Grievance Speech Stan Grant – Racism

Australia has some milestones in our relationship with First Nations people that we can truly celebrate.


On 27 May 1967, Australians voted to change the Constitution so that like all other Australians Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.


On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised that a group of Torres Strait Islanders, led by Eddie Mabo, held ownership of Mer (Murray Island).


In acknowledging the traditional rights of the Meriam people to their land, the court also held that native title existed for all Indigenous people, paving the way for the Native Title Act and rendering a fiction the legal doctrine of terra nullius.


These are two of the most momentous developments in the advancement of First Nations people of the twentieth century that reflect well on our nation – on our people and on our legal system.


In both cases, the voice of First Nations people was heard, and change was enacted.


Today, these dates mark the commencement and conclusion of National Reconciliation Week each year.


Since its origins in 1993, this week has provided an opportunity for all Australians focus on the importance of building relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures, and futures.


Reconciliation is a living concept.


It is something we must all look to foster within ourselves and in each other, in hearts, minds and actions.


So often, in the past and today in the Uluru Statement from the Heart – the anniversary of which we also celebrate on Friday this week, 26 May – it is our First Nations people extending the hand of reconciliation to us.


Yet too often, as a society we fail to play our part in reconciliation, and it is painful to see opportunities lost to strengthen our nation through respectful relationships between the community as a whole and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


We love to celebrate the positives, but must also be frank in addressing the shortcomings of race relations in our country.


Like many, I enjoy the celebrations accompanying the Indigenous rounds of the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League, and congratulate the leagues and clubs for continuing to make the contribution of First Nations people to their games a centrepiece of their annual calendar.


In the AFL we see great Indigenous players like Essendon’s Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Melbourne’s Kysaiah Pickett and of course Carlton’s own Jesse Motlop.


Recently we saw the Bulldogs’ Jamarra Ugle-Hagan make a courageous stand against racism, following the example set 30 years ago by the great Nicky Winmar.


In the NRL, in our Prime Minister’s favourite team, Latrell Mitchell is a vocal leader for the Indigenous community.


Nicho Hynes, who will be making his Origin debut next week, starred in the Cronulla Sharks’ convincing win against the Newcastle Knights, and Josh Addo-Carr marked his return from injury by putting down a try for the Bulldogs.


More and more, Indigenous rounds are not only about recognising current and former players and this year, in the AFL, even an umpire, but are also a celebration of Indigenous culture.


Moving ceremonies take place before games, and sides adopt First Nations names in place of those by which they are usually known.


I also want to note that both the AFL and the NRL, as well as Rugby Australia and Football Australia, have given public support to the campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum to create an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.


In doing that, it is clear that they are representing the views of their constituent clubs and, more importantly, the players in all four codes.


In a country where sport plays such a big role in our national life, the leadership shown by the major sporting codes has set an example others could well follow.


But sadly, the last week has not solely been about celebration of Indigenous achievement.


A pre-eminent figure in our national conversation, Stan Grant, explained his decision to stand down from his high-profile role at the ABC as host of Q+A, as a result of an unrelenting racist campaign waged against him both on social media and in sections of the mainstream media.


This controversy has exposed to public view the nasty strain of racism that still disfigures public life in Australia, and which is regularly deployed against Indigenous leaders and commentators who dare to tell us the truth about Australia’s past and seek a stronger, more unified future.


Of course, being able to tell the truth about our past is an essential element of reconciliation.


Makarrata – the coming together after a struggle to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history – is one of the three pillars of the Uluru Statement from the Heart along with Voice and Treaty.


When Stan Grant spoke last night, he – like so many other First Nations people – did so with hand outstretched in generosity.


He spoke of how those who have come at him and his people with hate would be met by love.


How is it that we deserve this?


Yet time and again, our First Nations people welcome us into their embrace, showing us the path to reconciliation.


As members of parliament, as leaders in our community and in the nation, we must greet this embrace with reciprocal generosity and show the way through negativity, disinformation and flat-out racism.


Along with others who have the loudest voices in our nation – including in the media – we must not only set the tone of debate, but we must raise it.


We must not miss the opportunity presented to us by Stan Grant’s bold and clear statement about the personal and collective effects of racism to lift the standard once again.


From now on, we have to do better.


I will conclude with these words from Stan Grant last night, which were moving to me and to many:


"I am down right now, I am, but I will get back up and you can come at me again and I'll meet you with the love of my people. My people can teach the world to love. As Martin Luther King Junior said of his struggle, 'we will wear you down with our capacity to love.' Don't mistake our love for weakness, it is our strength. We have never stopped loving and fighting for justice and truth, the hard truths to speak in our land.”

23 May 2023