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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 494

Senator SPINDLER (4.20 p.m.) —I rise to support Senator Lees's motion to suspend standing orders to enable this issue to be debated today. I think it is extremely important that the Senate turns its attention to this matter. Had it not been for the action, the words and the criticism by Mr Tunstall, Mr Ruxton and only one or two others, it would not be so important. But since those criticisms were levelled, it is particularly important for this house to offer support to Cathy for what she has done.

  We must be conscious that we are currently going through a period of reconciliation. We must also be conscious of the fact that we are looking back on 200 years of oppression. We must also be conscious of the fact that many people do not hesitate to criticise when something goes wrong in ATSIC—as we heard today from Senator Panizza—or when something goes wrong somewhere else in an Aboriginal community.

  If we are going to accept and put on record the fact that Aboriginal people are an integral part of our community, then it is important that we debate today the issues that have been raised by the action of Cathy Freeman, by the criticisms that were levelled against her and by the refusal of the Liberal Party opposition today not to support this notice of motion, which states that the Senate supports Cathy for her decision to carry the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag. I cannot think of any symbolic action stronger than for her, as a representative of her race, which is an integral part of the Australian people, to carry both flags.

  Let us not forget that, as minister Schacht said, the Australian flag carries a symbol which bears some witness to our history, when we were a colony of Great Britain. Let us also acknowledge at a historic moment of this type the fact that Australian people were here before us, that they were the true inhabitants of this country. We have the Mabo judgment to bear witness to the fact that we have finally accepted that this is the case. In these circumstances, it is particularly important that we bear witness to this fact and reject the views that have been offered by Mr Tunstall and by only two or three others.

  I would hope that the opposition parties would, even at this late stage, change their minds and support this motion, which celebrates the positive, glorious action of an Aboriginal sportswoman and which bears witness to the fact that we are well on the way in the positive process of reconciliation.