Minister for Indigenous Australians – Speech – Garma Official Opening

Can I acknowledge the Gumatj people, the Yolngu leaders, past and present. I want to acknowledge you Dr Yunupingu for your leadership, your vision, for your influence you’ve had over the past 21 years. And when I listened to your grandson talk, I was reminded of the power of youth voices – we need to listen more frequently to the voices of young people because your vision for the future is premised on the theme for this weekend. But, if we want to make a difference then we must also walk with our young because it is not only the elders who shape the future – it is our community in totality. And I want to thank you for the privilege of being able to walk, through the bush, back to here with you. It was an honour and I thank you for that.

The Administrator of the Northern Territory, I thank you. I am not going to learn languages because I have 250 I would have to learn across this nation and I don’t think that I have the capability of doing that. Senator Dodson, and to Linda Burney, you two have walked with me over a long period of time on many battles for things that we have fought for. Our hopes and our visions have to be underpinned by a community of people that decide that they want to achieve outcomes that are better than that of the past. 

I can think of the 66 years in which I’ve left footprints in the sand and I still hear the same discussions occurring at intervals of roughly 10 years. When I was offered this role by the Prime Minister, I realised the enormity of what he had asked me to do and I will use the heart of my culture to shape the way in which I will walk and work with people to achieve the outcomes and to address the issues that impact on our people disproportionately. What we need to tackle are those thorny matters. Not only constitutional recognition and that’s something that I will work hard for and I will work closely with my four Indigenous colleagues who are in the Federal Parliament. But more importantly with the leadership and the elders of this nation; with our young. I honestly believe that we will achieve constitutional recognition. Work has begun. Patrick is right in terms of he can’t see the progress that is being made. But the crescendo is there. The Recognition across the nation for many non-Indigenous Australians is strong and I hear it in the voices of people who walk up or who see me on a plane and say – “I want to help. I want to help to achieve the recognition that is needed and that is justified for Indigenous Australians.” 

And Dr Yunupingu, I look forward to a partnership with you. Based on our discussions this morning – they are discussions between you and I – that we will take forward, because what is important is that when we give our word we keep it. Because our word is our strength, it is our integrity. I want to make sure that that is retained. But over the next couple of days – be bold. Say the things that you have within your heart that you want to share because that is important in the conversations that this nation needs. 

I said at the Press Club I want to reset the Commonwealth’s agenda or the national agenda with our people. And have it where it is a significant element of our thinking and is part of our DNA as a nation. The pride that we have as Indigenous Australians – it doesn’t matter on which country we walk – whether it’s Noongar, whether it’s Yawuru, whether it’s Wiradjuri, or here. Our attachment to land never diminishes. Our attachment to what our parents have taught us, in the strength of our culture, remains the element that sits within our beating heart. It is who we are until the day we depart. And the strengths that we have must be passed on to our youth. I want you to reflect on how each and every one of you will walk with the five of us in the Australian Parliament. 

And, Your Excellency, I didn’t acknowledge you at the beginning because I want to make a special comment. On Monday, you and I met for an hour. We had a great conversation about a vision that both you and I have; that we have both, as you as the representative of Our Majesty The Queen and me as a Member of the Australian Parliament, but our commitment was to Indigenous Australians and the influence that we can bring to bear is important, and I want to thank you for that. I’ll conclude by saying that the strength and the power that is within us can affect the changes that we seek. And I wish you all well in your discussions over the next couple of days. Thank you.