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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16424

Mr BAIRD (3:30 PM) —I thank the member for Charlton for bringing this motion to the House and congratulate her on the motion. I was one of the 250,000 people who walked yesterday, and I must say it was a particularly moving experience. It was one where the community came together from all walks of life with one purpose, that of showing their desire for reconciliation with our indigenous population, putting behind us the wrongs of the past and looking for a future when we can work together and live together in an atmosphere without the racism that we have experienced in the past. Despite the claims by many that we live in a very material world, it was very encouraging to see that Australians have got a strong spiritual dimension and concern for others that is particularly encouraging for those who work in this place.

Through the member for Charlton's involvement in the House of Representatives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Committee's inquiry which resulted in the Unlocking the future report into Aboriginal and rights, she has shown she can set aside ideological difference to contribute to a unanimous report which reflects the compassion of most members of this House. Such parliamentary engagements are very positive. Conversely, to join such a debate as this and seize upon it as an opportunity to engage in partisan politics is a truly painful exercise which demeans us all. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation's Corroboree 2000: Towards reconciliation document summarises reconciliation between Australia's indigenous peoples and all other Australians as `about building on the strengths of common ground ... a process which requires goodwill'.

The reconciliation process I support is not a platform for political point scoring. It is not a chance to trumpet my government's record spending over the opposition's, although it has been significant. It is not a sorry debate about whether one's `deep and sincere regret' goes far enough. The process I support is one of true reconciliation. No-one doubts the genuine commitment to reconciliation of Evelyn Scott. As the new head of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation following the departure of Patrick Dodson, Evelyn Scott has brought a new, less combative style of leadership to the council. As a person who has worked in Aboriginal health and medical services for over 30 years, she has demonstrated commitment to the ends of true reconciliation, as the member for Indi has commented. Hers is a dignified style of leadership, which aims to raise bridges rather than to burn them down. Her leadership is not one of inflaming political argument but building on consensus to advance reconciliation to work towards economic independence and achieve better outcomes in health, education, employment, housing, law and justice. The massive turn-out on Sunday proved her success in building support within the community for reconciliation and its two documents—the Australian declaration towards reconciliation and Roadmap for reconciliation.Australian declaration towards reconciliation is an excellent document. It confirms the important place of this land's first inhabitants and allows descendants of original invaders to own up to the wrongs of our forebears' forced colonisation and subsequent human rights abuses. In response to White Australia's commitment to equality of opportunity and of outcome for Aboriginal Australians, the indigenous population dedicates itself to self-advancement and the acceptance of its own responsibility for its own destiny.

Roadmap for reconciliation contains important points on sustaining the reconciliation process: the promotion of indigenous rights through educative, legislative and constitutional reform; and overcoming disadvantage and achieving economic independence. I would urge all Australians to read and consider these documents carefully. On Roadmap, I make these points: firstly, the best way to sustain this important process is to stick to the inclusive, partisan-neutral style of the council's present chair; secondly, addressing parliamentary representation is best achieved in the short term through the achievement of statehood by the Northern Territory, which would give its large indigenous population appropriate representation; thirdly, while the 1967 referendum assured equal voting rights in Commonwealth law, the remaining section 25 of our Constitution is not acceptable as it reads as tacit approval for race discrimination in state electoral practice; and, finally, people should not be overly concerned about allowing magistrates' discretion to take into account customary law. This involves situations where all those involved in a matter are of indigenous background and where the crime took place within an indigenous community which is bound together importantly by customary laws. I commend both documents to the House and also the member for her motion.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.