House debates

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Governor-General's Speech


12:24 pm

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have a well-earned reputation for bluntness and curtness. This will be the first and last time that I will seek the indulgence of my colleagues to go over time. At the outset, I want to recognise Indigenous ownership of this land. That is particularly appropriate for me to do as the retiring member for Werriwa: it amazes me that, in the racism of 1900, a number of people decided that they would call a federal seat the Indigenous word for Lake George, near Canberra

As the Leader of the Opposition would well know, it is particularly appropriate at this time because in April 1816, 200 years ago, the Appin massacre occurred in the region that the member for Macarthur and I represent. There has been a month of activities out there, led by the Liberal mayor of Campbelltown; a Catholic nun who lives in the community, Sister Kerry; the Campbelltown Arts Centre; and the local reconciliation group, who have rejected the arguments by some media commentators that we should remember every single moment of Gallipoli but basically abandon and forget the way in which whites conquered this country.

We talk about many other aspects of Indigenous affairs, including incarceration rates and the lack of progress on Closing the Gap, but I was pleased to note recently a decision in this country that $20 million would go towards Indigenous language preservation. The number of Indigenous languages has gone from over 400 to a situation where possibly only 20 will survive. So I recognise that decision.

I am very passionate about diversity in the world. The book Spoken Here, by Mark Abley, is about the whole world of language, but he starts with an Australian example. Patrick Nudjulu was one of the last three speakers of Mati Ke in the Northern Territory. Now he has probably died and the language has probably died since that book was written.

It is an eternity since June 1967, when I walked across Guildford Road to join the local branch at St Mary's Anglican Church. I was a precocious 14-year-old. I had spent the previous year in the polling booth for the most intense election in my lifetime—the 1966 anti-Vietnam election. What also seems far away is my misspent youth in the Carlton bar, near the Sydney Law School, and similar establishments around the university suburbs of Glebe and Newtown. This led to the disappearance of my parents' hopes that I would be a lawyer.

However, in that period, with a group of people including John Overall, John Whitehouse, Jeff Shaw, Rod Cavalier, Joan Evatt, Pam Allan, Peter Crawford, Peter Baldwin, Bruce Clarke and many others, we established a very strong university Labor club, which we utilised to seize control of the New South Wales Young Labor organisation for the Left. It was a powerful club. Amongst its many visiting speakers was the current Prime Minister of this country. I had already read Borkenau and Bolloten and Deutscher, so I was a bit disillusioned with Stalinism, but he came to the club and he appealed that we should form a popular front of progressive liberals like himself—the communists and the Labor supporters—to defeat these evil conservatives at the university campus, such as his predecessor as Prime Minister!

Those things are distant, but it seems like yesterday that I hopped in a car with Peter Baldwin, John Faulkner and Daryl Melham to come down to the first Left caucus meeting to meet Gerry Hand, Duncan Kerr, Harry Jenkins, Brian Howe, Peter Staples, Nick Bolkus, Carolyn Jakobsen, Olive Zakharov and many others, including Barney Cooney and Jim McKiernan, who I lived with for a decade. When they retired, I thought it would be impossible to have such a good connection with other colleagues, so I then moved out. I want to thank Audrey and Rob Rough for accommodation at their house since then, for the last 16 years. Although the accommodation is very good, my wife delights in ridiculing it as a yurt, but it is great accommodation.

A few months ago, I was with one of my closest comrades and friends, Jim Lloyd, after a meeting of the Granville Central branch in my old electorate, and he said, 'Laurie, are you going to make a valedictory?' and I said, 'No, I can't be bothered.' He said: 'Laurie, you have to. You have to thank Maureen.' I want to say our first meeting was not propitious. Tom Uren, my predecessor in Reid, despite support from the right-wing machine and the local Catholic Right, was challenged in a preselection ballot. I and the executive of the FEC met in Alan Clarke's garage in Myall Street, Auburn. There was a small branch called Birrong. We were not really sure about them and so we were a bit hardline in our credentialling. The then Maureen Voltz had forgotten to sign a pledge eight or 10 years previously, so we duly eliminated her from the ballot. Unbeknown to me, she wandered away and left the Labor Party, and it was only when she came to the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union—


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