NACCHO Reconciliation 25 years News: Pat Dodson’s first senate speech

 Amnesty

Yawurugun Janu buru Rubibi. I am from Broome. Ngayu nilawal Djagun. My name is Djagun. Ngayu Banaga wamba. I am a Banaga man. I acknowledge with respect the traditional owners of this country, the Ngambri and Ngunuwal people, their elders and their emerging leaders and I thank everyone who has made me welcome here.

In the Yawuru language from around Broome there are three key concepts from the Bugarrigarra which shape our ways of knowing and understanding. These concepts will inform my work here, as they have formed my being. They are: Mabu ngarrung, a strong community where people matter and are valued; Mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; Mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community. Its essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.”

Senator Patrick Dodson first speech below Part 1  : Shadow Assistant Minister Indigenous Affairs : photo above Amnesty

 “The opening will be in Yawuru and Senate President (equivalent to the Lower House’s Speaker) Stephen Parry spoke in the language of the Kimberley region traditional owners.

“I just walked up to him in the corridor and said: ‘I’d like, if you wouldn’t mind, if you respond in Yawuru to a couple of things that I’ll say to you in Yawuru’,” the senator for Western Australia recounts.

“And he said: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be interested in that, but you might have to give me some coaching.’

Behind Pat Dodson’s maiden speech see Part 2 Below

Reconciliation Australia last week marks twenty-five years since the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (‘the Council’), and the formalisation of Australia’s reconciliation journey.

“It is an extra cause for celebration that the anniversary of the Council should come in the same week as the maiden speeches to Federal Parliament of Linda Burney MP and Senator Patrick Dodson”,

Reconciliation Australia CEO Justin Mohamed see Part 3 Below

Hat

Yawurugun Janu buru Rubibi. I am from Broome. Ngayu nilawal Djagun. My name is Djagun. Ngayu Banaga wamba. I am a Banaga man. I acknowledge with respect the traditional owners of this country, the Ngambri and Ngunuwal people, their elders and their emerging leaders and I thank everyone who has made me welcome here.

I now come to this place, elected by the people of Western Australia. I am honoured to serve our great state and thank the people of Western Australia for their confidence and trust in me. I will carry out my responsibilities and commitments to all Western Australians with dedication and vigour.

I come to this upper house, the Senate, very mindful of the traditional role of this place to represent the views of the states. I know that at times our views in the Senate may challenge those of the House. I pledge myself to negotiating any differences with respect and courtesy.

I am committed to working closely with our Labor team, led by our leader Bill Shorten, and all of my Senate colleagues to make a difference for the future of our country.

I am particularly honoured to serve in the 45th Parliament with my Aboriginal sisters, my fellow Labor colleagues, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy in the Senate, and Linda Burney in the House of Representatives. I also acknowledge my Aboriginal and Torres Strait brothers and sisters in both houses of the Australian parliament, and those who have led us here, such as Queensland Liberal Senator Neville Bonner, Senator Aden Ridgeway, and Senator Nova Peris.

The Senate and the House are now becoming more representative and inclusive of all the peoples of Australia. It is a positive step along our road to have Aboriginal people participating directly in the process of making Australian law. This was not the case at the time when our founding document, the Australian Constitution, was drafted.

The only two express references in the Constitution were section 127 and section 51(xxvi), and both related to our exclusion—a situation that lingered in the constitutional landscape of this nation until the 1967 referendum.

The presence of the First Australians, who occupied this continent for millennia, in this great land was disregarded. Something that Bill Stanner in his Boyer lectures referred as to as: …a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale.

Clearly, there is work to be done to address this, with constitutional recognition of the First Australians being an important step in this process. I look forward to the report of the Referendum Council and working with the 45th Parliament on this very important task.

I am a proud member of the Yawuru people of Broome. In the Yawuru language from around Broome there are three key concepts from the Bugarrigarra which shape our ways of knowing and understanding. These concepts will inform my work here, as they have formed my being. They are: Mabu ngarrung, a strong community where people matter and are valued; Mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; Mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community. Its essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.

These concepts are not newly minted. They come from the time before time began. We call this the Bugarrigarra—from when the earth was soft and yet to be moulded and given its form by the creative spirits. The Bugarrigarra encompasses the time well before Western philosophy, religion and laws existed or travelled to our lands in ships.

In 2006, after 12 years of litigation, the federal court recognised the native title rights of the Yawuru, and therein acknowledged the existence of our laws and customs under Bugarrigarra in Australian law. The Yawuru now hold some 530,000 hectares of land in and around Broome. Much of the Yawuru land is held under exclusive native title. Other parts are non-exclusive title. However, native title rights are vulnerable to the principle of extinguishment, which has the effect of returning native title rights to our lands and waters to terra nullius or Crown land.

When the Federal Court handed down its determination in 2006, the Western Australian state government appealed the decision. But two years later the full bench of the Federal Court upheld the original decision. During and following the appeal, formal negotiations were undertaken between the Yawuru people, the state government of Western Australia and the shire of Broome.

In February 2010, these good faith negotiations led to a native title agreement signed by all the parties and registered with the Native Title Tribunal in August 2010.

The ILUA—the Indigenous land use agreement—settled some key matters of land tenure and governance for the state and for the Yawuru people. The agreement provides a basis for building economic opportunity in our shared, cosmopolitan world subject, of course, to market factors and opportunities. The agreement-making process and the agreement itself help both communities to face up to the unfinished business of our place, of our country and of our status within the confines of the act.

They do not settle, however, fundamental matters of colonisation and dispossession. It is not a panacea, applicable in every case, but shows that local and regional agreement-making is achievable and can be mutually beneficial.

It has refreshed our spirit, our liyan. It enabled us to move on from the many mistakes, poor policies, ignorance and outright racism that have bedevilled us in the past. We now come to the table in our own right: respected as legitimate stakeholders, whose rights can no longer be bypassed, ignored or simply extinguished without compensation.

It is one model of agreement making I can commend, while recognising such a model cannot be adopted in all parts of our diverse country. Its limitations are that it does not deal with the claims of sovereignty that many Aboriginal people argue has never been ceded or surrendered. The basis for settlement remains contested since the discredited legal fiction of terra nullius was exposed in the High Court Mabo decision.

As a senator from Western Australia, I will work with my parliamentary colleagues in this place and elsewhere in shaping the social and economic future of our state and the nation as a whole.

I am especially focused on the needs of those who live in the regional and remote parts across this great land of ours, particularly in Western Australia. I firmly believe that to be successful in this endeavour we must ensure at all times the full and active engagement of all of our people.

I will be working in this place to: make sure that fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are locked up in our prisons; help develop northern Australia, in partnership with regional communities, industries and Aboriginal people; build consensus on changing our constitutional framework, recognising the need for meaningful discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a treaty or treaties; and ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and their organisations are key decision makers and empowered partners in programs to transform the current levels of injustice and bureaucratic domination.

In joining my fellow senators, I acknowledge and welcome those of my colleagues who are also new senators. We have become good schoolmates in Senate school. Some, though, have been elected on platforms which I will undoubtedly find challenging. I will not be averse to argument and debate on these issues. This place is, after all, the sanctuary of free speech.

The debates will, however, need to be informed by the fundamental principles of respect for the diversity and richness of our various cultures in Australia, and the recognition of our shared humanity. We know, as a fact, that some Australian legislation in the past was founded on outmoded patterns of thought and belief. Our laws have, at times, been based on ingrained paternalism and racial superiority, denying our shared humanity.

Such mindsets justified repeated acts of greed that grabbed the lands of our people without negotiation, settlement or compensation—and at times at great human cost, with many lives being taken or cut short. Those laws built bureaucratic systems and processes that controlled the lives of our people; stifling life choices; creating the sorrow, pain and anguish of children ripped from the arms of their mothers.

My family, along with most Aboriginal families, carry this pain in our recent history. I was born before the constitutional changes of 1967.

I was hiding in the long grass in the Northern Territory town of Katherine and watched my age-mates being taken by welfare and police. In Katherine I also watched in fear as white people were bussed in to the town hall meeting, where they vented their hatred and anger against Aboriginal stockworkers for walking off Wave Hill Station and for demanding justice and equal wages.

The Australian law at that time was unarguably founded on a social outlook that was highly ethnocentric, even racist. Many of the laws were genocidal in intent, application and consequence. The same moral compass justified the American laws that mandated racial segregation in the US before the civil rights movement.

Such views and laws led to the horrors of Soweto and Robben Island and even the hate crimes of Nazi Germany. These systems of laws and regulation shared the same legal, intellectual and moral parentage. These laws and regulations cannot be permitted to emerge once more in our precious democracy.

Our Australian democracy evolves and grows as our nation matures. In times past, people of a different race, a different colour, a different religion, a different sexuality were subjected to exclusion, oppression or discrimination under the laws made in this place.

Such laws cannot and must not return to this place. I want to work with all of you in building an Australian nation that is characterised, as it is said in Yawuru, as Mabu ngarrungu—a strong community; Mabu buru—a strong place, a good country in which all Australians of all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities have a life influenced by Mabu liyan—a healthy spirit with the good feelings and sense of worth that comes from mutual respect and balance.

All of us, regardless of race, culture or gender, share a strong identity as Australians wanting to build a common, tolerant and prosperous future together. If we work to find what we have in common rather than what divides us, I believe that we can be better people; we can build a better Australia; we can build a better place for the next generation together.

I would like to express my deepest thanks to my family—and some of them are here today—my friends and the many supporters who have assisted me on my journey to this place.

In coming here I have been warmed by the welcome from the Parliament House staff, as well as the security team and the Comcar drivers. I especially wish to recognise all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, men and women, who have gone before, and those who continue every day in the struggle for justice and equality.

I acknowledge respectfully the women who have taken on leadership roles for our people—women such as Faith Bandler, Bonita Mabo, Mum Shirl, Lowitja O’Donohue and many others across our lands.

In closing: I was privileged last month to be at the 50th Anniversary of the Gurindji walk off by the stockmen and their families from Wave Hill Station near Katherine in the Northern Territory. The Gurindji, led by Vincent Lingiari, walked off in protest at poor working conditions and living conditions on the station, but at the core of the strike was a fight for land justice, for equality, for recognition of a people’s right to their law, to freedom, to justice and a fair go. Their stance was proudly supported by the union workers of Darwin and by many non-Aboriginal Australians from across Australia.

When Gough Whitlam handed the title to the Wave Hill pastoral lease back to the Gurindji in 1975, he poured dirt from the country into the hands of Vincent. At the time, Prime Minister Whitlam said:

I want to acknowledge that we Australians still have much to do to redress the injustice and oppression that have for so long been the lot of black Australians.

I want to promise you that the act of restitution which we perform today will not stand alone – your fight was not for yourselves alone and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.

All Australians everywhere have been lifted by this powerful moment of moral truth and justice; a moment that made Australia a better place, the kind of country we want to be.

Vincent’s reply to the Prime Minister was in Gurindji, translated as:

Let us live happily as mates, let us not make it hard for each other.

It was a testament to his strength, his resilience and his generosity of spirit. After a century of theft, of violence, of dehumanising exploitation, of structural and institutionalised racism, of a stolen generation policy, genocidal in its intent and its impact, this leader was ready to move forward to build a better place.

Vincent held a vision for his people’s freedom—a vision based on fair treatment, getting country back and getting people back on country.

His vision was for equal wages, for a self-sufficient, independent, economically secure and culturally grounded community free from oppression and degradation. This vision was never fully realised, but it remains a worthy vision for us all.

In this Senate, I want to work with my fellow senators to help to build a better country, a better place, a strong, just and inclusive Australia. I look forward to our work together.

Galiya.

PART 2 Behind Pat Dodson’s maiden speech

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Senator Pat Dodson was Australia’s first Aboriginal Catholic priest and then “the father of reconciliation”, but he is apprehensive as he prepares to address the Senate for the first time.

By political reporter Dan Conifer

Patrick Dodson looks intently into the lens, his brown eyes focused as they peer over a pair of spectacles.

Camera lights hit his beard, giving each strand its own tone of grey.

Unchanging, however, are the iconic red, black and yellow colours around his wide-brimmed hat.

On a shelf in his parliamentary office is a biography, Paddy’s Road, written more than a decade ago.

The book’s cover is black and white, save for the cotton band and its colours of the Aboriginal flag.

Senator Dodson was Australia’s first Aboriginal Catholic priest and then “the father of reconciliation”, thanks to his chairmanship of the former Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

He has been in the public eye for more than a quarter of a century, but the 68-year-old novice frontbencher never imagined he would hold public office.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he says about an hour before his first speech.

“I’ve been so used to screaming from the outside of the Parliament or trying to lobby ministers to get their ear on some matter.”

This afternoon, the lobbying is being done from Australia’s Senate chamber.

The latest version of the inaugural address is drenched in yellow highlighter and laid out on his thinly-populated desk.

I immediately notice the first words.

Ngaji mingan, Mr President (How are you Mr President?)

Gala mabu ngangan (I am good)

Janu buru Rubibi. Yawurugun (I am from Broome)

Ngayu nilawal Djagun (My name is Djagun)

Ngayu Banaga wamba (I am a Banaga man)

The opening will be in Yawuru and Senate President (equivalent to the Lower House’s Speaker) Stephen Parry will also be speaking the language of the Kimberley region traditional owners.

“I just walked up to him in the corridor and said: ‘I’d like, if you wouldn’t mind, if you respond in Yawuru to a couple of things that I’ll say to you in Yawuru’,” the senator for Western Australia recounts.

“And he said: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be interested in that, but you might have to give me some coaching.’

“So I said: ‘Well that’s fine, we’ll organise that.’

“That’s the spirit that a lot of Australians don’t see about this place.

“Unfortunately we perform, I think, under-par when it comes to Question Time and that’s what most Australians see.”

As it creeps towards 5:00pm, more and more supporters, from all corners of the continent, enter the office.

One is Mick Gooda — one of two royal commissioners investigating the Northern Territory’s scandal-saturated youth justice system.

Mr Gooda has become a royal commissioner 25 years after Senator Dodson was one.

Then, he was probing Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Sadly, problems inside prisons persist and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people encounter justice systems far too often.

And you only had to glance at the office coffee table to see that.

“Race Riot”, The West Australian’s Wednesday front page said, after a protest over the death of an Aboriginal teenager in Kalgoorlie turned violent.

Senator Dodson emerges from his private office after one final run-through.

He shakes hands with his brother Mick — 2009 Australian of the year and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner — then walks to the chamber.

“Apprehensive. You’re never comfortable when you walk into that Senate,” he says.

At 5:01pm, Senator Dodson begins in Yawuru before acknowledging local Ngambri and Ngunnuwal peoples, elders and “emerging leaders”.

On the left side of his jacket is a badge featuring a red ‘R’ — the logo representing the Indigenous constitutional recognition campaign.

The badge nearly did not make it — it seemed broken just minutes ago — although the oratory would have compensated for any absent accessory.

Senator Dodson says constitutional change is needed to overcome a “cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale”, as William Edward Hanley Stanner once described Australia’s neglect of its first peoples and their history.

Senator Dodson, one of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s closest advisors on Indigenous affairs, talks of “the need for meaningful discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a treaty or treaties”.

He acknowledges sovereignty is something “many Aboriginal people argue has never been ceded or surrendered”.

Some of Senator Dodson’s new Upper House colleagues hold constitutional recognition in low regard.

Some also want to dilute sections of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“Some though have been elected on platforms which I will undoubtedly find challenging,” he says.

But he warns them against taking Australia’s statue books backwards, in the direction of bygone laws that “were genocidal in intent, application and consequence”.

“Such views and laws led to the horrors of Soweto and Robben Island and even the hate crimes of Nazi Germany,” he says.

“These laws and regulations cannot be permitted to emerge once more in our precious democracy.”

Senator Dodson hopes, with a record number of his Aboriginal brothers and sisters on Capital Hill, Australia’s race hate laws will remain intact.

Finishing his speech, Senator Dodson magnetically pulls senators towards him from every direction in the chamber.

Malarndirri McCarthy — Labor’s other Aboriginal senator — is among the first to congratulate him.

Others filter through.

But one stands out.

Her smile is beaming.

Pauline Hanson extends her hand to Senator Dodson.

We do not know what they said, if anything.

But the Queensland senator’s mere presence in the chamber for this Aboriginal champion’s first speech might be a step towards the recognition and reconciliation he wants to see between black and white Australia.

Part 3

25 years on: Reconciliation a high priority in the 45th Parliament

“Senator Dodson and Ms. Burney have both made extraordinary contributions to our reconciliation journey, in their roles at the Council and beyond. Ms Burney served as an executive member of the Council and Senator Dodson, widely acknowledged as the ‘father’ of reconciliation, served as founding chairman.”

Reconciliation will remain a high priority in the 45th Parliament, In her maiden speech, Ms. Burney emphasised that “fundamentally, reconciliation is about three things: it is about reciprocity; it is about restitution; and it is about truth telling.”

Senator Dodson also reaffirmed the place of reconciliation in building a prosperous future for our nation, stating that “all of us, regardless of race, culture or gender, share a strong identity as Australians wanting to build a common, tolerant and prosperous future together. If we work to find what we have in common rather than what divides us… We can be better people; we can build a better Australia; we can build a better place for the next generation together.”

Guided by the diplomacy of the Council before us, Reconciliation Australia has successfully worked under various governments to ensure reconciliation remains a multi-partisan priority.

“In the 25 years since the Council was established, and with the ongoing work of Reconciliation Australia, our nation has made some remarkable progress towards reconciliation. The Mabo decision in 1992 and the Apology in 2008 were landmark events in our reconciliation journey”, said Mr. Mohamed.

The issues raised in parliament this week, including Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and constitutional recognition of First Australians, demonstrate that the reconciliation process has raised broader questions about our national identity and the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and rights in our nation’s story.

“The triumph of the last 25 years is that reconciliation is no longer seen as a single issue or agenda, but instead lies at the heart of our nation and our understanding of who we are, and who we want to be”, Mr. Mohamed added.

 

 

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