Local, Independant and Effective

JSCCR Final Report Speech

Posted December 05, 2018


Cathy made a speech about the final report on constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, highlighting the need to give a voice to the Closing the Gap process and truth-telling.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:17): I'm really proud to support this report, and I want to take the opportunity today to acknowledge, honour and thank everybody involved. I want to refer to some of the key findings in the report, and I want to finish by referring specifically to my electorate of Indi.

To the committee and to the wonderful people who were involved in doing this report, I extend my thanks not only for your excellent company but for the leadership and the very high level of skill you brought to this task. To the co-chairs, Patrick Dodson and Julian Leeser: I have learned so much from the way you have worked together. To the committee members, the Hon. Linda Burney, Sussan Ley, John McVeigh, Llew O'Brien, Warren Snowdon, Jonathon Duniam, Malarndirri McCarthy, Rachel Siewert and Amanda Stoker: it's been an absolute pleasure to work with you, and I thank you. Thank you to the secretariat for the work that they did. It was such a difficult task to not only herd the cats that were the committee and our very complicated lives but also follow up with the submissions, organise the public hearings and produce such a good report at the end. Thank you to all the people who made submissions and the people who appeared before the committee to share their wisdom, their courage, their leadership and, most importantly for me, their goodwill.

It has been an absolutely amazing committee for me to be on. It's the first time I've experienced bipartisan co-chairs working together and it's the first time I've been on a parliamentary committee where the numbers worked out. There were equal numbers of House of Reps members and senators and equal numbers of government and opposition, and two Independents to manage it all. The committee worked so well. The debate was fierce, the content was excellent and the people were professional. I was definitely inspired by the role of committees in this parliament. I'm really pleased with the final report. It's a very elegant report. It's simple and clear in its recommendations. I'm going to speak particularly to one of the recommendations, around truth-telling, but before I get there I want to bring into parliament and my words today how important this process has been, taking the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for so many years, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to this report. I want to grace my words today with these words from the Statement from Heart:

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

I take those words with such optimism. We've got 60,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, and, projecting it into the future, we might have another 60,000 years of this nation working together. This moment in time is where the past actually comes to its place and we can design our future, giving full recognition to the tradition and the cultures of the first people of this country. I'm very keen to be part of that.

I will move to one of the recommendations in the report, about truth-telling. The foreword to the report says:

We believe there is a strong desire among all Australians to know more about the history, traditions and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their contact with other Australians both good and bad. A fuller understanding of our history including the relationship between Black and White Australia will lead to a more reconciled nation. We have made some recommendations about how this might be achieved.

Today I want to talk a little bit about how I will take this report and work within my electorate to bring that recommendation to its next stage. In doing so, I want to read into the parliamentary Hansard the names of the people in my electorate who made submissions to the inquiry and say thank you to them. I think in these committees we often ignore or take for granted the enormous amount of time that people put into making submissions, the thought they give to it and the expertise they bring to it. To John van Riet, Marie Sellstrom, Pam Griffin, Chris Norman, Warren Gould, Rhonda Diffey, Val Gleeson, Elizabeth Quinn, Judith Ahmat, Violet Town & District Reconciliation Group, Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group, Dr Jacqueline Durrant, Doug Westland, Rebecca Crawley, Pat Larkin, Cath Marriott, Kate Auty and Charlie Brydon, Albury-Wodonga Health, Liz Heta, Tony Lane and Uncle Freddie, I've read every single one of your submissions, I've heard what you've had to say and I commit to continue to work to deliver on the requests that you make.

In acknowledging the people who made submissions, I also want to share with the House some follow-up work I've done since the public hearings finished. In my electorate, gathering around Albury is a group called Wodonga First Nations Senior Consultative Group. I met them two weeks ago to talk to them about aspects of truth-telling in North-East Victoria. I want to acknowledge Alan Steward, Kevin and Lyn Bell, Rachael Bogie, Steven Pickering, Jenny Murray, Liz Heta, Pam Griffin, Walter Melrose, Sonnie Morgan, Tony and Julie, and Nancee Butler and say thank you for inviting me into your circle. I look forward to meeting you late in January and continuing our discussion of some of the history of this land that I call home.

I want to finish with a bit about why all this is so relevant and so close to my heart. When the initial apology was made in parliament, the member for Indi at that time was not present. It caused enormous suffering in my community that the member chose not to be there. When I got elected, it was one of those things that I said I would put first and foremost—to make sure that I represent my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and I will do that; I will give voice to their issues.

One of the particular areas to give a voice to is the Closing the gap report and that process. I've been working with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to talk about how the data for Closing the Gap is actually collected at a local level, how the institutions in my electorate can work together to set our own targets and how we as a community can take responsibility for our own targets. To do that, one of the things we need to do is look at our history, to look at white settlement and the conflict that happened there. There are very few traditional owners still living in north-east Victoria because of the impact of white settlement. There's very little data collected in my electorate around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their issues—there is some—and there's an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in the justice, health and education areas. But, to do that, non-Indigenous and Indigenous people need to work together.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:26 to 11:42

Ms McGOWAN: In conclusion, I really want to support recommendation 3:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government support the process of truth-telling. This could include the involvement of local organisations and communities, libraries, historical societies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander associations. Some national coordination may be required, not to determine outcomes but to provide incentive and vision. These projects should include both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and descendants of local settlers. This could be done either prior to or after the establishment of the local voice bodies.

So, in bringing my comments to a close, I would like to offer north-east Victoria as a place where we could begin the process of truth-telling and work with local settlers, such as my family, who have been in the community of north-east Victoria since the gold rush days, and my extended family and my community, and work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owners and people who have come to the area more recently—beginning the process of telling our truth and understanding our history—and together, with a much better process, we can move forward for the next 60,000 years of Australia's history.

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