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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 857

Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (18:42): I commence my remarks by acknowledging that we meet on the traditional lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. I pay my respects to their elders, past and present. I also wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the Bundjalung lands, because those are the lands that I grew up on.

I want to use my time today—and I will try to keep my remarks brief—to reflect a little bit on what it meant to grow up in a community where the Bundjalung Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people played a very active role. I do so to perhaps place some of the remarks from the former speaker in context, because my memories of the relationships I had with the Aboriginal community and Islander community in northern New South Wales are overwhelmingly positive. I acknowledge that a child's eyes are more innocent than most. As I have grown up I have come to understand that many of those people faced poverty, racism and hardship. But the experience I had was of an enormously resilient community, with all of the strength and capabilities to take charge of their own destinies.

I think about the role that those young people in my school played as team players. They were always the leaders in the sports teams or any team we put together. They were always people who took a frankly hopeless sportsperson—that was me!—under their wing and gave me encouragement and support even though my contribution to the team's outcomes was always fairly limited. But those people were always willing to take the lead.

Senator Urquhart interjecting

Senator McALLISTER: I am told not to put myself down, but sometimes accuracy is important even in—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): Don't listen to interjections, Senator McAllister. Just proceed.

Senator McALLISTER: They were creative people. A number of the Indigenous students from my school went on to play very significant roles in our national cultural life. I think particularly of Daniel Browning, who attended my school and now plays a terrific role in broadcasting. I think about the fierce loyalty that that community had amongst family and about the fact that always Indigenous people are overrepresented when it comes to their family's willingness to come along to school events, to support their kids and to play a role in their kids' future. I think about their social leadership—that they are always willing to extend a generous word and a willingness to include any person in their conversations, their jokes and their social circle.

When I think about that community, I do not see the picture of despair or the story that Senator Leyonhjelm wished to tell. I see people who are capable of taking a role in their future, if only we will let them. I was thinking about all those things and all those people this morning at the remarkable ceremony in the Great Hall in support of the Redfern Statement. I wish to place on the record my thanks to congress for their generosity and their grace in inviting us into that room with them, telling their stories and once again explaining to us for our benefit how it is that we can work together to improve the circumstances that are reported in the Closing the gap report that was tabled today.

There is a very clear message they gave us: they said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are ready to lead; they said that they have the answers, if we are ready to listen to them. I do think this is our great challenge as legislators and as policy makers. I have heard Senator Dodson say more than once today that empowerment, self-determination and doing things with us and not to us are the goals and reasonable asks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Of course, it is the same for communities all around the world. It is the demand of all people everywhere that they have a hand in their own destiny and that they lead in their own destiny. It would be enormously surprising if this was not the goal of the first peoples in Australia as well.

Too often in this place we have ignored the enormous potential of deep, meaningful partnership and, I am afraid in my limited engagement with the policy area since I became a senator, this is what I saw. In the IAS the thing that struck me most was the fact that the program did not acknowledge the significant impact of having Aboriginal leadership in service delivery could make to outcomes in Aboriginal communities.

I say that one of my commitments here is to support this most reasonable objective for empowerment, for self-determination, for doing things in real partnership—that is something I seek to do in the role that I have here. I want to conclude my remarks because they have largely been about leadership by acknowledging the leadership of my friends and colleagues, Senator Dodson and Senator McCarthy in this place—people I have very quickly become close to. I want to acknowledge also my friend in the other place, Linda Burney. They have chosen to lend their energy to our cause, to this place, and we owe it to them to return the favour.