Thank you Jude [Barlow] for your Welcome to Country.
I pay my respects to you and your family and all the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I also acknowledge your elders, past and present and extend that respect to all elders here this evening.
I’d like to also acknowledge Professor Mick Dodson. Twenty-five years on the board of AIATSIS – 17 of those as the Chairperson. That is a remarkable contribution Mick. Thank you so very much.
AIATSIS began as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in 1964, a time when Aboriginal people could be arrested just for being in town; when Indigenous culture was looked down on; when First Australians were told where to live and how to live; when Indigenous children were taken forcibly, without reason.
That’s what led organisations around the country to campaign for land rights, for fair treatment, for equality and justice: a movement that worked its way into our national conscience, and spoke to the people of Australia with a call to ‘right the wrongs’, and ‘write yes for Aborigines’.
The 1967 referendum’s overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote is a testament to their hard work.
I met many of the campaigners last week.
People like Dulcie Flower, who ran the office of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from a room in her house, using her own resources to buy a filing cabinet, and talking under pillows while on the phone late at night so as not to wake her children.
And I met Dr Barrie Pittock, who called FCAATSI ‘the conscience of the nation’. He was instrumental on the Legislative Reform Committee in early land rights and in encouraging all Australians to work together.
So it’s is a privilege to get the chance to meet with these great Australians and to hear a little of their story.
Because their story is our story. They are part of our national history.
All Australians should know, celebrate and recognise their history for their efforts not only changed the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, they changed the very narrative of our nation.
And unfortunately, not all Australians are lucky enough to get the opportunity to meet these champions in person – which is why exhibitions like the Right Wrongs Digital Exhibition are so important.
Thank you to the partner organisations, AIATSIS, National and State Libraries Australasia, and the ABC for bringing your resources together for this fantastic digital exhibition.
Congratulations to lead Indigenous producers Solua Middleton and Yale MacGillivray.
Thank you for your hard work, wisdom and skills in compiling this wealth of information, footage and archived stories.
It’s an absolutely wonderful resource.
One of two questions the website poses is: how far have we come?
There is always more to be done in Indigenous affairs, but in terms of land rights, for example, we’ve come a long way.
This year we also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the landmark High Court decision on native title, following an extraordinary campaign by an extraordinary man, Eddie Mabo, and the other four plaintiffs and their families.
That decision is significant not only for our First Australians, but for our nation.
It changed our land tenure, something inherited from the wealth of experience of hundreds of years of British land laws to a recognition of the wealth of experience of thousands of years of Indigenous land laws.
Our country’s land tenure laws will never be the same as a result of that High Court decision which led to native title.
Since that decision, First Nations’ rights and interests in land have been recognised for around 40 per cent of Australia’s land mass.
Which leads me to the second question: where do we need to go in the next 50 years?
Last week, at Uluru, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates made a strong statement – a voice from the heart.
I thank the delegates at Uluru for their work, for their honesty and for their commitment to their communities.
The voice of the 250 delegates and all the voices that were heard during the 12 regional dialogues and consultation will now be considered by the Referendum Council and I look forward to that being presented to Parliament.
We are looking forward to receiving that advice.
We need to be courageous in listening to these views – but we need to make sure that it works.
The question of a model for constitutional change is particularly important as it needs to be both meaningful for Indigenous people but also capable of widespread community understanding and then support.
It is something that Parliament will have to consider carefully.
However, it’s also important to remember that the Constitution cannot be changed by Parliament – but only by the Australian people themselves. And that is why it is so important that people have access to the sort of digital exhibition that is on tonight.
What we must also remember is why we started on this journey – to recognise and acknowledge the special place our First Australians have in this nation. And to work with Indigenous Australians to ensure better outcomes for our communities.
Me, you, all of us in this country are a part of the journey for a better future that the 1967 campaigners envisaged and delivered.
We are deeply honoured to share this 50th anniversary celebration with the campaigners and with all Australians.
I am therefore pleased to uphold their legacy by officially launching the “Right Wrongs” Online Exhibition.
Thank you so very much.