Indigenous politicians have been welcomed to Federal Parliament in a show of culture and respect, but on the lawns outside the building many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives vented their frustration at government inaction on Indigenous issues.
The 45th Parliament was officially opened with a traditional Indigenous Welcome to Country and a smoking ceremony.
Ngunnawal woman Tina Brown delivered the address and called on the parliament to show leadership and take the nation forward.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke in the Ngunnawal language and congratulated the three newest Indigenous MPs on their election.
He spoke about wanting to learn from Indigenous culture.
“Our role, our duty, is to acknowledge these traditions and the strength of this history and amplify it within the collective voice of our democracy,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the Welcome to Country as a “great institution.”
He said Parliament needed to reach out to Indigenous people and said they were “too often left out, ignored, dispossessed or forgotten.”
Outside on the laws of Parliament Ngambri Elder Matilda House said she refused to take part in the Welcome to Country ceremony because she didn’t want to welcome “bigoted” politicians.
Ms House led the first Welcome to Country for the opening of the 42nd Parliament in 2008.
But today she attended the demonstration outside Parliament House instead.
“You will see another ceremony today up there which I won’t be participating in, and am I being vicious by saying the reason why I won’t be doing it is because there are bigoted people that will be there?” she said.
“I don’t want to welcome people like that into the land of my ancestors.”
The protest used over 2,000 cut-out hands to call for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about critical Indigenous issues, including Indigenous imprisonment and child welfare.
Indigenous MPs and senators attended the demonstration, including Assistant Minister for Health Ken Wyatt and Labor Indigenous MPs Patrick Dodson, Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy.
Congress of Australia’s First Peoples declares end to ‘Mexican standoff’ with Scullion #RedfernStatement
By political reporter Anna Henderson
Frosty relations between Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and the Congress of Australia’s First Peoples appear to have thawed just ahead of a planned demonstration outside federal parliament.
The elected Indigenous representative body will press on with plans to hold the event on Capital Hill tomorrow morning, calling for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
But less than 24 hours before the event Senator Scullion has confirmed a string of prominent Indigenous affairs legal, social and health groups, including Congress, will be invited to a “workshop” with him to discuss improvements in the portfolio.
“There was a stalemate that could no longer be continued,” the co-chair of Congress Jackie Huggins told the ABC.
“There was a silence and I guess one could describe it as a Mexican standoff in relation to Government and the way that it interacted with Congress.
“I’m very happy to say that hopefully that has changed now.
“We both agreed that we should put our differences aside and work towards a better future for Indigenous people.”
Dr Huggins said the timing of the workshop announcement on Monday was “interesting”.
But she also said she and her co-chair Rod Little met with Senator Scullion at the Garma festival in the Northern Territory earlier this month and that was an important turning point in the relationship.
The workshop will focus on the Redfern Statement, a document released during the federal election campaign that outlined a wide variety of legal, social and health concerns that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups wanted to raise with the Federal Government.
When it was released in June many of the Indigenous signatories felt their message went largely ignored.
The relationship between the minister’s office and Congress had become increasingly acrimonious over the past two years in the wake of significant federal budget cuts that affected the group’s finances.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of a disastrous election defeat for Senator Scullion’s Country Liberal Party colleagues in the Northern Territory, which saw many Indigenous electorates abandoning the CLP.
It also follows the revelations of child abuse in the Four Corners report on the Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory.
The Redfern Statement had detailed a “national crisis” of Indigenous over-represention in the justice system.
Dr Huggins said she thought the minister’s decision to hold the workshop was influenced by the Four Corners report.
“Quite clearly Don Dale had a bearing on it,” she said.
Since the federal funding for Congress began to dry up, the elected organisation has been shedding staff, dropping from 40 to just five employees.
Dr Huggins said there was still no certainty about future funding but Congress would press ahead with its agenda regardless.
“We will keep going,” she said.
“They can starve us of funding but we won’t go away.”
18C momentum: PM can’t lead his own party, let alone the nation
On Day 1 of the 45th Parliament of Australia it’s already clear Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is not in control, with 19 Liberal backbenchers signing on to a rogue attempt to weaken Australia’s antidiscrimination laws, say the Australian Greens.
“Unless Malcolm Turnbull takes on the extreme right of his party and shows some leadership, he will be remembered as one of the great failures of Australian politics,” said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.
“This is a test for the Prime Minister. Is he going to stand up to the extreme right in his party and say very loudly and clearly there is no place for hate speech in Australia? Or is he going to cave in, as he’s done on so many other issues, which was part of the reason he was punished at the last election?
“Here we are, almost a year since Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott, and the Liberals are still slashing and burning Australia’s renewable energy industry, still standing in the way of marriage equality and still trying to destroy the anti-discrimination laws that help make our country one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world,” Senator Di Natale said.
Greens Justice spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said there was no justification for watering down protections against hate speech.
“Just what is it that these 19 backbenchers want to say that cannot currently be said? The only conclusion is that they want to poison our national conversation with racism and hate speech,” Senator McKim said.
“This campaign to destroy the integrity of the Racial Discrimination Act is not about freedom of speech, it’s about freedom from consequence.