“There are two tracks: there’s the practical track, which is about young people not killing themselves. And I must say, that’s my higher priority,
And there is also this important constitutional track, which is important for the country.
That will happen at a pace in which there’s agreement.”
Prime Minster Scott Morrison opening 46 th Parliament
Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have pledged to work together on indigenous recognition as the new term of parliament begins.
But the prime minister rates stopping Australia’s young indigenous people from killing themselves as a far higher priority than constitutional change.
His government committed $7.3 million in the budget to design options for a Voice to Parliament, saying it would hold a referendum once the model was settled.
But while Labor highlighted constitutional recognition as part of its election campaign – releasing a plan for a Voice to Parliament and regional assemblies at its campaign launch – Mr Morrison talked more about youth suicide and mental health.
“I must admit my more immediate priorities in indigenous affairs is stopping young indigenous people committing suicide in remote communities, ensuring that they are going and staying in school, that there are employment opportunities for their parents, and that they’re safe in their communities,”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt – the first Aboriginal person to hold the portfolio – and Mr Morrison speak often about this practical agenda and the closing the gap initiatives.
However, there are still strong sections of the indigenous communities for whom recognition and the Voice to Parliament proposed in 2017’s Uluru Statement are just as important.
Asked how he would engage an electorate that has become largely disillusioned with politics and convince voters that change was needed, Mr Morrison said firstly parliament had to work as a whole to achieve it.
“I’d like to see it come to fruition, I always have,” he told AAP.
“The leader of the opposition and I, when we had our first initial conversation when I rang to congratulate him, this is an area that I think we can probably work together.
“But there’s expectations of indigenous Australians as well and how they marry up with … what can be taken forward.”
Mr Albanese told the welcome to country ceremony ahead of Tuesday’s opening of parliament that indigenous recognition is the first agenda on which parliament needs to co-operate.
“We will work with you. This thing can be done,” he said in remarks addressed to Mr Morrison.
“We have been welcomed to this country today in such a generous spirit by such a hopeful heart and we should respond with courage, with kindness and with determination.
“Forty-five times we have opened the parliament in this country without a voice to parliament for the first nations of this great land. This 46th parliament should be the last time in which we do that.”
PRIME MINISTER’s : Welcome to country speech
Our Parliament meets on Ngunnawal land.
Here, 65,000 thousand years of Aboriginal culture meets mere centuries of Westminster tradition, which the Leader of the Opposition and I represent, being here together and I acknowledge Anthony as I do all of my Parliamentary colleagues, the Deputy Prime Minister who joins us here today.
We gather in respect – acknowledging the Ngunnawal elders, the ancient ceremony of fire and smoke that will commence shortly has become part of the tradition of this building, and thankfully so.
It was just over a decade ago that the first ever smoking ceremony accompanied the opening of Parliament, and I thank the Speaker and the President of the Senate for their continuing support of this as it shall always be in this place.
We couldn’t imagine this day without this ceremony. And nor should we.
It is appropriate that at the entrance of our parliament, just beyond the Great Verandah is the beautiful mosaic on the forecourt.
Michael Nelson Jagamara’s Possum and Wallaby Dreaming.
Brush tail possums.
Rock Wallabies and more – Jagamara’s Dreaming ancestors all gathering for an important ceremony.
Stirring in its subtlety.
As the artist said himself, the 90,000 hand-guillotined granite pieces present, and represent a place ‘where all people come and meet together, just like we do in our ceremonies to discuss and work things out together’.
And that captures the work, the job of this place: to ‘work things out together’.
In my maiden speech to Parliament, I said that ‘a strong country is at peace with its past’. This is a work in progress.
Being at peace with our past, being at one with our past.
While we reflect on how far we have to go, consider though how far we’ve come.
This year, my Government appointed Ken Wyatt as the first ever Aboriginal person to hold the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians – and as a member of Cabinet and I welcome him here this morning.
And I’m pleased, as I know the Leader of the Opposition is, that he is joined in the Parliament by the Member for Barton, Linda Burney, and Senators Patrick Dodson; Malarndirri McCarthy and Jacqui Lambie. But together, between Linda and Ken, I think Anthony and I are both very optimistic about the partnership that can be forged.
Indigenous important voices that I’m confident will be joined by many, many more in the years to come.
It was a different story at the official opening of what we now call the Old Parliament House back in 1927.
Not a single First Australian was invited to celebrate.
However that didn’t stop two men.
Jimmy Clements – better known as King Billy – and John Noble.
They left their home at Brungle Mission near Gundagai and began a long walk to Canberra.
They trudged over the mountains.
Until they arrived in the nation’s capital.
The 80 year old King Billy stood firm in front of the new Parliament and protested ‘his sovereign rights to the Federal Territory’.
The police ordered him to move on – fearing his shabby clothes and the dogs at his bare feet would offend the sensibilities of the Duke and Duchess of York who were in attendance.
An incredible thing happened.
The crowd, Australians, took King Billy’s side.
They called on him to stand his ground. He did.
A clergyman declared that he ‘had a better right than any man present’ to be there, and that was true.
King Billy won that fight.
And the next day, he was among those citizens officially presented to the Duke and Duchess.
His long walk to Canberra paid off.
Almost eight decades later, footballing great Michael Long would also begin a long walk to Canberra – and would famously meet with the then Prime Minister John Howard to discuss issues facing Indigenous communities.
As Michael’s wife Leslie put it so well ‘when one person starts walking, someone will walk next to them…and they’ll say ‘I believe in that too – I’ll walk with you.’
So here we are. Walking together.
All Australians, Indigenous or not, walking together side by side.
Towards equal opportunities.
Towards Closing the Gap once and for all.
Walking in the same way a determined, steely eyed, 80 year old Wiradjuri man walked to Canberra almost a century ago.
We have a long way to go. We know. But we will walk that journey together.