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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16423

Mr QUICK (3:31 PM) —I am delighted to speak today to the private member's motion on reconciliation of the honourable member for Charlton. When a quarter of a million Australians crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge yesterday, they were taking a public stance on reconciliation that will not be ignored. Add to their number countless others throughout the country who support the spirit of true healing and you see a growing wave of hope for a better future for all Australians. It is time for all of us to face up to the reality that Australians must work together to ensure that this country and all its people move forward together.

Our rich cultural heritage, starting with the ancient traditions of this country's original people, has grown and blossomed into the fertile and diverse society that we know today. The thread of Aboriginal history runs through the fabric of what has become Australian modern society. This has been further enriched by the inclusion of the many diverse cultures that have been interwoven with the original over the past 200 years. It is encouraging that non-indigenous Australians are beginning to value what has been here all along and that we are finally opening our eyes and, as Sunday demonstrated, our hearts also. We are all the richer for it.

We now have a unique opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. Sunday's stunning vote of support cannot and will not be forgotten. Australians are ready to take the next step. Our leaders had better get their act together from now on and embrace policies that will ensure that all Australians get a fair share of this country's generous bounty. That our Prime Minister could not bring himself to participate in the public stance taken by huge numbers of this country's citizens is, in my mind, a sad reflection of his views, but history and his God will judge him accordingly. In a democracy, however, it is the wishes of the people that will finally win the day. As the member for the Tasmanian electorate of Franklin, I have enjoyed the privilege of being involved with many aspects of the local reconciliation process. I congratulate all involved for their commitment and hard work.

It is almost incomprehensible today that my generation of schoolchildren were taught that Aboriginal issues hardly related to Tasmania. This was because it was believed that there were few Aboriginal people residing in the state following the planned genocide of the indigenous population by the white settlers. The fact that such an attempt to destroy a whole society occurred on such an appalling scale is something that today's Tasmanians are still coming to terms with. The fact that there are thousands of Aboriginal Tasmanians is now an accepted reality. It is a reality that links Tasmanians with all Australians, and Tasmanians are showing as strong a commitment to the process of reconciliation as are their fellow Australians on mainland Australia.

I have been overwhelmed by the spirit of goodwill that prevails wherever expressions of reconciliation are demonstrated, especially in our schools. This is surely where our hopes for a future united, tolerant and reconciled Australia lie—with our young people. Bigotry and intolerance are not inherited; they are learned. Our young people need to be taught citizenship, and that is the responsibility of all adult Australians. Just as the principal sets the tone of a school, so is the tone of the nation set by its federal government. In a democracy, elected leaders must reflect the beliefs and values of the people. The people spoke on Sunday and it is now up to this country's leaders to sit up, take notice and act in the way that is expected of them. Governments must reflect the vision of their people. The people spoke on Sunday, and our leaders would be foolish indeed to ignore such a powerful message.