Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


First Nations Women's Forum

8:01 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I want to briefly report on a women's forum we held last week. I'm immensely proud to stand in the Senate and do this, and I'm even more pleased that Senator McCarthy is here with me. Certainly, as women in the Labor Party, we know that women are often overlooked in our community, on boards, in this place and elsewhere. The fight to be recognised is still alive and well for women. It is much worse for first nations women. So I sought, in a very small way, to try and redress that in Western Australia. I spoke to some Noongar women I know about an idea I had last year to hold a first nations women's forum in Western Australia. I knew that, if we were able to invite Senator McCarthy and Linda Burney, the member for Barton, to the forum, they would be big attractions for first nations women in Western Australia, because they are immensely proud to have first nations women in this place.

We pulled together a steering group of first nations women, who I would like tonight to mention and thank for their work: Donna Nelson, Dr Hannah McGlade, Jennifer Gregory-Kniveton, Jackie Oakley, Vanessa Elliott, Dorinda Cox, Cherie Sibosado, Rowena Leslie, Michelle Nelson-Cox, Dot Bagshaw and Marian Kickett. I'd also like to thank those who did our welcome to country. They did a special women's welcome to country, a smoking ceremony, in Kings Park at the women's place at Beedawong. I thank the Kings Park board for allowing us to have a smoking ceremony on a day when it was 38 degrees. We had promised to act as fire wardens and make sure that the park didn't burn down! Noongar elders Mingli McGlade and Liz Hayden started the ceremony for us. We then heard from Charne Hayden. We saw Alice Kearing and her daughters from the Mungart Yongah Nyoongah Arts Enterprise dance group, who did the most amazing, uplifting, women's-only smoking ceremony. There were lots of yarns, and it was a real welcome.

What happened the next day? We had the forum in Subiaco. Over 100 first nations women travelled from all around Western Australia, from as far away as Kununurra, Broome, Geraldton, Leonora, Kalgoorlie, the Pilbara and the Perth metro area. We thank all the groups that sponsored those women and enabled them to come to Perth, as well as a number of federal Labor senators and members who put their hands in their own pockets and helped to fund it. The forum was emceed by an amazing woman—I don't know where she's been all my life—Gningala Yarran-Mark, the chair of the Aboriginal Family Law Service. She's an amazing, accomplished woman. One participant described Gningala as:

… both sensational and very compassionate about helping our people. Her work as MC was simply delightful and sometimes we need to be reminded and placed back upon our paths in life. To inspire, motivate and promote. We have many hats as mothers, sisters, aunties and grandmothers.

Our welcome to country was by Mingli McGlade. Mingli has been an activist and a speaker for Noongar people's rights in Western Australia since the moment she was born. She was one of the group of elders who travelled back to the United Kingdom to receive the head of Yagan, which had been removed and taken as some kind of artefact back to the UK shortly after colonisation. We've just named a square in Perth after Yagan. Sadly, once again, as a demonstration of how overlooked women are, Mingli wasn't invited to that opening. The men were, but Mingli was overlooked, so I pay tribute to her activism in this place tonight.

We discussed topics such as human rights, treaty and constitutional recognition. We looked at social and emotional wellbeing. We talked about children, youth and learning. We talked about health and ageing. We will produce a report—and we're in the throes of doing that. It will go back to the steering group and the participants for sign-off. In addition to having Malarndirri and Linda there, we also had our deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, who was just blown away by being able to participate, and Simone McGurk, our WA Minister for Child Protection, Minister for Women's Interests and Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence. We had Senator Pratt there and Madeleine King, the member for Brand. It was an uplifting day, and I commend the day to the Senate.