House debates

Thursday, 21 June 2018


Cooper, Mr William

12:50 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Batman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday, we were thrilled to hear that the Australian Electoral Commission announced that my seat of Batman will be renamed Cooper. This is indeed an honour. When I was elected I threw myself into the campaign for a name change for Batman. I won't go into detail here about why we believe Batman did not deserve to have one of only 150 Australian electorates named after him, because I would much rather focus on why William Cooper should. Suffice to say that, even by his own contemporary standards, his legacy was not great.

The campaign when I was elected was being spear-headed by the Wurundjeri elders, who for so many years have been persistently standing for the truth to be heard. This decision acknowledges their pain and the suffering of colonisation. This change belongs to them. We were asking for the seat to be named Wonga, after the Wurundjeri leader Simon Wonga, a great man in his own right. It would have been an equally great honour to have had the seat named for him, but that was not to be, for reasons known only to the AEC. Of course, having the seat bearing the name of Cooper sits very well. I'd like to congratulate the Cooper family and I pay my respects to Uncle Boydie, the grandson of William Cooper, and to all their elders past and present. Uncle Phil Cooper is a friend of mine and a great support to me. He is a great-nephew of William Cooper and resides in my seat, along with his family. I congratulate them too; it's a wonderful thing. I'd like to acknowledge the work of the Wurundjeri Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council; the mayor of Darebin, Kim Le Cerf, and the Darebin City Council; the Aboriginal corporation; Yarra city council; and all the individuals who made submissions in support of the application—in particular, my friends Serena O'Meley, Patrick Stokes and Shane Easson.

William Cooper was an Aboriginal leader, born in Yorta Yorta tribal territory around the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers, who lived from 1861 to 1941. He was a trailblazing activist for Aboriginal rights in the 20th century who spent his lifetime working to advance the rights of our First Nations peoples. He was a skilled and courageous spokesperson who helped establish the Australian Aborigines' League, an organisation that fought for rights for our First Nations Australians. These included land rights, enfranchisement and direct representation in our parliament. William Cooper forged the establishment of National Aborigines Day, which is now celebrated nationwide as NAIDOC Week. He led the first Aboriginal deputation to a Prime Minister to ask for federal control of Aboriginal affairs, in 1938. He's also famous for standing up for other persecuted groups. Despite his own people's struggles, he led a protest at the German consulate in Melbourne against Nazi persecutions of the Jewish community. This has been recognised by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as the only protest of its kind to take place in the world. He collected 1,814 signatures from Aborigines all over Australia, and a statue now in his hometown of Shepparton honours that legacy. The statue depicts him holding that petition. William Cooper was also a proud union man, an AWU member who laid the foundation for Indigenous industrial rights today. His legacy has inspired positive social change for First Nations communities in Melbourne and throughout Australia. This is a step forward to a more respectful society.

I need to acknowledge my friend, the member for Gellibrand who also argued for his seat to be named Cooper and who did a great deal of work with his community honouring the legacy of William Cooper and the family. Tim and his community have been gracious about the outcome, and are more than happy that we have the legacy of William Cooper recognised regardless.

I've had many messages of congratulations from my constituents and friends, total strangers, and my colleagues in this House. I'd like today to share two of those messages with you. The member for Watson, Mr Tony Burke, said the renaming to Cooper means a lot to this country understanding itself. That is a lovely statement that I wholeheartedly agree with. Finally, Senator Pat Dodson said:

The renaming of Batman to Cooper is a mark of respect and recognition. It brings honour to the community and to our nation. It is an example of truth-telling and where we moving towards as our nation matures.

They are two very good statements, I think, that recognise the great move forward for this country in recognising a wonderful Aboriginal man. I'm very proud, and I hope that, after the next election, I will be re-elected and be the member for Cooper, instead of the member for Batman.