Address To Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council 80th Anniversary 1938 Day Of Mourning

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Australia Hall, Elizabeth Street, Sydney

26 January 2018

I acknowledge that we are on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people.

I pay my respects to elders past and present.

I recognise Uncle Charles “Chicka” Madden who welcomed us to country today.

Yvonne Weldon, the chairperson, and Nathan Moran, the chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council have done me the honour of asking me to address this important gathering.

We pay tribute today to the Aboriginal men and women who organised the Day of Mourning conference that was held at this hall, on this day, exactly 80 years ago.

Jack Patten, the president of the Aborigines Progressive Association, stood in this hall and declared,

“We refuse to be pushed into the background. We have decided to make ourselves heard….We do not wish to be left behind in Australia’s march to progress.” 

With those words modern Aboriginal political activism took shape.

On January 25, 2015, in the third week of my leadership of the Labor Party, Yvonne and Nathan, and Roy Ah-See, the chairperson of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, who is also with us today, stood with Paul Keating, Linda Burney and me, on Me-mel, known to some as Goat Island.

We announced that a future Labor government will enter into an agreement with the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council to return Me-mel to the Aboriginal people of New South Wales.

Me-mel had long been part of the traditional lands of the Wangal people when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788.

The writings of the early British settlers make clear that the harbour and its islands were majestic and bountiful.

The Wangal people followed a peaceful and traditional way of life before the diseases came and the stain of violence and dispossession occurred.

Colonisation commenced at Sydney Cove on this day 230 years ago. New South Wales was claimed for the British Empire on 26 January 1788.

The land was expropriated from the Aboriginal people and claimed for the British Empire. Me-mel became a gunpowder storage facility for the British in the 1830s.

As a society we must come to terms with the oldest continuing problem that we face: the dispossession of the indigenous people, the inherent injustice of that dispossession and the ongoing consequences of that dispossession.

Steps have been taken. Constitutional recognition has been achieved in New South Wales.

The New South Wales Constitution was amended by the Keneally Labor Government in 2010 by an Act of Parliament.

The Constitution Act provides that Parliament acknowledges and honours the Aboriginal people as the State’s first people and nations. Parliament recognises Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians and occupants of the land in New South Wales.

The 2010 recognition, by way of an Act of Parliament, was a step on the road to reconciliation, but it is not the end of the road.

Aboriginal people are the subjects of recognition by the Parliament.

Why should indigenous people be content with being the subjects of recognition by a parliament?

Treating Aboriginal people as subjects will not, and nor should it, satisfy indigenous aspirations.

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council’s strategic plan commits it to “work towards establishing a Treaty process in NSW”.

Land Council leaders tell me they want a process, they want to be part of it and to assume the burden of responsibility that goes with it.

The shadow minister for Aboriginal Affairs, David Harris, and I have carefully considered this, as has the full shadow cabinet.

Today I commit that if Labor is elected next year to form the government of New South Wales, we will establish a Treaty process.

That is, a process to negotiate a Treaty between the government of the state and Aboriginal peoples.

A government led by me will develop a process of consultation and negotiation involving the full participation of the state’s indigenous representatives.

I have written to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council who would be a primary leader in the conversation about a process for a Treaty.

We would also ensure that existing regional representative bodies and cultural representative groups are part of that consultation to ensure that we get the process right.

The process of consultation and negotiation will not be a short one.

It would deal with the past and the future.

I would expect that the future delivery of health and education services, enhanced economic development opportunities, justice agreements, faster resolution of land claims and language rights would be some of the matters to be negotiated.

A Treaty is an agreement between two parties, one that is honest about the past and establishes the basis for future engagement.

A Treaty means a settlement.

A Treaty is the ultimate form of recognition.

A Labor government, led by me, will bring to a Treaty process goodwill.

Goodwill to rectify past injustices and to advance the future interests of the state’s Aboriginal people.

A Treaty will provide a truthful and honourable basis for our reconciliation with the State’s first people.

Only down this road will we find fulfilment.