House debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Statements on Indulgence

Member for Lingiari

3:11 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | Hansard source

Also they called me a 'left-wing loony'. Well, they might be right! But prior to entering parliament I had the great honour and privilege at one period to work with the great Nugget Coombs, a really remarkable Australian. I worked with him and Maria Brandl, an anthropologist, on a project in the north-west of South Australia, where I worked and lived out of a little Pitjantjatjara community called Pipalyatjara. I worked with Nugget on this project. It changed my life. It's the reason I ended up here. It changed my life, because I was living and working with Aboriginal people in a very remote place who were being oppressed, and who still are in many ways, and who were going without. I was doing a project which was examining the impact of government programs on traditional socialisation. One of the programs I was looking at was CDEP. I won't go into the arguments about CDEP here, but it's given me a history. So it was very important to me. From Nugget, who was a mentor of mine, I really learnt what public service is—not only about public service and the way we should engage in it but the importance of the Public Service. I think we in this place need to comprehend how important the Public Service is to us and to the Australian community.

I then went back to teaching for a while after doing this research project out of the Australian National University. I went to work with the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, where my boss was Pat Dodson. He still is! Things don't change. He's up there—look! As I'm sure Pat will attest, we were guided by some great Aboriginal leaders, some great people of great wisdom from the bush. They weren't literate. English was their second or third language. They were old men, largely. There were not many women in these leadership positions at the time. I know they taught me a great deal. It was what they taught me, and the time I spent with Pat, under his guidance, that drove me to believe I should become a member of parliament.

So, having a very strong belief in social justice and a belief in the need to do something right, I contested the election. I went to that election knowing that I needed to rely upon the strength and wisdom of Aboriginal people. I stand here because of them. The only reason I became a member of parliament and have remained a member of parliament is the support I've been getting from the Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory. I'm not talking about just marginal support here. I'm talking about successive elections where I've been getting 80 and 90 per cent of the vote. That puts me in a pretty unique position, given that 42 per cent of the population of Lingiari are Aboriginal people. I am their voice in this place. I owe them so much. I have learnt so, so much. I've learnt about respect and humility and I've learnt about patience. They have such great patience.

When I stood up in the Old Parliament House on 17 September 1987 to give my first speech, I said, among a number of things:

As a nation we have yet to recognise and accord Aboriginal people the justice that is their due.

It is still the case. I said:

This nation cannot pretend to wear the mantle of maturity until the indigenous rights of Aboriginal Australians are given formal recognition and the demands by Aboriginal and Islander people for compensation for lands stolen and for social and cultural disruption are addressed. In my view, this should involve appropriate amendments to the Constitution.

This was 1987. I said:

It is time that the politics of division in this country were put aside so that at last the injustice of the Aboriginal dispossession is recognised and dealt with in a way which is satisfactory to Aboriginal Australians.

That was 30 years ago, and here we still argue about the need for a voice to parliament, a makarrata, treaty-making, truth-telling. We have an obligation. We have a chance. We should be able to do it, Prime Minister. We should be able to do it. Come with us. Let's make it happen.

I want to conclude by reminding you that I'll be rolling my swag at the end of the term, not tomorrow. But I want to just finish by reading a quote from Xavier Herbert. It's not immediately relevant today, because land rights has been achieved, by and large, except for the deficiencies in native title, which are a discussion for another day. He said this, and I think it's a really strong statement that bears out the need for us to actually do things. Before I read it, I want to thank Pat, Malarndirri and Luke for your wonderful support. He said this:

Until we give back to the black man just a bit of the land that was his … without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him—until we do that, we shall remain what we have always been so far, a people without integrity, not a nation but a community of thieves.


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