factories in the 19th century, bringing them together and creating the environment for new political movements to grow. It was in the Australian Hall in Elizabeth Street that Aboriginal Australians held their first day of mourning in 1938. It was in Redfern in 1944 that the Redfern All Blacks were formed by Aboriginal players who couldn't get a run with other clubs in the local South Sydney district junior competition. It was amongst that community—my community—that the first Aboriginal-controlled community organisations were established: the first medical service, the first legal service and the Aboriginal Housing Company. It was from Redfern that four young men drove to Canberra and set up a beach umbrella on the lawns outside what was then Parliament House—we call it Old Parliament House now—founding the Tent Embassy. It was the work of the Coloured Diggers in my electorate that led to First Nations service personnel and veterans leading last year's Anzac Day march in Canberra for the very first time.

I'm proud to represent a community that has produced generations of activists that have changed the course of history in this country, and I would add this: just as Washington, DC, has the National Museum of the American Indian, a beautiful building that gives such a great account of the thousands of years of history of First Nations people in the United States, we should have, I think, in Redfern or, if not in Redfern, maybe on Goat Island, or Me-mel as it's traditionally known, in Sydney Harbour, a cultural centre celebrating our First Nations' thousands of years of history and culture; telling the story of 65,000 years of Aboriginal history and culture in this country; telling the recent stories—the frontier wars and the massacres, the stories of land rights, Mabo and Wik—telling the story of the world's oldest continuing culture and its art, dancing, music and spirituality; and building support for a future based around our shared values of respect, self-determination, recognition in our Constitution, and makarrata.