Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


Bandler, Ms Faith, AC

7:35 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to pay tribute to an incredible woman, a civil rights activist, a writer and an incredible person: Faith Bandler. Faith was a true representation of modern Australia, a woman of Indian, Scottish and South Sea Islander descent. Faith was a civil rights activist, a feminist, a mother and a woman of profound integrity. To her family, I offer my sincere condolences and a commitment to continue to advocate for equality for all Australians.

Faith spent the majority of her inspiring life advocating for the equality of all Australians. Her multicultural background gave her the first insight into a darker side of Australia. The experience of joining the Land Army during World War II shaped her future as an activist. Working on farms, she witnessed the wage disparity between black and white Australians first-hand—an arrangement that went unchallenged but that Faith recognised as discriminatory.

Motivated by the inequality she experienced, Faith campaigned tirelessly to advocate for acceptance in the broader community of all Australians—regardless of cultural background. Faith's activism made Australia a better place for all Australians. In 1950, Faith was instrumental in forming the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship, while advocating for Aboriginal Australians. During 1957, she helped launch a petition in support of a referendum to remove discriminatory provisions from the Australian Constitution that denied Indigenous Australians citizenship rights. The petition gained thousands of signatures and the public campaign for equal rights under Australian law gained a lot of momentum. Her activism culminated in the 1967 'YES' referendum campaign. The overwhelming majority of Australians voted yes to equality, marking the beginning of a modern and inclusive Australia.

Faith recognised that discrimination could only be solved if inequality was understood and acted upon in the broader community. Proving the engagement of minority groups is the cornerstone of building sustainable communities and Faith built a network of campaigners, regardless of race, who understood the importance of equality. The connections that she made through the community gave strength to her convictions and motivated her hard-earned achievements. The work and support of Jessie Street and Pearl Gibbs contributed to her success.

Former Labor senator, John Faulkner, described Ms Bandler as fearless and stated:

She built powerful coalitions, alliances both enduring and contingent. Working relationships based on personal friendships or shared goals. Her ability to reach across boundaries of race, class politics and opinion in the pursuit of her great aims was at the heart of her successes. Her life stands as a testament to how much one person can do to change the country they live in and the world they leave behind.

Faith's work still resonates today. Even as we celebrate her life's achievement, we must not remain complacent. Inequality remains in Australia, it lies especially—and unfortunately—in our workplaces and in our communities.

The recent Closing the gap report revealed that our Indigenous communities are still dealing with poverty and disadvantage; depression, addiction and suicide; jobs are difficult to find; and a young Indigenous person leaving school unfortunately has a greater likelihood of being jailed than attending university. This must change. Chronic disease and untreated conditions are still issues in our Indigenous communities. Family violence, again, is more likely in Indigenous communities and life expectancy still does not meet the same standard as for non-Indigenous Australians.

Faith fought for these changes. She fought inequality and the persistent wrongs our Indigenous community has suffered, and it is left to us to continue her work now. Rest in peace, Faith Bandler.