Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Joint Committee; Report

5:46 pm

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. It's an inquiry into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia, and I seek leave to move that the Senate take note of the report.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

As chair of this committee, it is a bittersweet moment to table this report. It's a very significant report on behalf of Indigenous people's rights, but it will be my last report to this parliament.

I want to first thank all of those who engaged in the inquiry by providing submissions or appearing as witnesses.

I particularly thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations.

I cannot list you all right now, but your thoughtfulness was so valuable.

I also want to acknowledge the work of the many people around the world who have contributed to the advancement of Indigenous peoples' rights, such as Madame Daes, the founding chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, with whom I worked back in the eighties; Dr Sheryl Lightfoot, a current member of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that provided expertise to this inquiry; Sir Taihakurei Durie of the New Zealand Maori Council; and Professor Claire Charters.

This report is the culmination of the contributions from many experts, public officials, organisations and community members who generously shared their insights and experiences with this committee.

This inquiry saw a significant number of Indigenous witnesses:

          There is true value in listening to First Peoples.

          Indigenous perspectives deepened the committee's understanding of the complex matters we explored and were indispensable to this report.

          Background to UNDRIP

          UNDRIP was drafted and formally debated for almost 20 years before its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.

          It remains the most comprehensive universal human rights instrument addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples.

          Australia has been a signatory since 2009, and so we accept the UNDRIP to be a 'standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect,' and that comes straight from UNDRIP.

          The UNDRIP contains 46 articles affirming the collective and individual rights of Indigenous peoples.

          These relate to cultural, spiritual, economic and social rights, rights of self-determination, and to be free from discrimination.

          Importantly, UNDRIP does not create any new or special rights.

          It reflects existing human rights from other instruments and applies them to the specific context of affected Indigenous peoples.

          Overview of the c ommittee i nquiry

          We were asked to undertake an inquiry into the application of UNDRIP in Australia, with particular reference to:

                We held seven hearings and we had the benefit of over 140 submissions.

                We drew on international experiences. When we drew on those, we explored the successes and the challenges.

                We were also conscious to ensure the unique Australian circumstance was considered.

                UNDRIP as a standard consistent with our democracy

                It is clear the UNDRIP offers us an accepted standard for an improved relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

                Some in this place might get nervous about the idea of international standards.

                However, there is no need for that, because they are consistent with our Western democratic institutions.

                The UNDRIP reaffirms the rights of Indigenous peoples, but it also guarantees that the realisation of these rights must preserve the integrity and unity of the nation state—that is, the unity of Australia.

                Like many human rights instruments, UNDRIP reinforces fundamental pillars of our democracy:

                      These should be the aspirations of any healthy Western democracy.

                      When Indigenous peoples etched their aspirations into UNDRIP, they did so with the wellbeing and survival of future generations in mind. It was born out of a shared history of dispossession and loss.

                      The UNDRIP is a touchstone for how modern nations, like Australia, move forward with First Peoples.

                      It provides a structure to that process and avoids Indigenous rights being tabooed or applied only in an ad hoc or selective way.

                      These rights will become real when they are determined and achieved domestically through negotiation with First Peoples.

                      We must continue to seek common ground, with courage and not capitulation.

                      Committee findings and recommendations

                      This report makes six recommendations on how to improve adherence to UNDRIP in Australia.

                      Broadly, we recommend that the approach to developing policy and legislation affecting First Peoples be consistent with UNDRIP.

                      We suggest the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 be amended to include consideration of UNDRIP. This will be a simple and effective way and means of improving how we in this place consider Indigenous people's rights in the development of laws.

                      The committee recommends developing a national action plan that is determined in consultation with First Peoples to outline an approach to implementing the UNDRIP in Australia.

                      This is underway in Canada and New Zealand.

                      It can be a mechanism for us to design the way forward together.

                      Decisions about the form and content of the plan will require deep and committed negotiation with First Peoples and it will take time because the consultation must be thorough.

                      First Peoples' contributions must determine the application of this in our context and how they should proceed.

                      Such efforts should occur in coordination with all levels of government.

                      As senators, we know the important role that states and territories play.

                      We also recommend greater education on Australian history, civics and human rights, because international experience tells us this is key.

                      Finally, the committee recommends that the Commonwealth establish an independent process of truth telling and agreement making.

                      I have not had the courtesy of reviewing the additional comments or contrary positions that may be contained within this report, so I can make no comment on those.

                      However, the evidence was overwhelmingly clear and our terms of reference specifically asked us to explore these reform ideas.

                      The principles underscoring such aspirations are reflected in UNDRIP.

                      Concluding remarks

                      The UNDRIP is a strong foundation for taking Australia forward in its relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a relationship underpinned by a mutual recognition of, and respect for, one another's rights and responsibilities.

                      At the heart of this report is a call for governments and civil society to genuinely engage with the rights of Indigenous peoples.

                      It proposes possible ways to do so in a coordinated and good-faith manner.

                      I hope that the report provides guidance to us all as legislators to look towards achieving common ground for our nation.

                      Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I call Senator Cox.

                      Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

                      Point of order—

                      Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      Yes, you did jump first—

                      Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I jumped first.

                      Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      Senator Thorpe, Senator Cox was going to help me out by taking the chair so that I could also speak, so I took the liberty—

                      Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I didn't realise there was a deal done before I stood up. If I'd known—

                      Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      Senator Thorpe, I don't need to debate this with you. Senator Cox has the call. Senator Thorpe, you have the call next.

                      5:54 pm

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

                      I rise to take note of the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs report into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. UNDRIP was adopted in 2007, and at first Australia was one of four countries who actually voted down being a signatory to UNDRIP. It came on board in 2009, only a few short years later, alongside Canada, the US and New Zealand. UNDRIP contains rights and principles that are common amongst First Peoples, and it's commonly known that UNDRIP was written for First Peoples by First Peoples. That's the way we should remember the importance of that.

                      It is also said that UNDRIP doesn't contain any new or specific rights, but it is more so a combination of rights that are contained in other treaties, reframed slightly better to acknowledge the unique struggles and perspectives of Indigenous peoples. As someone who has attended many UN fora across the globe, I can say that it is a struggle for Indigenous voices to frame and reframe constantly the position and unique experiences that First Nations people, First Peoples or Indigenous peoples have. However, what the report shows is that no one country is doing a particularly great job in relation to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In fact, the Canadian model—the C-15 bill—was part of the drafting of this bill, which I was part of when it was in the Greens party room. The New Zealand model, the Treaty of Waitangi, which has been in existence for quite some time, talks about dedicated seats in parliament, which goes to the heart of those four principles that Senator Dodson already mentioned around self-determination, participation in decision-making, respect for culture and protection of culture, equality and nondiscrimination.

                      I wasn't part of the hearings of this committee; I was watching from the outside as an observer. In fact, I was able to gain great insight into the work of the Joint Standing Committee on this report, particularly through the chair, Senator Dodson, towards the end of its drafting. Of recommendations 1 to 6, one in particular that I thought was important for us to have was independent oversight of such a critical issue that affects the lives and the human rights of Indigenous peoples in this country. I have also submitted additional comments because I think it was important to try to use an example or bring to life the importance of the domestication of UNDRIP. I use the examples of respect for First Nations water rights to allow cultural flows that are distinct and different from the environmental flows, the importance that water holds for First Nations culture, and the protection of that, particularly when we are implementing UNDRIP. It's critical that we use those types of examples, and I included them in my comments in the report.

                      I thank the members of the committee whom I had the pleasure of being able to work through some of these recommendations with at the last sitting. In particular, I thank Senator Dodson as the chair of this committee. Senator Dodson, alongside the secretariat, was able to provide lots of insight for me in his role as chair and in his capacity as someone who has championed many of these issues in his lifetime. I thank him for the work that he's done, particularly in his role as a Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

                      I remember my first time in this place and being part of the Northern Australian Committee, working alongside you on the Juukan Gorge A way forward report. I want to acknowledge how gracious you've been in working in collaboration with me. I think it's a standout feature to have someone as chair who is not only a gentleman but also a person who is able to articulate some of the issues from their lifetime—it was your knowledge and your experience that you were able to share, particularly with me. I have great respect for your work, and I will be sad to see you leave this place, in announcing your retirement today. But thank you for your work and thank you for the legacy that you have brought in this piece, in this final report for UNDRIP.

                      6:00 pm

                      Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I rise to speak on the report of the inquiry into the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—what we call the UNDRIP—by the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

                      This inquiry emerged from an earlier inquiry into the application of UNDRIP in Australia which I initiated in March last year and which lapsed at the end of the last parliament. At the start of this parliament, the government, instead of allowing me to re-establish my original inquiry to continue its work, forced, without precedent, a new inquiry with changed terms of reference. These were much less inclusive or solution focused. But they were clearly intended to spruik the government's pursuit of a voice to parliament as implementing the UNDRIP. Nevertheless, the report tabled today, which draws on evidence not just from the current inquiry but also from my previous inquiry, clearly shows that ensuring our rights are protected and adhered to takes much more than a powerless representative body.

                      The UNDRIP can do so much more for our people than the voice ever could. It is not divisive but embraced by communities all over the country—in fact, all over the world. The UNDRIP doesn't create new rights for first peoples but it embodies many human rights principles, already protected under international customary and treaty law. It sets minimum standards for human rights for Indigenous peoples and government interactions with us. It is not asking for special treatment and it has been developed by Indigenous peoples from across the world over many years. As the term 'minimum standard' already tells you, it's a simple yet powerful basis for pursuing justice for First Nations people in this country. But the settler colonial states are incredibly scared of it, just as we saw today with Labor announcing in the paper—and they couldn't even bring themselves to tell me this—that they were not supporting it.

                      There were only four countries which opposed the UNDRIP when it was first adopted by the United Nations in 2007. Guess who they were? The United States, Canada, New Zealand and, of course, the lucky country called Oz: Australia—all settler colonial states. When Australia finally endorsed the declaration in 2009, it was clear that it did not intend to actually implement it: just like Labor today won't implement it! This has been proven again and again by the inaction at all levels of government in implementing it and by the often blatant breaches of our rights as first peoples—by dispossessing us and destroying our country; desecrating and destroying our sacred sites; ignoring first peoples' concerns; or not even consulting, to name just a few.

                      Australia's human rights record is shocking—we know that. It seems to be the norm these days. It's record of complying with the UNDRIP principles—first and foremost, the core principles are of self-determination, where we decide our own future and not the Labor Party; the right to free, prior and informed consent; and a right to maintain and practice culture.

                      The tabled report includes a long list of additional comments and recommendations from me. Time does not allow me to expand on all of these, but I will touch on a few. I welcome the committee recommending the development of a national action plan, which is great, to implement UNDRIP and to pursue truth and treaty—even though they wouldn't even vote for it yesterday. In particular, I wish to underline our peoples calls for truth and treaty, even though yesterday Labor voted down truth and treaty. We've been calling for this since the first day this country was colonised, and these processes need to be pursued immediately. Their compatibility and, indeed, the complementary and beneficial effects of implementing the UNDRIP have been clearly outlined in the committee report. We cannot waste any more time in pursuing them alongside each other.

                      I also welcome the recommendation to amend the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 to include the consideration of UNDRIP. Knowing how legislation breaches the rights of our First Peoples, this can increase government consideration of our rights and build pressure to adhere to them. And, so, this is an easy yet potent step to take. In fact, this is something I have argued for for a while, and I wish to foreshadow that tomorrow I will seek to introduce a private senators bill to amend the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 to include the consideration of UNDRIP to immediately progress that recommendation.

                      Besides these commendable recommendations, the committee's core recommendation for a national action plan fails to take into account one of the most striking pieces of evidence received during the inquiry. There was overwhelming support from around the world, from international and national witnesses, aside from the Australian government and its agencies, that a legislative approach to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides clear advantages over a policy approach. Even the committee itself in this report acknowledged this, yet it could not bring itself to recommend it. As a Labor dominated committee, where you can hardly get a word in, the committee members commitment to avoid pressuring their government into anything is, sadly, higher than the commitment to First Nations justice. How much is it really a committee for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

                      Legislative implementation of the UNDRIP is a fundamental principle of international law and has been recommended by member states of the United Nations. It would provide greater support for clarification of principles such as self-determination and free, prior and informed consent. History has shown that implementing the UNDRIP has not been a priority for Australian governments, including this one, on all levels, and there has been widespread assessment of this country's failure to comply with the principles of the declaration.

                      Legislative implementation of the UNDRIP would ensure greater protection, promotion and prioritisation of our rights as First Peoples and ensure that the advancement of these rights remains a responsibility of any future government independently of their political leaning. Policy based approaches to implementing UNDRIP can result in future government's deprioritising its advancement, which can lead to significant delays in implementation, as can be seen in the case of New Zealand, or it could be abandoned altogether. So you're putting it at risk, Labor.

                      Given Australia's colonial history, the ongoing resulting injustices and structural racism, and the lack of even a broader human rights framework in this country to revert to, this is not a risk that we can take as a nation. Next week, my private senator's bill, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill, is up for debate. It mirrors the Canadian bill, where—according to what we learnt during the inquiry—nothing ever progressed implementation of UNDRIP as much as legislating it. There have been great outcomes for communities in Canada already as a result. My bill will require the Commonwealth government to take measures to ensure consistency between Commonwealth law and the declaration.

                      Yet today, I read in the Guardianthat the Labor caucus decided not to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples being legislated in this country. Well, shame on you, Labor. Shame, shame, gammon, shame!

                      6:10 pm

                      Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      Today, the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has tabled a report in the Senate following its inquiry into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of Indigenous peoples. It was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 and sets out a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples around the world. Our committee's inquiry set out to look at how UNDRIP could apply in Australia. Specifically, it looked at the international experience of implementing UNDRIP; it looked at options to improve adherence to UNDRIP principles in Australia; and it looked at how implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart can support the application of UNDRIP.

                      Earlier this year, many members of the committee had the opportunity to listen to the community and Indigenous organisations across Australia, from the land of the Whadjuk Noongar people in Perth, to Wiradjuri country in New South Wales, to the lands of Gimuy Walubara Yidinji clans in Queensland and the Wurundjeri people in Victoria. We listened to them about what they wanted for the future.

                      This report is a culmination of the lessons learnt from listening to those on the ground. It sets the foundation for an ambitious agenda to move forward into action and better lives for First Nations people in this country, to make a real difference that First Nations Australians can feel a part of and to move all Australians forward together.

                      This committee, led by Senator Pat Dodson, Uncle Pat, has worked hard to ensure we reflect grassroots views and learn from community stories, experience and evidence. The report tabled today makes several recommendations about how UNDRIP should apply in Australia, but I just want to highlight two here today for the sake of time. The first is a recommendation that an independent process of truth-telling and agreement-making is established, as requested by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to support healing and assist the implementation of UNDRIP. The committee heard, time and time again, about the strong alignment between the Uluru Statement from the Heart and UNDRIP. Based on the evidence we heard, the request for a makarrata commission to oversee truth-telling and agreement-making remains consistent with UNDRIP.

                      Two weeks ago, I hosted a delegation of Victorian First Nations leaders in Canberra to talk about how we can shape future policy to ensure Indigenous people can achieve life outcomes commensurate with non-Indigenous people. The Victorian delegation involved people across several different sectors—legal, health, education and traditional owner corporations. Despite their varied professions, they agreed on this one thing: the continued importance of treaty and truth-telling for the future of Indigenous affairs policy in Australia and the scope to learn from the experience in Victoria.

                      The second recommendation I want to highlight from the UNDRIP report is about education. And this isn't just for schools and for young people. This is relevant to every single person in Australia. There needs to be education so that every person in Australia knows our rich history and the inherent rights of First Nations people, because that supports our human dignity, distinctive culture, historical continuity and connection to our lands. There needs to be education so that acknowledgements of country aren't just tokenistic 'tick-a-box' exercises but are made with a depth of understanding and pride about who we are as a nation. There needs to be education so that the celebration of our culture isn't just limited to NAIDOC weeks but takes place every single day.

                      Going forward, our government will ensure that our response to those recommendations is determined in partnership and through continued meaningful consultations with First Nations people. To do otherwise would be entirely inconsistent with the very principles of UNDRIP. We must take the time to get this right. I'm very proud to have contributed to this work. I want to thank all the witnesses who took the time to contribute to this national discussion. You contributed a significant part.

                      Thank you to Uncle Pat and my colleagues on the committee not only for their efforts in relation to the report but also for continuing to advocate for better outcomes and quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While I'm on my feet, I want to take this moment to stay thank you to Uncle Pat. Thank you for your contribution to this nation and for fighting for First Nations justice. Your legacy will forever be felt in this place. Thank you for your courage and commitment to our people, now and forever. Thanks, Uncle Pat.

                      6:16 pm

                      Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I also rise to speak on this incredibly important report, produced under the custodianship of the wonderful Senator Pat Dodson, who I have been proud to serve with on the WA Labor Senate ticket. It is rather sneaky! I think he tried to get away without people having the opportunity to respond to a valedictory statement. There's only one way to deal with that, and that is to get in first.

                      The UNDRIP statement affirms that all peoples contribute to the richness of civilisations and culture that contribute to the common heritage of humankind. In that context, Pat, you have been such an enormous asset to our nation throughout your whole life. The way you have elevated visibility of First Nations identity has created room and space for something that was long overdue in our nation, and that is for more Australians—and all Australians—to have the opportunity and the ability to identify with First Nations culture as a part of our own Australian identity. It's something you have taught me in spades, and it's something I feel richly rewarded by.

                      To borrow some of your own culture's words, Senator Dodson—through you, Deputy President—you have brought much mabu liyan to this place. Mabu means 'good' and liyan means 'wellbeing'. You have brought much mabu liyan to this place and to our nation. Those words are what connect and create that sense of place and culture, which is where heart and soul are connected to country and connected to wellbeing. Your culture has taught me that in very profound ways. Senator Dodson has brought that in spades to this place, in terms of our own history and heritage as a nation, through the strength of the culture that he has brought to this place. I am deeply honoured to have served with him.

                      Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I ask for the last speaker to seek leave to continue their remarks.

                      6:20 pm

                      Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I also rise to briefly comment on the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, led by Senator Dodson. Senator Dodson has urged us all to ensure the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples applies strongly here in Australia, and that the human rights of first peoples are recognised, respected and enacted. Senator Dodson is a true leader of reconciliation in this country.

                      One of the honours of serving in the Labor caucus is being invited, as a non-Indigenous senator, to our First Nations caucus. That's where I first met Senator Dodson and discovered that the legend that is the father of reconciliation is also one of the kindest and funniest humans in this place—and well beyond this place. Many of us over here are slightly destroyed by his imminent departure. We will miss the vision of a better country that he holds in his heart and in his words: the call to build and keep alight, as he has said, the camp fire on the hill; and the call to build a better country for his people and for all Australians. We know these calls will continue from a place on the country of the Yawuru people—a more quiet and beautiful place than this place, I am sure! In his beloved Australian Labor Party, we will continue to heed his calls. Thank you, Pat.

                      6:22 pm

                      Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

                      It gives me great pleasure to be able to stand up and speak on this Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs report, not because I want to speak on the committee report but because I want to say something about one of the true gentlemen that have been in this place. It has been a real honour to have served in this place with Senator Dodson for the time that he has been here. You've been an amazing representative of your people, not just your people from your Indigenous family but also the people of Western Australia.

                      One of the things I think you can walk out of here with your head held high about, with that hat on it—that hat that we're all going to miss, because it's become such a part of this place—is that you never played the politics; you always played the policy. Every time you stood and made a contribution in this place, every time I've heard you speak, you've always spoken from the heart and you've always spoken about how policy is going to make a difference. You always looked to the outcome; you never looked for the game. I think your old-school approach to politics and this place is going to be absolutely missed. I think you have been an example to many of us of how you can proudly represent a difference of opinion across the aisle, whether it's across this side to that side, or down to the other end of the chamber. You always did it with extraordinary dignity, and I think this place is going to be absolutely the worse for not having you around.

                      It's always very sad when you see somebody leave, but there's something about Western Australians. There are a couple of Western Australians that have, I suppose, been true to the spirit of how you've operated in this place. It reminded me back to another amazing Western Australian, Joe Bullock, who I think represented his state in the same way that you did. He came in here with true conviction. He came in here because he truly believed. He was always consistent in everything he did. He was never convenient and never took a line just because it was convenient to do so for a short-term gain. He always played the long game. Senator Dodson, that's how I've always viewed you. It's been a great honour to have served with you.

                      6:24 pm

                      Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I rise to speak about the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs—oh, bugger the report! I want to give my mate a hug! Gonna miss you, mate! I love you like a brother.

                      Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I want to make a short contribution to this debate. I want to acknowledge Senator Dodson. I've just had a chat with him. I hope he doesn't mind me saying now what I said to him privately a moment ago. Whenever Senator Dodson speaks, he is someone well worth listening to with your full attention because he speaks with his full attention. When he stands in this place, to me, it seems like he is firmly connected, with his feet, to the earth and to this country that he is on. He has announced today that he is going to retire from the Senate. I think that will be a very sad day for the Senate, but I think it is time for Senator Dodson to get back to his people and to his country. I'm sure he will stand as firmly on that country as he does on the country that we are on today.

                      I have to reflect on the time I've spent on parliamentary inquiries with Senator Dodson, particularly the Senate inquiry into offshore detention. I well remember the humanity, the grace, the gravitas and the utter decency that Senator Dodson brought to his work on that committee and the heart that he showed for the people, including the children, who were locked up in Australia's offshore detention regime. Senator Dodson, this place will sorely miss what you bring to it. I join other senators in wishing you all the very, very best for the future.

                      6:26 pm

                      Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

                      Given that this is turning into the valedictory that Senator Dodson did not want, I would not want to miss the opportunity to add a few words to this debate, which is, of course, about a report that he was instrumental in delivering as well.

                      Like many people in this chamber, I first got to know Senator Dodson as a figure on the TV screens over many decades, leading the fight for our First Peoples and leading the fight for basic justice for our First Peoples. I remember as a youngish man watching Senator Dodson in full flight, heavily involved in the debates around the Native Title Act, the royal commission into black deaths in custody—which is an area that we still have so much more to do—and in so many other major public issues facing our country and our First Peoples. For decades, we saw that long, bushy beard that got greyer over time and that big hat. Never in my wildest dreams, when I was watching Senator Dodson in my teens, in my 20s and 30s, did I expect that I would have the honour of serving alongside him as a senator in this chamber.

                      It's not often in life you get to meet your heroes, let alone work with them. And it's very like Senator Dodson to be scoffing at the suggestion that he would be anyone's hero. But he has been a hero of mine for a very long time, and I know he has been a hero to many Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Having now got to know the real Senator Dodson, my esteem for him has only risen compared to what I'd already thought of him as a national figure on the TV screen.

                      We talked earlier today about a bush trip that we did together, with a number of other colleagues, through remote Western Australia and the Northern Territory. That was an experience that I will never forget. What I learned from Senator Dodson and from going to some of those incredibly remote communities will stay with me for my whole life. I hope that continues to drive me and those others who experienced that trip to do more.

                      Other senators have talked about the wisdom of Senator Dodson, which, again, I've experienced personally; his wicked sense of humour, which is something that I didn't know he had just from watching him on TV but got to know by serving alongside him; Senator Dodson's quite unique way with words, which I've always wondered whether that may have come from his time as a priest; and his ability to communicate in pictures and in visual form so many really difficult concepts and in ways that really stick with us.

                      I think it would be right to note that I know Senator Dodson, like so many other people in our country, will look back on this year with a tinge of disappointment about the referendum result. The referendum was something that I know he and so many other people campaigned for and worked so hard to build community consensus around for a long time. But I would encourage Senator Dodson to look back on his time in the Senate, and his entire career, as a lifetime of incredible achievement. We don't always get everything we want in politics, unfortunately, and I know that Senator Dodson, like many of us, would have liked to have seen a different outcome in the referendum. But that does not in any way diminish an incredible record of achievement in Australian public life over many decades, both before and since Senator Dodson came to this point.

                      Obviously, there is so much more to be done, as I said. Senator Dodson, in many different ways, has outlined a path forward on some really challenging issues that our country has yet to properly confront. I know that many of us in this chamber will very proudly continue the work that you, Senator Dodson, have set forward over your decades in public office. I know that you'll still be there to give us some suggestions when we're going off the right track as well. Senator Dodson, I'm really honoured to have gotten to know you, to call you a mate and to call you a comrade. Thank you so much to your contribution to our country. You leave the position of our first peoples in a much better state than when you entered public life, and you leave our country in a much better state than it was in before you entered public life as well. So congratulations; I look forward to having a beer with you, mate.

                      6:31 pm

                      Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I rise to give a contribution on the report being handed down today but also to give thanks and pay my respects to the incredible public service that Senator Dodson has given all Australians in his time, long before reaching the parliament and right up until today. I want to say, Senator Dodson, that we've missed you over these last few months. Your voice of reason, your compassion, your strength and your strong standing have been so clearly missing in this chamber, and it is with great sadness that I learnt today that we won't be able to have your voice of reason on these benches from here on in. But thank you for your service.

                      I want to associate myself with the comments made by your own colleagues, others around the chamber and, of course, Senator Cox and Senator McKim. So often, we strive in this place to bring our full selves, to be honest and to treat each other with dignity and respect. We don't always achieve it, sadly. But I solemnly and wholeheartedly believe that in every moment and in every contribution you have made in this chamber you have done that, and you should be incredibly proud of the contribution you have made and the way you have made it in this nation's parliament. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your compassion for this country.

                      6:33 pm

                      Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                      I was totally unprepared for this, but I will also take this opportunity, not only to acknowledge the incredible work of Senator Pat Dodson—through you, Deputy President—but also the incredible leadership he has shown in the short time I've been around. He has inspired me. He has made me proud to be a fellow WA senator serving alongside him. It has been an honour and privilege, Senator Dodson. We will miss you, and I do regret not being able to spend the rest of the term I've got here serving alongside you. But your eloquence and wisdom will continue, and will forever remain in our hearts and guide us when we continue to pave the way that you've already started. There's a quote of yours that has always stuck with me, and I want to use this opportunity to remind everyone of it. You said:

                      Australians must understand their own philosophies of equity and honour and mateship and live up to those. And that has to fly across the board. Fear should be the failure to create a united nation within our nation: one that has moved its goalposts a bit to accommodate the First Nations' aspirations.

                      You may not have been amongst us during the referendum campaign, Senator Dodson, but you were there in spirit. And this is a promise on behalf of the future generations to come, and the young ones who have been touched by your leadership and service: we'll continue the work that you've started. Thank you very much. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

                      Leave granted; debate adjourned.