RECOGNITION OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLE
It gives me a great deal of pride to call on Aunty Bev Manton to address the House.
Councillor BEV MANTON:
What a wonderful day for us as Aboriginal people of this country. I acknowledge the Gadigal people, their elders past and present, still strong and still surviving after 200 years. I acknowledge the Hon. James Spigelman, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, Premier Kristina Keneally, our wonderful Linda Burney, the Hon. Paul Lynch, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Barry O'Farrell, MP, Leader of the Opposition, Uncle Charles "Chicka" Madden, other members of the Parliament who are with us today, my fellow councillors from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, and my other Aboriginal brothers and sisters in the gallery. I am honoured to be here today as the Chairwoman of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to welcome this amendment to the New South Wales Constitution.
As most members would be aware, the New South Wales Land Council is the peak duly elected representative body for the Aboriginal people of New South Wales. We are firmly focused on protecting the rights and interests and furthering the aspirations of our 20,000-odd members and the broader Aboriginal community. It has been acknowledged on all sides of this Parliament and elsewhere that there is much unfinished business when it comes to State and Federal constitutions. That is particularly so when it comes to acknowledging the crucial importance of the special place of Aboriginal people in the history of our nation. Today we share an important moment in our constitutional history. Today Aboriginal people are being given due recognition and honour as the first peoples and nations of Australia and New South Wales.
As members are all aware, the tone for this country's relationship with Aboriginal people is embodied in the Constitution. That is why the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council sought a commitment from the State and Federal governments to give constitutional recognition to Australia's first peoples through amendments to the preamble of their respective constitutions. This commitment was sought during the 2009 annual conference of the Local Government Association of New South Wales, which was attended by Premier Keneally, but who at that time was not Premier. The New South Wales Government is now acting upon that commitment. I am encouraged by its willingness to extend this special recognition to Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians and occupiers of the land. I am encouraged by its willingness to acknowledge that we have, and we always have had, a continuing spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with our traditional lands and waters.
In doing so the New South Wales Government has set the tone for the rest of this document. It is offering us an opportunity to articulate further our shared goals, principles and ideas as a nation. This is a significant constitutional step in the right direction and I am hopeful that it will not be the only step. There are very few mechanisms for our people in this State that provide a basis for protecting the rights that are available to us as first peoples. The New South Wales Aboriginal Rights Act is one of these. Like the proposed amendment to the New South Wales Constitution, the Land Rights Act gives due and special recognition to the spiritual, social, cultural and economic importance of land to Aboriginal people. It is our sole form of compensation for the dispossession of our land.
This is little understood by the general public. It is important for the Government and for this Parliament to continue to uphold such legislative mechanisms as they are fundamental to the protection of our rights. Aboriginal people throughout New South Wales would appreciate it if the Government and the Parliament built upon such laws to extend the goodwill that is evident here today. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a framework that fully respects Aboriginal people's rights and creates an opportunity for all Australians to be truly equal. I urge the State Government and all members of this Parliament to work together in the coming months to take the next step on the path towards full recognition of Australia's first peoples. They could do so by commencing to implement the principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Practical steps for implementing the declaration include the delivery of services, financial and infrastructure support, legislative amendment, education programs, and reparatory measures. In taking this step the Government and all members of Parliament must ensure meaningful, respectful and culturally appropriate consultation with grassroots Aboriginal peoples; recognise the impact of historic injustices and the fundamental importance of self-determination and the right to self-government; recognise and respect Aboriginal people as the only determinants of their Aboriginal culture and heritage; and provide freedom from discrimination and respect for legal and other protections that enshrine these rights.
In our view these measures should be supported by a rights-based scorecard for benchmarking and monitoring policies, programs and services for Aboriginal people. Such a scorecard was developed in 2004 by the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission [ATSIC], which attempted to provide a framework against which laws, policies programs and services could be assessed. That would be a good starting point. Without the political will and funding to secure the rights enshrined in the declaration these measures alone will not create opportunities to remedy the disproportionate disadvantage experienced by so many Aboriginal communities in Australia. In the now famous words of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his apology to the stolen generations in Canberra:
... unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.
In closing, I acknowledge and applaud the New South Wales Government for taking this step. I look forward to a time when the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is implemented into law, policy and service provision for Aboriginal people in this State. I, too, acknowledge our youngest guest in the gallery today, who appears to have agreed with a lot of what has been said.
Very well behaved as well, I might add!
Councillor BEV MANTON:
This is about creating a better future for us and for future generations of Australians. I am ever hopeful of what tomorrow will bring. Thank you.
On behalf of the House, I sincerely thank Aunty Bev Manton. I now invite members and distinguished guests to join me in attending a reception in the Speaker's Garden on this memorable occasion.
[Auntie Bev Manton and Uncle Charles "Chicka" Madden withdrew from the Chamber.