Senate debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

First Speech

Cox, Senator Dorinda

5:00 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to order, I now call Senator Cox to make her first speech. I ask honourable senators that the usual courtesies be extended to her.

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Woola, Mr President. Ngany kwel Dorinda Cox, ngany moorditj Noongar Bibbulmen Yamatji yorga wer ngany koora boodiya yorga moort yey nitja yaak.

Ngany moort Kaneyang, Yued, Amangu wer Wajarri—South West wer Midwest Gascoyne, Western Australia boodja, ngany maya-maya Whadjuk boodja, Boorloo.

Ngany kaaditj nitja boodja, nyitiyung barang. Ni, ngany karnarn, kalyakoorl Ngunnawal wer Nambrey boodja wer ngany waangk—kaya ngany moort, koora boodiya moort, yey boodiya moort wer yirra koorliny boodiya moort. Benang, boorda boodiya moort ngalak kalyakoorl doyntj-doyntj yaak.

Nitja boodja, ngany moorn moort boodja, kedalak, yey yoowart bibool nyitiyung wer ngany moort.

I thank you, Mr President. My name is Dorinda Cox and I am a strong Noongar Bibbulmen Yamatji woman and I come from a long line of powerful matriarchs. I belong to the clans of the Kaneyang, Yued, Amangu and Wajarri peoples of the South West and Mid West regions of Western Australia. I acknowledge and pay my respects to the stolen lands we meet on today, which belong to the Ngunnawal and Nambrey people of this area. I pay my respects to their elders past and present and their emerging leaders, who we nurture, love and support for the future generations who will continue our legacies. Sovereignty of this country remains, as there are no treaties with the First Peoples of this country.

I started this speech today in the Noongar language, the ancient mother tongue of my Noongar Bibbulmen people, where I live, work and raise my children. I call Boorloo—Perth—my home. The two dingo dreaming tracks are where I grew up as a child, in Walyalup, which is also known as Fremantle. I want to acknowledge my mother, Margaret; my brother, Michael; my daughters, Ailish and Ciara; and the rest of my family and friends who are not joining us here in the chamber today due to the COVID restrictions of quarantine but are instead watching us online. Firstly, it's not the same, providing this important and momentous speech without having you all here with me, but I can feel the love, support and energy that you are sending from afar today, and I'm comforted knowing that you are here with me in spirit. I'm well aware that the sacrifices I will be making, starting today and in the future, serving as a senator for WA, will and do matter to you personally and that, through my work, we will be able to see the impact on the lives of so many. Thank you for generously allowing me to do this with your blessing, and, more than ever, I want you to know that this is possible because of you and this is your legacy too.

I've travelled from my home state, the fifth strong Greens woman from the West, and I thank those who welcomed me to this country today: Billie, Leah, Paul, Tjanara and Jason at the Tent Embassy this morning. I also extend that to all of those here in this place. I would like to acknowledge my First Nations colleagues in this chamber and in the House: my sister and Greens colleague Lidia Thorpe, Senators McCarthy, Dodson and Lambie and MPs Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney. It's a humbling privilege to join an esteemed group of First Nations political leaders past and present who have paved the way for us to represent First Peoples of this country and their issues in these political forums.

It was the year 1994 that I first travelled here to Canberra as a 17-year-old fresh-faced young girl just out of school visiting my mum, who was working for the Commonwealth at the time. Whilst visiting the public gallery here, I read the Redfern speech of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. It was at that moment that I felt he understood the impact of my and my family's story—one which, shared across many families and communities, is etched in our past but also in our present. In particular, when he said, 'We took the children and we smashed the traditional way of life,' this, as I reflected recently, was a significant moment that sparked my interest in politics. But as I sat in the chair outside posing for a photo, I knew that there had been no black politicians here in this parliament since Neville Bonner, a Queensland senator, in 1983, and it would be another five years till Aden Ridgeway, in 1999, came here as a New South Wales senator.

It is my dream to re-create this moment and others like it for so many other First Nations and Australian boys and girls, to spark their interest in participation in our political systems, rather than the sorrow and discontent I hear in their voices when they talk about our current systems and representation. One that I constantly hear is that it doesn't represent them or their future, particularly on climate action. I want every young person in this country to believe that, regardless of your background, one day you could be standing here providing your first speech too, and that you have the right to belong in this system that should represent you and your issues.

I pay my heartfelt gratitude to my party, the WA Greens, who took the step of making me the first First Nations woman from WA to sit in the Senate. I thank the members for your confidence in me and your investment in our grassroots movement. Together, our vision is to continue this work of fighting for a future that prioritises our people and our planet. I join the Senate to follow the important and unforgettable legacy of my predecessor, Rachel Siewert. Rachel's work, which many of you know and have commented on recently—over 16 years her amazing drive, tenacity and leadership, working across all sides of this place—is what we commit ourselves to do as part of our responsibilities. It's not my intention to replace her here in this place but to continue with her same admirable dedication, passion and commitment in our work for the Australian people, and I sincerely thank you, Rachel.

My message to people in my wonderful home state of WA is that it's my honour to be your senator and to represent the voices and issues of our diverse people, places and circumstances, which are our footprint. This is sometimes forgotten here in the federal parliament. When I think about the sheer geographical size of our state, it's easy to see why we are one of the most isolated places in the world. When you travel the breadth of the state, which I have done in my lifetime, from Miruwoong country near Kununurra to Wangkatha country in the Goldfields, across to Malgana country of Shark Bay and to Mirnang country near Albany, and everything in between, we share some amazing and spectacular places. My job will be to fight for our interests and to have our issues heard and considered, and to make sure our diverseness and uniqueness are recognised and respected for their valuable contribution to our nation's political, cultural, economic and social priorities.

Coupled with my vast experience, I come to this place through a journey shaped by opportunities, hard work and challenges. I come to this place not as a career politician but as a First Nations woman who worked in the area of social policy for two decades at the federal and state government levels of this country. I've worked on the international stage as a delegate on behalf of this government and successive governments. I bring those learnings to this place, coupled with my knowledge of my people, my country and our history, to make a difference in all of our lives.

As a recognised leader in the international community, Australia has been heavily criticised for its treatment of Indigenous peoples, and domestically we see the ever-increasing erosion of Indigenous rights, including the rights to country and culture, which impact on our daily lives. Under the cloak of economic and social development, we make laws and enact decisions in this country that destroy the fabric of social and cultural rights of our First Peoples while, at the same time, asking them to extend a hand to reconcile a past—one that we are unable to escape in modern-day Australia. This degree of marginalisation continues to perpetuate despair and hopelessness. This is not a new thing. In fact, my Noongar grandparents had to apply for citizenship in this country, not because they weren't from here, but because they needed to access rations to feed their children in the 1950s—all because this was government policy and they were classified and treated differently because of their race.

A serious lack of political will by our successive governments to prioritise the implementation of its obligations as a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must change. We need action to go further than a debate or a conversation in this place. Remodelling and reshaping this important process to create models of governance must include the voices of First Nations people from our recognised political and cultural leaders to our grassroots people.

The time to do this is now and requires nothing more than courage and leadership from all of us—bipartisanship to ensure the next generation is able to participate and enjoy the shared future that recognises, respects and elevates the sovereignty of our First Peoples of Australia.

The only way I see to do this is to join other Commonwealth countries in creating our own national treaty. We need truth-telling processes that pick up where the apology left off and bring together our sovereign nations, complementing and enhancing state based processes that enable us to drive localised change and to hear the important stories that clearly articulate the experiences of the First People in the conversation.

Co-producing a national framework on our national treaty to speak directly to the parliament—understanding two-way law and cultural practices that decolonise a system to truly benefit the people. A true national identity shaped and celebrated by every single Australia—one that we can all be truly proud of.

It's time for us in this place to create a shared vision, one that's grounded in humility and justice for our future generations and ratified through the internationally recognised treaty processes set by the global community. This work can and will bring reparative and restorative processes to our collective shared history and provide peace, healing and hope for our future Australian generations.

My experience and knowledge have shaped my approach and pivots on the way I see and participate in the community. I have lived and worked in regional WA and I can personally relate to the challenges we need to meet for our families and our communities that have different geographical and accessibility challenges.

My hometown is Kojonup, in the Great Southern of Western Australia. My family have worked as shearers and farmhands over many generations. My yearn to be back on country includes reconnecting across those relationships and friendships that were forged by my ancestors when pastoral living shaped our economic survival and, for many, still does.

My great-grandfather was an Irish cattle station owner at Dalgety Downs in the Gascoyne region—this is my Yamatji connection—before my grandfather was removed and taken to the New Norcia mission in Yued country. My family has survived five generations of the stolen generation regime in this country. I come from the first generation of children to be raised by their parents, and I am one of the lucky ones.

On a recent regional trip to Yinggarda country in Carnarvon, I visited the statue of the Lock Hospital at the Three Mile Jetty. This story, like so many others of intergenerational trauma, still reverberates across our communities and our families who have been affected by these policies.

WA is the leading state—and not for good reason—for the highest rate of child removal in this country. It is the reason I came to be interested and heavily invested in the legislation that governed my people's lives, as these are the things we can change and need better tailored cultural and community led responses. These new approaches should not continue to perpetuate institutionalised approaches. This is the collective blood memory of our convict-built nation, where some of our biggest investments in this country are still in police and prisons.

Like many others, I continue through my resilience and resistance to a system which fails to see the intersectional issues needed for me not just to survive but to thrive. One by one, I have overcome them. But for some of my fellow Australians, this is not the case, as evidenced through the unacceptable deaths across the justice system that sees First Nations people, particularly women, dying in preventable circumstances. There should be a full coronial inquest into these deaths, and I know multiple families who have called those inquests.

As a former police officer, my approach is couched as a reformist. Following the implementation of the royal commission on deaths in custody, I know that the script has been written but the performance has stopped. These recommendations were framed and written for ATSIC as the self-determining framework—one that should have enabled a cohesive blueprint to self-manage and evaluate the outcomes of an effective national implementation. But this is not the reality. Now it's just a watered-down version of these national and state based commitments to improve the social determinants of health and wellbeing.

Under the guise of Closing the Gap, we are prevented from dismantling the discourse that is the school-to-prison pipeline. Governments continue business as usual until there's a front-page news story of a death in police custody. This should raise an eyebrow, but these days I'm not even sure if it makes a mention in the media summary to the relevant minister. But in First Nations communities across this country it's a constant triggering and a cold reminder that there is no political will, at all levels and on all sides of this political divide, to stop those preventable deaths. In my home city, Boorloo/Perth, 56 homeless people died in 2020 and 44 in the period to August this year, and one-third of those are First Nations people. In this place, we know better and therefore we should do better to interrogate and improve these systems now.

As a staunch blak feminist, a single mother of two daughters and someone who has experienced poverty, I've lived in social housing during my lifetime. I'm a business owner who was disproportionately affected, particularly over the course of this global pandemic. I am a survivor of and a campaigner on family violence and discrimination. From my two decades of work as an activist, a consultant to successive governments and an advocate working in the gender equality space, I know we have to stop thinking of this as a women's-only issue; it is a societal issue that disproportionately affects women and children.

We have been tackling this issue all wrong and in a vacuum, constantly expecting women to be fixing this issue. Most of all, we have not made it safe for women to call out harassment and violence. In this place, it is our job to provide that safety as the first part of that solution, identifying strategies and committing funding to address the drivers of violence to prevent this from happening to our children and our grandchildren. What we know is that social disadvantage increases the prevalence of violence against women, including state sanctioned violence, which disproportionately affects First Nations women and girls. We are 35 times as likely to experience violence and 10 times as likely to experience death because of family violence.

This is why I will campaign for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered First Nations Australian women, similar to the one for our First Nations Canadian brothers and sisters from across the Pacific, and into our unacceptable rates of death of women. The red handprint symbol on the mask that I wore into the chamber yesterday and that I hold up today is a symbol of the bloodied hand silencing the voices of those stories. This work must be a priority to inform the already committed separate national plan on violence against First Nations women. We must prioritise and expedite a range of responses that can transform societal and cultural norms that are at the heart of the primary prevention work. A larger investment is required in primary prevention. Having trauma-led, on-country programs diverting away from the justice system will enable healing and recovery to occur. This is the foundation for change.

My work in the United Nations and APEC forums has centred on removing barriers for women to participate in decision-making and solutions. In many nations across the world, men are not absent from supporting and elevating women's voices and Indigenous communities. This is important and effective. Decolonising platforms from policy development, advocacy work and alliance-building relationships, particularly internationally, have been instrumental in building my understanding and in my work alongside my colleagues for the sharing of blak women's voices to be heard at decision-making tables.

Social and climate justice are intrinsically linked issues. They define and maintain the social fabric of our societies, and this has been the by-product of the colonial processes in this nation. As we move closer to the point of no return on climate, we need urgent action and leadership from all Australian governments and all sides of politics. The impacts and biodiversity loss are two of the most important challenges and risks for human societies. Here in this place, we have the opportunity to consider those cost-cutting issues, intersectoral policies and regulatory frameworks that have strong synergies to contribute to the transformative societal change that is needed to achieve ambitious goals for biodiversity, climate mitigation and a good quality of life.

As a First Nations woman, through my birthright, I was given the responsibility to protect and care for country. This is my Mother Earth. The political circumstance I was born into has been passed to me from my ancestors, who have been doing this for generations. Australian Indigenous knowledges are the ancient stories etched on rock art in caves, the songlines we use to navigate and travel across our trade routes of this land while singing in language to vibrate the ancestral connections of people and place, linking us to the past, present and future. Indigenous knowledge and connection to country is linked to identity, and is part of our ancestral ways of knowing and being.

The protection of cultural heritage both tangible and intangible are fundamental parts of the human and cultural rights of First Nations people, and our live example of this is the Juukan caves destruction. First Nations people, as the sovereign people, are the only ones who can tell us why, what, when and where this cultural connection and our sacred sites are. The cultural protocols of First Nations communities are built on reciprocity, and that means it's time for corporate Australia to step up and show public support for the self-determination, the leadership and the inherent rights of First Nations people. I am asking industry partners to publicly reject the current legislative framework that does not afford human rights of First Nations people. Work in true partnership with First Peoples to build good practice that ensures seamless and mutually beneficial outcomes, one that confirms, respects and honours the goodwill statements that came from the corporate sector post-Juukan. As the Australian Greens portfolio holder of mining resources, trade, science, research and innovation, I am well positioned to take those conversations across regional Australia, the business sector and communities, for us to reimagine a future that will accelerate our collective actions.

I'm no stranger to the work of politics, from my work in international fora to advising and lobbying governments. In lots of instances, I was the lone First Nations voice in some of those delegations and, in some instances, the first Indigenous woman to break new ground, as I am today. If anyone is under the impression that I was there as a token, this was quickly changed as I always challenged myself to actively participant in the processes that informed and shaped my world view differences, and shared solutions grounded in my experiences. Breaking glass ceilings is only the first step, and a challenge of going where others have not gone before. It is a great opportunity to learn and share your knowledge with others that are not operating in your circles.

My passion for breaking new ground across the stereotypical understanding and norms signal that I might be the first, but I'm definitely not the last. My footprint in this place, cast in history-making actions, should provide motivation and hopefully restore some hope and inspiration for many as we work to fight for our future together. In paving the way, I hope the concept of 'if you build it, they will come' enables us to see ourselves here in this place, and that, in future generations, we see the parliaments of Australia transformed to truly represent our communities. Incorporating diversity that reflects and emulates our communities' intersectional lived experiences are also as important as the Dynamic Red here—to follow a visible script created by some hard markers in our fundamental business to help us check our own privilege; reminding us that, with gratitude, we undertake this work with consistent checking, reflection, inquiry and, most of all, deep listening to our constituents and the broader Australian public.

My pledge is to assure the people of Australia that my values are anchored in the betterment of our communities' quality of life, and for further generations of our children to have a healthy and thriving planet to live on. Fighting for that future belongs to all of us—one that benefits many, not just a few. If you feel unheard and unseen then, in my time working here, I want to work to make sure that we change and transform this place so that we can be better allies for you. Climate and social justice is the unfinished business that we must prioritise as elected leaders of this nation, which is here, in the place of the people—the Senate.

I wish to finish in my great-grandmother's Wajarri Badimaya language. Nganhu garrimanah malga brily marlbayiminah. Together, we stand strong and we rise up. Thank you.