We-akon Dilinja “Mourning Day” Event
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation.
I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
And I pay my respect to all First Nations peoples and their elders here today.
I acknowledge the sovereignty was never ceded. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
And I think this is important to say, especially today.
I would also like to say a special thank you to the Boon Wurrung Land and Sea Council and the City of Port Phillip for bringing us together this morning.
Thank you all for being here.
The date January 26 was set to mark the beginning of European colonial settlement in this country.
The choice of this day a day of national commemoration does not originate from this time.
Initially, and perhaps as Victorians we would say appropriately, it was only recognised in colonial New South Wales.
Its use as a national day only dates from the 1930s, not even a hundred years ago.
Its place as a uniform national public holiday is even shorter.
It was in my lifetime that this was adopted, in 1994.
The story of this land began tens of thousands of years ago, from “time immemorial” according to common law.
When I reflect on the Australian nation, not just today but every day as a member of our national parliament, it is this history from which I draw strength.
That our nation has at its heart a continuing civilisation that is the oldest in the world.
A culture deeply connected to the land.
What could make us prouder than this?
It is not just something for us to be proud of within our nation, but for us to share with the world.
I am glad this is something that as a nation we are now doing with more purpose than ever.
We can also be proud that our First Nations people have chosen to share their aspirations with us.
From the heart, in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
In the words of those who are responsible for the Statement, “The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians.”
“It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling.”
Some might look at the two centuries of colonial Australian history and wonder what our nation has done to deserve this invitation.
It is a history that begins with invasion and is comprised of dispossession, discrimination, denial, destruction and disease.
Yet here we have a statement that is the largest consensus of First Nations peoples on a proposal for substantive recognition in Australian history.
As we look to advance the first element of the Uluru Statement of the Heart in 2023, the Voice, some have sought to question this proposal.
To find any excuse to reject this generous invitation.
Now, it is right that any proposal to change our constitution is subject to consideration.
And our constitution ensures this will be the case – first by the Parliament, then by the Australian people.
But there is a difference between educating ourselves about the nature of the proposal to understand the invitation that has been extended, and deciding that the default position should be to reject it and contorting to conjure any possible excuse for doing so.
To take such a negative and divisive stance is to reject an invitation that we cannot afford to turn away from.
And it would continue to leave us incomplete as a nation.
Because our nation will not be whole until we advance the work of reconciliation by enshrining the place of our First Nations people in the story and constitution of Australia.
Mere acknowledgement will not suffice; reconciliation is an act, not a promise.
Leaders and citizens around this nation need to listen to our First Australians.
We have an important and historic opportunity this year.
Our community can be open of mind and of heart – as First Nations people have been – and vote yes to the Voice.
This will be historic change.
Our country does not change its constitution often.
We have already seen how difficult it will be by the energy its opponents are dedicating to their task.
But we have the advantage of working to bring the country together, not to divide it.
To explain to the nation that we will be a better nation when First Nations people are recognised in our constitution by establishing the Voice.
Recognising a simple truth – that the pathway for a better future for First Nations people would be best shaped and informed by First Nations people.
Informed by the wisdom, experience and cultural expertise that comes from within the oldest continuous civilisation on earth.
For so many people, January 26 is a day of hurt and mourning.
Just ask Australian cricketer Ashleigh Gardner, who this week used those words when she spoke as a proud Muruwari woman of northwestern New South Wales and southwestern Queensland about the national team playing in Hobart tonight.
She used her voice and platform as a prominent sportsperson to raise awareness and educate all of us on the impact January 26 has as a date that marks the beginning of “genocide, dispossession and massacres” affecting the longest living culture in the world.
But it should not be up to Ash Gardner to have to use her voice to amplify these matters.
And we have an opportunity to ensure that our national parliament has the benefit of the Voice.
To further the self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by giving them greater say in matters that affect them.
And inform parliament as well as increase engagement with government in the development of policies and legislative proposals.
It is symbolic, but equally practical and necessary.
It is about improving life outcomes in tangible ways – in health, education and housing.
There is much to be done for First Nations people in Australia.
But as Prime Minister Paul Keating said three decades ago, “Isn't it reasonable to say that if we can build a prosperous and remarkably harmonious multicultural society in Australia, surely we can find just solutions to the problems which beset the first Australians – the people to whom the most injustice has been done.”
I do not purport to speak for First Nations Australians, and I do not have to.
They have spoken themselves.
They have invited us to walk with them “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.
Let us make 2023 the year when we wholeheartedly embrace the action, they have asked us to take.
26 January 2023