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Monday, 16 October 2017
Page: 10639


Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:01): on indulgence—I rise to acknowledge the passing on 21 September of Dr Evelyn Scott AO, an extraordinary woman who helped shape modern Australia. I want to place on record the House's respect for her tireless activism for Aboriginal rights and the rights of all peoples, and extend our sincere sympathy to her family and community at this time of grieving.

Dr Scott, a Warrgamay woman from the Herbert River district, was born in 1935 in Ingham, far from our nation's capital and the corridors here in Canberra, where she would, over the years, exert so much influence. What she achieved throughout her lifetime was remarkable, made more so by the fact that she did not attend high school. Indeed, instead, after her primary school years, she stayed at home and helped raise her younger siblings. Early in life her father imparted strong values to her: 'If you don't think something is right,' he said, 'challenge it.' Those words defined her life's work.

In 1963, in the weeks leading up to her wedding to Scottish-born Allan Scott, a store in Townsville forbade her from trying on a wedding address—an attitude almost unimaginable today and yet, sadly, all too common in decades past. But this was a young woman who was not afraid to court controversy to right a wrong and she decided she would no longer tolerate racism. She became involved in the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League and went on to be a leader in the decade-long yes campaign for the 1967 referendum.

As we know, the 1967 referendum was and still is the most remarkable event in the life of efforts to amend our Constitution. The '67 referendum did not just deliver a successful amendment to the Constitution; it resulted in a more equal and united Australia, a richer Australia, and we are eternally indebted to those who helped unite our nation to achieve it. Dr Scott knew reconciliation was not an isolated event but part of the fabric of this nation. She went on to become the general secretary of the Federal Council of the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in 1973 and was the chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation between 1997 and 2000.

Of all her achievements—and there were many—Corroboree 2000 and the Walk for Reconciliation, when Dr Scott led 250,000 people across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of an official apology, were perhaps the most significant and symbolic. In 2008, that moment finally came and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led this parliament and our nation in an apology to the stolen generations.

Dr Scott's father had warned her that the career path she had chosen would be a tough one with few friends. Yet, what she will be remembered for is uniting the people of our nation, bridging the gap between First Australians and all Australians.

Dr Scott had many accolades bestowed upon her in recognition of her remarkable contribution but perhaps her greatest achievement was what she bestowed upon us—a population moving forward not as Indigenous or non-Indigenous but united as Australians. As we were reminded at her funeral, she firmly believed there's only one race and that's the human race. Dr Scott, who could best be described as wise and graceful, staunch and poised, once said she hoped the contribution she was making would help change things for the better. Let me place on the record our gratitude and our very deep respect for Dr Scott's remarkable contribution to Australia. She is survived by her five children and seven grandchildren and our thoughts are with them and Dr Scott's community at this time of great loss.