House debates

Monday, 9 November 2020

Statements by Members


10:44 am

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

Today we celebrate the commencement of NAIDOC Week, the theme of which is 'Always Was, Always Will Be'. I know that communities and organisations around my electorate will be actively involved in the celebrations. This gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, our commitment to a constitutionally recognised voice to the parliament, our commitment to working towards a treaty and our commitment to truth-telling. We have an obligation to at last deal with the truth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being the original owners of this land; their subsequent dispossession and alienation; the historical racism that they have suffered and endured at the hands of authority and government for now over 230 years; and the denial of their rights as the original inhabitants of this land. We must confront these truths. We have an obligation and an opportunity to reset the agenda, to rebalance the ledger, to work with First Nations people, to listen to First Nations people, to deal with the truth of the past and to provide First Australians with constitutional recognition through a voice to the parliament.

Mr Deputy Speaker, lest you think I'm a recent convert to these matters, on 17 September 1987 I stood in the Old Parliament House and gave my first speech, during which I said, among other things:

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

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It is time that, as a nation, we examined the history of our colonisation of this land and came to terms with the Aboriginal view.

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The myths that have built up around the settlement of this country must be exposed.

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No longer do we, the colonisers, rely on guns and poison. The contemporary tools of colonisation are legislation and statutes … To the best of my knowledge we remain the only former British colony not to have recognised the rights of the indigenous people either by treaty or through the Constitution.

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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.

At the conclusion of the speech, I quoted eminent Australian author Xavier Herbert. In addressing the issues of Aboriginal land rights—and we could use Aboriginal land rights or constitutional recognition—he said:

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 will remain what we have always been so far, a people without integrity; not a nation by a community of thieves.