Tuesday, 1 December 2020
COVID-19: Northern Territory
I rise to pay tribute to the people of the Northern Territory and, indeed, all Australians as we come to the end of the year. It is December, a time when we're starting to prepare for Christmas and thinking about those in our lives who matter. It's been interesting to see, in the last few days, families wanting to connect and reconnect with loved ones throughout different jurisdictions across Australia. We're mindful, too, of the thousands of Australians who still wish to come home from abroad.
When I talk about the Northern Territory in this instance, it's an opportunity to really say thank you: thank you to the Chief Medical Officer and the staff involved in caring for and protecting the people of the Northern Territory and to members of the AUSMAT who punched way above their weight as the first to step up, back in January-February, to assist with Australians who were caught in China at the time that COVID-19 became a phenomenon known to all Australians. I say thank you to the residents of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. We're thinking of you—in particular, we're thinking of the residents of Christmas Island. You took in many families; the first planeloads that arrived in Australia went to Christmas Island for protection and for support. As we come to the end of 2020, I think it's fair to say that most Australians will be pretty happy to see this year end.
This is also an opportunity to reflect on what is important to not only Australians but people around the globe. We all recognise that it has been an extraordinarily difficult year of challenge because of this pandemic. Again, one of the beautiful things is seeing humanity rise to the call and to the fore in trying to assist and help one another. Yes, here in this place and certainly the other house, we have to have combative moments, but we are coming to the end of the year. I think that now is a time for real moments of reflection and this is one of those.
I sincerely wish every family in the Northern Territory a safe and very happy Christmas. Wherever you are—in the remote regions of the Northern Territory, in the towns, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Darwin, Palmerston, Nhulunbuy, Groote Eylandt—make sure you stay safe; make sure you still have time for one another. It is the wet season in the north. Naturally, we will be preparing for the cyclones—it's what we do when we live in northern Australia. We recognise that we still have to look out for each other when the waters rise, the floods come in and storms hit. I think that resilience is a characteristic of the Northern Territory that I saw come through strongly during this COVID pandemic. We punch above our weight. We certainly reached out to assist wherever we could across Australia, and we also reached out to those Australians who have come home from abroad and are now quarantining at the Howard Springs facility.
It has been a strange year on other fronts as well, when we think of the issues. I reflect on the Black Lives Matter protests across the country, and the passion with which thousands and thousands of Australians took to the streets. I commend them, and I commend the leadership of those state and territory jurisdictions who recognised the importance of those passionate marches that did take place. I thank them for what they were able to achieve, and, again, for highlighting the pain for First Nations people and bringing humanity to the forefront. The high rates of incarceration and the deaths in custody of First Nations people and people of colour are still way too high and unexplainable in Australia, which is just not good enough. These are important issues to pursue vigorously as we go into 2021.
There is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag, and the Senate's inability to move beyond a very conservative style that I think our country has outgrown. We do embrace our First Nations people and our First Nations culture, and I look forward to 2021 where we can, in this Senate, reflect that in flying and displaying those flags here in the Senate.
I'd like to thank my staff. I think most members would agree that we can't really do this job at all without our incredible staff. I would like to pay tribute to those who work beside me and walk with me every single day in this job as I represent the people of the Northern Territory, as a senator for the Northern Territory, but, indeed, here in the Australian Senate as a senator for all Australians. Charlie, to you and your family, have a very happy and safe Christmas. Mandy, thank you for what you do; you are just amazing. Martha, you're extraordinary. I'm going to get into trouble now! To Sharon, who's just joined us, it's wonderful to have you on board. And I pay tribute to two people who've worked with me throughout this year—Ella and Mai-Mai. I sincerely wish each and every one of you and your families a safe and happy Christmas.
I'd like to make mention of the First Nations caucus, and every member who works with me as chair of that caucus. In particular, I'd like to mention Linda Burney, our shadow Indigenous affairs minister, and Senator Pat Dodson, whose wisdom I seek in so many areas. We try to pursue the policies we need to have, and to do so in such a collective way, and hopefully that continues to bring a greater sense of unity, not only in the parliament, but in our country on the issues that matter to First Nations people and all Australians. I thank each and every member of the First Nations caucus, and wish you and your families a very safe and happy Christmas.
To the National Indigenous Labor Network, to all our Indigenous Labor members across the Australian Labor Party in every state and territory jurisdiction, and all of those ministers for Indigenous affairs: as we work together through COVID, through our many teleconferences, thank you for your support. And thank you for what you do in trying to ensure that, whilst we are protecting all Australians, there is recognition of the vulnerability of First Nations people. I commend each and every one of you. To our Aboriginal community health organisations, our ACCHOs and NACCHOs, all of you, the men and women who work to protect and to maintain the health and dignity of the patients and people in your communities—thank you for what you do.
I'm also mindful of the many millions of Australians who have lost their jobs, who don't and will not have the kind of Christmas they perhaps would have hoped they would have. I think that we as a nation must always remember those who are struggling and who need to never be forgotten. In particular at Christmastime, as we think about things individually in terms of our own needs and desires, we must also think of those who are desperately in need of support and in particular those people who are struggling with mental health illnesses and the loss of loved ones throughout this incredibly difficult year.
I would certainly like to wish each and every member of the Senate and their families a safe and happy Christmas, but it's also a time for us to reflect on how we can be better representatives as we go into 2021 and make sure that we don't leave any Australian behind.