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Speech at launch of Reconciliation Australia report, Canberra



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THE HON. BILL SHORTEN LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

LAUNCH OF RECONCILIATION AUSTRALIA REPORT

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

TU

ESDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2016

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

Good morning everyone and I too would like acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to elders past and present.

For me, those words of respect always carry a promise with them.

It

's a promise to work toward a truly, genuinely, authentically reconciled Australia.

An Australia where the gap is closed.

Where our first peoples enjoy the same opportunities and living standards so many other Australians take for granted as their Australian birthright.

I’m

delighted to be here in the presence of so many distinguished guests.

I thank Nigel Scullion for his words, Shayne Neumann, my shadow spokesperson, along with many of my Labor team, including Senator Peris, Warren Snowdon and many others.

I would like to acknowledge the many Liberal Members of Parliament who are here and of course the Greens as well.

I think the launch of this report is worth one's time. It is worth one's time.

In

parliament you make choices. You have plenty on and a lot of it is just rubbish, really,

but it seems important to you when you are doing it.

This is in a different category all together.

For a long time, Australia was caught in a sterile and divisive argument about a false choice between ‘symbolic’ and ‘practical’ reconciliation.

That has been largely laid to rest.

I

think this report measures our progress, uncomfortably so. It forces us to demand better of ourselves.

Yet there will always be people out there in the community who seek to use the overdue extension of historical justice as an excuse to whip up fear, or to dredge up old arguments about ‘reverse racism’ and ‘black armband' view of history.

Even now, they are sharpening their arguments against constitutional recognition and the Racial Discrimination Act.

We can

take heart from the progress in this report.

We can take heart from what has been accomplished in the past quarter of a century - and of course Labor will continue to push for real and substantive constitutional change.

We also know that recognition is not the end of the story.

We

know the real test is actually not what we say - it is what we do when we are in power and have the opportunities to implement what we think is important.

It’s been 240 years since delegates from 13 American colonies signed their names ben eath a collection of ‘self-evident truths’ in the Declaration of Independence.

‘All men,’ - that famous document said - ‘are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

Those are beautiful words.

Bu

t as we know and as history records, those words did nothing for millions of African-Americans who suffered under slavery and the indignity of segregation.

Who lived a separate, less equal life in the so-called land of opportunity.

Here in the land of the fair go - we pride ourselves on the fair go - constitutional recognition, like the National Apology before it, must always be more than rhetoric or poetry.

Because beautiful words are never enough.

Recognition cannot merely stand as a national acknowledgement of historical injustice - although that is a prerequisite.

Even now there is concern in the debate about constitutional recognition, that it is drifting.

We need timely action and I worry that there is now forming a legitimate scepticism. That even if there were some words changed in the constitution, and it is fundamentally important that they are changed, without action to back it up there is genuine scepticism amongst many.

Our

constitutional recognition must act as a declaration of intent, a signal of our commitment to meaningful improvements and further progress, not just in the constitution but a post-constitutional recognition settlement with our first Australians.

I'm talking about childcare centres and schools, TAFE and universities, workplaces, the courts and the legal system, housing, hospitals and healthcare.

Historical justice must be twinned with real justice before the law.

Our progress needs to be measured with no-nonsense, uncomfortable indicators.

It is always hard, and it doesn't matter which political party is in power in this regard, do you talk about the advances or do you talk about the problems?

If you talk too much about the advances, perhaps you are gilding the lily and you're denying truth about people's lives.

But if you talk just about the problems, then of course you could create a sense that it is all too hard.

The truth has to be both. This is why this report is so important.

The truth of the matter is family violence is shamefully high. Suicide, incarceration and preventable disease are shamefully high.

The

prospect in Australia, this fantastic country which we all love and are so proud of, that a young Aboriginal man of 18 is more likely to go to jail than university. That is a fact.

It is not being too pessimistic - we must talk truth.

The only way through this is the adoption of a partnership of equals.

And this report paints the way forward here.

Building trust and co-operation

Embedding respect for our first peoples in our national institutions

Eliminating racism from our national life - once and for all

And embracing and valuing the world’s oldest living culture as part of modern Australian culture.

We need an Australia which recognises that if we have the best relationship between our first Australians and other Australians, if we are are the best in the world at that, that's something to be proud of.

That's something that makes us hold our head up higher.

We will be ambitious in the Olympics to do well, we should be equally and more ambitious to do even better with our relationship between our first Australians and other Australians.

When we can pledge ourselves to being the best, not just making do, but being the best - then we become a nation that we want our children to see.

We

become a nation which we can explain to those visitors to our country, this is who we are.

We will be able to tell our children that in a modern reconciled Australia, everyone has an equal opportunity to be their best.

Equal opportunity is not a politically correct term. Equal opportunity is what constitutes reconciliation.

This is what we must demand. This is the value of this report. This is the value of reconci liation.

We should expect - and accept - nothing less. Not only from our people, but our Parliament.

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