Thank you very much – I would like also to also add my acknowledgements to traditional owners of country, and in saying that is just delightful to address a group of people in Australia where you know there are large numbers of elders here and people who understand and know country, so its not just a glib acknowledgement.
Aside: Dutchy, I flicked the suit mate. This is as good as it can get.
I like to apologise to the conveners of this, I’ve changed my plans a number of times – and that is because of the sittings of Parliament and those processes.
And if I could just thank everybody who took so much time, they are just so patient – I was here the last symposium and so many people helped me understand about not only the land rights act but each corner of New South Wales where you came from and the particular challenges you face. As someone who aspires to lead in this area is just absolutely vital information, so thank you.
I think it is very, very important to continue to have a dialogue – and the dialogue does not mean me standing up here and talking at you. I’ll do a little of that, but the real dialogue happens when I am not here, and I certainly look forward to catching up with you all this afternoon and later tonight.
I think it is terrific on the 30th anniversary celebrating land rights – it is a good opportunity to say “how are we going?”. I think that is certainly the New South Wales land Council, as I move around Australia I have a lot to do with other land councils, you have some 22,000 members. And I think by and large as I move around New South Wales, not all is right, but I do not get anywhere near the sort of negative commentary about land councils that I have elsewhere. I think clearly you are in touch with your constituency, and you are in touch with the challenges that face them. So congratulations.
I was mentioning to the National Congress of Australia’s first peoples that you have 22,000 members and I think they went green with envy, so congratulations, I think it is a great organisation.
Many, many people who are involved in the activities of 30 years ago, the fight for land rights. Dutchy and others who are here had that fight. And as we look back now, certainly were in a much different environment. Land rights I think, those people who are involved in would now think about the great change over those 30 years and say, not only was it worth it, but we have come a awful long way by and large we should be happy that progress. One of the challenges that I see, and the analogy was given to me by an old feller in Arnhem land, is that we have gathered up all the eggs we have been good at that and that was the land rights process. Now we have the eggs gathered up, we have land we need to switch our focus to actually hatching the eggs –getting economic development out of the land that you fought so hard for and I think this is the next stage. I think this is on the cusp of a new beginning, and are not saying that all is right with land rights there are still more work to do, and speak about that in a moment.
I really think that if we can harness economic development one of the fundamental things we have to change is the relationship between aboriginal New South Wales and governments. Federal government, New South Wales government – good relationships are based on trust.
And if I will have another short anecdote – some of you are probably not aware, I was the principal respondent in a native title test case over seas, the principal applicant was a lovely lady and a great friend of mine called Mary Ah Meer. Now everyone was pretty surprised that when the fishermen turned up, with some great fat lawyers as one does. And the lawyers said, our instructions are “we are not questioning that native title exists. We accept that it exists. We are here in court to find out what it means for us”. And the reason we took the decision was because the fishermen knew we would insult the only people who were around us out on the ocean out around the islands in the rivers so much that we couldn’t even operate. So we knew that the strength of that relationship was really more important as a part of our future and then taking some other position that was popular, or that the governments wanted us to take. And I have to say that that was a great decision because we still enjoy an absolutely outstanding relationship, certainly a better relationship that has enjoyed with the Northern Territory government Commonwealth government that’s for sure. And so the nature of the relationship we had is very, very important as we move down this new area of economic development.
I have to say there are a couple of issues before I pass on from that, that still have to be dealt with in terms of land rights. There are a number of technical things I will deal with in a moment. But I think it is about…you may have an agreement, you have a compact or a contract with someone and you shake their hand, there is no point later saying “oh, technically we were not really right there” because it is not in the spirit of the agreement is not in the spirit of the partnership. We know what were intending that is why we shake someone’s hand. And I think by and large if you talk to any Australian, they will say ”handing back aboriginal land under the native title act….” And they would say now – there has been a change, there has been a spectrum. But they would say now “yes it is a good thing to do”. Let’s empower them, give their land back and get out of the way is what they would say.
So Victor and me are representatives at different levels of Australians who say that. So where we find bureaucracies and individuals and circumstances who are in the way – our job is to move that. The compact is that we are supposed to be returning land for use – that is a compact. And that is a compact that myself and Victor – that if I get elected, and I have anything to do with – I am really looking forward to working with Victor to make sure that not only the nature of the seal of compact between the Australian people and Aboriginal Australia… that the actual compact is adhered to.
There is a growing trend in Australia, and I have been very excited to be part of that growing trend in the Northern Territory- aboriginal representatives in Parliament are growing. We have got slight overrepresentation in the Northern Territory. Slightly over 30 percent of those people who are now in government are aboriginal people, as are 30 percent of the population and that it should be. It is not because of some quota system – they add that diversity they add that experience and they know what they are doing. We should be very proud – we stole him ,Adam Giles – now the equivalent of your Premier. An aboriginal man from New South Wales is now the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. Who would have thought, Territorians are proud to be rednecks. Pretty hopeless 10 years ago but have we come a long way. We can do that the territory, if we can change it around I think that is of leadership and that sort of vision can be changed right around Australia.
I think aboriginal voters have been taken for granted by all sides of Parliament for a fair while. They were taken fundamentally to granted by Labor because you supported Labor. Why? Because conservatives did not generally know where you lived, we were not connected at all. At least Labor were vaguely connected.
But the trends I am seen is that you are far better educated about what is going on. And you know that there is a lot of leverage. And I know that from now on you will not be taken for granted and I think that is an absolutely great thing.
Indigenous affairs has taken a higher priority, and I share this as a delight with Victor. This is not something they say in politics – when everybody says “what job do you want?” Nobody says “give Aboriginal affairs – that will be great for my career!” It doesn’t actually run that way, but I think it is changing. It is changing from whole range of reasons, but is changing because a few people are standing up and saying “I think this is important”. I happen to say, like him, hate him, love him whatever Tony Abbott is one of those people, I am just telling you that because that is my view, and I know him well.
He is interested because he is frustrated, like a lot of us. He says “why is this so hard?” “There are things we should be doing and are not doing them”. He is a really practical bloke, he backs it up by understanding that he does not know everything about this. So he goes and visit is more remote communities, I tell me to spend more time in town but we can have our disagreements on that.
But that has had a lot of effect this you will need I think – that leadership. Tony Abbott has said that indigenous affairs needs to be elevated to a higher profile after the election. So should we get into government is actually going to be part of Prime Minister and Cabinet. There is a very practical reasons are that you will know about the siloisation. The government have silos here in silos over there. The Department of defence is running a particular training program or something with FaHCSIA. So the secretary of FaHCSIA will pick up the phone and say “Hi, how you going Joe?” Of course Joe is exactly the same, is it the same pay grade… And he says “yeah, no worries. Sure.” And nothing happens.
They build their own palaces – now let me tell you the difference. If you get a phone call from the Prime Minister’s Department you say “yes, no worries, I am right onto it.” Because if you do not you lose your job. So that is a practical reason that we would provide the primacy, it’s was not only a symbolic thing – it has primacy. The other element of course of which have always been very proud, since I have been a shadow cabinet is that my job and shadow cabinet is for aboriginal and Torres Islanders. I am their champion – I do not have to worry about Families and Community Services with some black fella stuff thrown on the end. I can actually start to work on a portfolio that starts on the basis of respect. And the gap is too wide frankly my friends, the gap is too wide to me not to get up in the morning and only focus on this. To only focus on this from Cabinet – the highest platform in the land with a standalone portfolio that actually for the first time now has higher status now within Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Now that is in a fix at all I know. I think it is worth knowing that there is a change. That set the platform for the future and people do not make that bar in terms of competing views a government that I think the Australian people will mark them down. Again it is about leadership, it is about moving the bar up. (Tony Abbott) made a speech at the Sydney Institute where he stood up and actually said he was going to make me the Minister. Now of course I was pretty surprised, he should have had a chat to me about that. But I have to say it is the only job I want. It is really important that everyone understands – and I certainly understand – but you have to speak for aboriginal and Islander people everywhere. We often focus on Yuendumu in the bush and the horror stories. And it is horrible, and need to do lots about that. But that does not mean the same time we have to ignore the efforts that we have to make in metropolitan Australia and in regional Australia. It is really important that we should govern for all aboriginal and Islander people no matter where they reside.
Now one of the great hatreds of my life, and sadly being the Minister its going to be part of my life is bureaucracies – the great frustration of moving these juggernauts in a slightly different direction is just so hard. There is no sudden retraining schemes of them, and sadly I think that aboriginal and Islander affairs has been stuck in in a rut, and this rut involves allowing bureaucrats and bureaucracies to own it, and as a minister had this weird vicarious relationship. If I were speak to this bloke over here I have to speak to a council over there. There is no direct relationship, there is no direct responsibility. That has got to change.
I would like to talk just quickly about an area pretty passionate about. People talk about ”or why can we have economic development?” I’ll one the most important places the money gets spent in this area, is in services. It is not only about land it is about people. So where do the government of the day get those services? We ring up NGOs because that is what we do that is a habit, and we pay these NGOs astronomical amounts of money – Victor (Victor Dominello) is nodding his head, no doubt that happens in New South Wales as well -you know, I just done a bit of a ring around. There are no aboriginal organisations doing that – not one, really. There are few with that employee greater or lesser numbers of aboriginal people, there is a great opportunity in economic development for the government to start considering something new. A new beginning – rather than funding NGOs continuously and frankly getting some fairly average outcomes, not because of the nature of the beast.
This is a fundamental one of the things that I have learnt. If you are an NGO, and you are a white man like me -some one pays you money to go and engage with aboriginal people and do things you will never get it anywhere near as right as another aboriginal from your area engaging with you – you just will not. And so we must get out of rut – there is only one difference in a rightly greys and that is that one has ends.
So what we have to do is stop doing the same thing and expecting some sort of different outcome also into miraculously appear. That up to government at all levels about our task. So the empowerment of people is just so important. We know, we hear it all the time.
I recently visited with (Senator) Maurice Payne Deerubbin Aborignal Land Council, and for all those people who participated – Kevin and co, thank you very much. It brought back to me one of the other battles we got. The new fight the land rights isn’t only to get your land back it’s to make sure it does not go back into the grasping hands of the bloody Greens and the conservationists (applause).
There is no doubt in my mind that country preserved and beautiful can have a return, tourism, conservation can have a return. It should not be mandated, it should be the choice of the people who have done their best, however displaced to continue to look after country, not only for themselves with the generations after them. That is the fundamental connection with land that people talk to me about all the time. In Deerubbin I remember just shaking my head, it’s another example of how the land rights act provide land, it has been gifted and suddenly – and is partly our stuff to – suddenly someone says “we have done some sort of deal with someone , we going to have a conservation corridor” “well where are we going to have that?” “Just grab the black fella’s land – they will not mind too much – they like nature” that has just got to change.
Economic development is all about actually having a choice to use your land. You know how you use your land, where your skill sets are, what you want to do rather than what you think you have to do. I can tell you the Greens relentless efforts when they say ”protect aboriginal lands from development” this has to stop. The wild rivers and Cape York, I have been up there, fighting them up there. We just recently had reports that are actually paying people to sign documents to go and get it listed on world Heritage. We had an intervention there, we have gone in, caught them out and that all run away. But every day they do this, as a nation we need to start talking about this to ensure that we nip this completely in the bud. Darkinjung, in 2006 – another horror story. And that was a determination that says “look, we can give your land back as long as you protected conservation values” so you can’t do anything with your land apart from comb the bloody trees. We -Victor and Nige – we can have the capacity and the power to change that rubbish. And that is what we are going to do.
There are still some real challenges in terms of delivery of some of the services. In the Northern Territory my countrymen in the Northern Territory own half of the Northern Territory! They own half of the Northern Territory and done that for a long time. Many of them tragically are still dependent on welfare. They live in appalling conditions sometimes and they have very low levels of education outcomes in NAPLAN. It is just absolutely appalling.
I read a report the other day on this stronger futures, and the report is all about how many times you went and consulted. And then it gets to, well its almost like the recording an activity. “We ran on the spot! We did five push-ups!”
What actually happened?
What is the outcome?
It is so hard to find out where the outcomes are, so when governments of the future start measuring, I do not want to be measured by my activity.
“What do you do?”
“We go fishing.”
“Well, that is all pretty interesting.” Dutchy might say “We knew we were goin’ fishing? What do you catch? What did you achieve?”
The nature of our reporting systems got to be more fair-dinkum. It needs to hold bureaucrats and politicians to account – there is nothing wrong with that. Because everybody from this point onwards should be held to account.
So, government over time, and I know Victor being relatively new in the job – the toughest thing that he would have to deal with is to make sure the bureaucracy isn’t running the country. They don’t get elected, we get elected. And we can make sure that the bureaucracy does what we wanted to do, so that is going to be a substantive challenge should we obtain the government benches.
So when I move around the country, the real success stories –they standout because it is about aboriginal people doing it themselves. Not because government has given them a hand out, not because government has helped them out. So think that is a genuine picture that we need to think very much about. As I said earlier it is about a change in the relationship a change in the way government relates to aboriginal people so we can provide real self-determination. It is a word – it means real jobs. Not government paid handouts and mini-welfare again. It means real jobs and real access to your rights to use your land the way that you choose to use it for your own economic benefit and to the benefit of those people and those children and generations that will follow. So I think it is just absolutely essential that governments moves to assist where we can.
We have two roles. One is to keep out of the road, because we should not always be in there. It is a very important role. The other is to remove the barriers to economic development. And that might be the sort of things I will be talking to Victor about. I get really cranky – I was here last time and I listened carfully to what my now friends have to say to me about hand back of land in New South Wales. Victor knows I have strongly held views about this, there are a bunch of bureaucrats who are simply dinosaurs of Jurassic Park in lanes and planning.
And they are still fighting land rights and they have just got to retire.
We will be discussing things we can do – they talk about surveying. The bit of aboriginal land that surrounded on three sides by places whose boundaries have been perfectly surveyed – is already four pegs and you only need four. There is a lot of gammon in this. I have said to Victor that should be elected. the Commonwealth will sit down with him to see what we can do to help. I will not go into the details about the think that is very important.
So we have a couple of organisations are absolutely essential. The indigenous land Council and indigenous business Australia – they are fundamental tools that were always intended to be able to assist in economic development. So if you need to kickstart something, provide training, all of those processes were there. Now from my view, those people do not get out much and follow Parliament, they will know that I have been giving them a bit of a touchup over a little while and I think is very well-deserved. I want them to focus on what they should be doing (applause).
I go into the details of what they have done, I think it is pretty silly. That is there to be brought back to the particular of the task at hand.
Earlier, Dutchy, you asked a question. And I almost stuck my hand up to answer. There is an answer to your question about rock lobsters and abalone. I remind everyone- It is a great thing to remember history. The indigenous land Corporation was formed with the indigenous land fund to ensure that if you did not quite have the connection to country and let us face it displacement is a pretty big part of our life – and the land fund was there to purchase. The ILC would then devolve that back.
I was there with Mary Ah Meer about sea rights. It is no different – talking about native title, it has all the same things. I think for example instead of allowing coastal communities in New South Wales to continually fight with fishermen who are lawfully doing their business, you’re lawfully going about trying to exert your rights. The ILC should look at being able to purchase transferable property rights in terms of quota. You’re lucky because rock lobster and abalone have quota. Now I’m not saying that that’s gonna fix it, but I think we should be exploring it, we should be sitting down in a fair dinkum partnership with Victor and saying while how to go about this?
Is all this is about one thing sustainability! Sustainability! Because that is the way the countrymen. So think that this is so important we refocus ILC and IBA on the sort of processes.
There will be a number of indigenous affairs policies are probably talk about closer to the election. We really want to focus on the future, and the future is not a future without education. And I will be relying on many people here for advice on the minutiae of any change in terms of delivering education.
Again, the future has to be about focusing on results not more bureaucracy. I want to continue a productive dialogue if I win government and I think that economic development is the next part of the land rights fight, to fight the land rights is exercising your right to freely use your land and the way you choose to develop an economy for today and your future.
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