Monday, 21 June 2021
Every year, as the Queen's Birthday weekend arrives on the calendar, I become excited and ready for a party, not necessarily because it's the Queen's birthday but because I know I'll be making my annual pilgrimage to the Barunga Festival at Barunga, around 90 kays south-east of Katherine. A community of around 320 people, it is the home of the iconic Barunga Festival, one of the longest-running festivals of its type in Australia. It has been held every year since 1985, and I have been to most of those celebrations.
There have been a few occasions when it hasn't progressed, as in last year with COVID, but by and large it has happened every year. It's a proud tradition of celebrating the best of remote Aboriginal Australia, and I want to thank the generosity of the traditional owners, the Bagala and the Jawoyn people, for opening their community to share their country and their culture when I was there on the Queen's birthday weekend. It attracts around 4,000 people, both First Australians and the broader community, from all over the country, who descend on this small remote community to camp and take part in the extensive three-day program of music, sport, traditional arts and cultural activities. They play footy, and one of the teams was short of a few players, so their coach wandered around the camping ground and spotted a couple of Victorians and said, 'Do you feel like a game?' They ended up playing for two days!
I would have! But there is so much more taking place at Barunga. It's steeped in history, First Nations politics and a belief in a treaty going back to 1988, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke was first presented with the Barunga Statement, the architects of which were principally Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the then chairman of Northern Land Council, and Wenten Rubuntja, who was the chairman of the Central Land Council. It came out of years of engagement and advocacy. In 1988, when the rest of Australia was commemorating Australia's bicentenary and the arrival of colonisation, Aboriginal clans from across the Northern Territory delivered the all-encompassing statement at Barunga. This remarkable bark document, decorated in art from both saltwater country and desert country, has at its heart a call for a treaty between the Indigenous owners and occupiers of Australia and the Australian government and people to recognise their rights, and these rights are listed. I might point out that the very last act of Bob Hawke as Prime Minister was to hang the Barunga Statement in this parliament. The rights requested are not extraordinary. They are fundamental human rights: acknowledgement, respect and good manners. The Barunga Statement calls on the Commonwealth to pass laws providing the following:
- A national elected Aboriginal and Islander organisation to oversee Aboriginal and Islander affairs—
- A national system of land rights—
- A police and justice system which recognises our customary laws and frees us from discrimination and any activity which may threaten our identity or security, interfere with our freedom of expression or association, or otherwise prevent our full enjoyment and exercise of universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We call on the Australian Government to support Aborigines in the development of an international declaration of principles for indigenous rights, leading to an international covenant.
And we call on the Commonwealth Parliament to negotiate with us a Treaty recognising our prior ownership, continued occupation and sovereignty and affirming our human rights and freedom.
It wasn't too much to ask, you wouldn't think, except we're not there.
In 2018, 30 years were marked since the Barunga Statement, and then, at the Barunga Festival that year, a Barunga Agreement was signed on Jawoyn country. This was a memorandum of understanding between the traditional owners and the four land councils of the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory government to work towards a treaty in the Northern Territory. I want to congratulate the Northern Territory government for their ongoing commitment to that treaty process and the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory for their participation.
We are so lucky in this country. Yet, it's so sad that we have yet to come to terms with our obligation in this parliament to have a referendum for a voice, for a treaty and for truth-telling, as per the Barunga Statement originally and from the Statement from the Heart at Uluru. Why can't we do it now?