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Wednesday, 31 May 2000
Page: 16741

Ms ROXON (7:40 PM) —I would like tonight to record my congratulations to the organisers of Sunday's reconciliation march in Sydney—a large congratulation to those organisers and also to all of the individual people who attended and all of those who, like me, would have liked to have attended. One of the misfortunes, as many of us in this House know, of being a federal politician is that we are more often than not in the wrong place at the wrong time than in the right place at the right time. I was unable to attend on Sunday in Sydney and also was unable to attend today a fantastic local celebration for Reconciliation Week, which I would also like to discuss tonight. Most importantly, I think my view, amongst many others, should be recorded in this House as recognising the great importance that a broad cross-section of this community sees in making an apology and taking a step towards healing the relations between the Aboriginal people of our country and the rest of us.

The celebration that was held in my electorate today was a very interesting one because, although the western suburbs of Melbourne are no longer the home of a very large number of Aboriginal people, they were traditionally the home of many Aboriginal people, particularly along the banks of the Maribyrnong River. The western suburbs were home to the Woiwurrung tribe and the Boonwurrung tribe, and the Australian Aborigines League was actually founded in Footscray in the 1930s. This was one of the first Aboriginal political organisations in Australia, and the league would be known to some for petitioning King George V to allow Aboriginal representation in the parliament. The Prime Minister, however, at the time refused to forward the petition to the king because, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth had no power to legislate for Aboriginal people. Thankfully, we know today that that is one step that we have been able to take.

In discussing the celebrations of this week, I note that Premier Bracks actually today allowed a number of Aboriginal people to speak from the floor of the state parliament, which was built on land that was once a meeting ground for the elders of the Kulin people. I would like to record my view that such signs of reconciliation can only help the reconciliation process in this nation.

The event that was held today in my electorate was organised by a combination of groups, particularly the Inner Western Migrant Resource Centre, the Maribyrnong Council, the Adult Multicultural Education Service, the Footscray Community Arts Centre, the Living Museum of the West and the Department of Human Services. The event was a very interesting one. It was addressed by Michael Gorton, the co-chair of the State Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee. It was attended by a vast range of constituents and supported by a very large number of different ethnic groups in my electorate. I am told around 500 people attended this luncheon today to eat not just Koori food but also Ethiopian, Chinese, Italian, Bosnian, Serbian and Vietnamese food, to mention just a selection of them. I think it is interesting that some of our newer migrants to this country are actually more aware of the appropriate recognition that should be given to the Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of this land than perhaps are some of us who have been here for more generations.

I think that, whilst we are taking many important steps during this week, it is something all of us need to be vigilant of—that the process of reconciliation cannot be achieved just in a week and that we have many steps to take from here on in.

I was able to attend on Friday in Melbourne the Sorry Day activities that were held. I was amongst an unfortunate several thousand people who had to face the sleeting cold rain in Melbourne while we did this. But, again, I think it was something that people did willingly to record their views and to say sorry in a way that each and every one of the people that attended not only in Melbourne but also in Sydney was able to do.

I urge, amongst the many other voices that are calling for this, our Prime Minister to reconsider his position on this important issue.