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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6365


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (19:39): As a federal MP with a large Indigenous community in Ipswich and Somerset, and as Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I would like to bring to everyone's attention to National Reconciliation Week, which started on 27 May and continues until 3 June.

The date commemorates two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey of our country. 27 May 2012 marks the 45th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which gave the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census, which had the flow-on effect of allowing them the right to vote. The 3 June 2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Mabo decision of the High Court of Australia which legally recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land, that existed prior to colonisation and still exists today. National Reconciliation Week is an important annual event which encourages all Australians to talk about and celebrate Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have lived in this great country for over 40,000 years.

Reconciliation is more than just a word—it is about actions. Closing the Gap is about actions not just rhetoric. National Reconciliation Week extends over the course of a week to encourage Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to think about reconciliation and what it means to them. 2012 is a time to reflect on what actions we are carrying out in this parliament that demonstrate our respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The opening proceedings of the new parliament in 2008 incorporated a 'welcome to country' ceremony. This was initiated by this federal Labor government and it was the first time it had ever been done. It is now a permanent feature in all future federal parliamentary openings. In 2010, an acknowledgment of country was incorporated into the standing orders for the Speaker to read out before the usual prayers at the start of each sitting day. An acknowledgment of country is a way of showing our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It demonstrates an understanding and respect of the traditional owners' connection to the land or sea, and their history and culture.

The House of Representatives ATSIA Committee includes an acknowledgement of country at the start of every private and public meeting it holds across the country. Currently we are running an inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities. The committee has heard repeated evidence about the importance of the role of language and what it plays in terms of strong connection to land and culture and improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The inquiry has highlighted the fact that Indigenous languages have been spoken in Australia for over 40,000 years and this is something of which all Australians should be proud.

However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are in sharp decline. Today there are about only 30 considered to be vibrant languages. At the time of white settlement about 250 Indigenous languages were spoken in Australia. The committee has been investigating programs and projects which aim to support the maintenance, transmission and revival of Indigenous languages. There are many dedicated people across the length and breadth of Australia working on projects to improve the vitality of our Indigenous languages. As a committee we have been looking at how we can work to improve Indigenous languages and assist these people as well to improve competency in English in communities, because that is the way for good education as well and good outcomes in terms of vocation.

In Newcastle the committee visited the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre, which has been a key feature and figure in developing support for language preservation and reclamation through technology, particularly through the development of their computer program Miromaa. The word Miromaa literally means 'saved' in the Awabakal language and refers to an ease and also the way in which databases can be helpful in maintaining the organisation, analysis and production of material to assist language. The program supports about 150 Australian language projects and is being used internationally.

From Halls Creek to Darwin, from the Utopia homelands to Sydney we travelled. Later this year we will have our report and over 150 submissions have been authorised by the committee. We look forward to handing down our report and its contribution to promoting Indigenous languages. (Time expired)