Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:45): I would like to start by praising the significant announcement yesterday by the Minister for the Arts of new investment for a national cultural policy—Creative Australia. While this new policy is multifaceted, I would like to voice my support in particular for the boost in spending on preserving and encouraging the use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Indigenous languages to $54 million over the next four years. This new policy is in response to recommendations of the report of the House of Representatives inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities, called Our Land Our Languages. As a member of the committee that oversaw this inquiry, I have voiced my support a number of times in this place for us to better recognise Indigenous languages and commit to promoting the use and teaching of these languages.
In announcing this new policy yesterday, the Minister for the Arts said:
One of the five goals of the national cultural policy is to recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity. Through Creative Australia we will work to preserve the hundreds of languages used in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and provide support for traditional and contemporary forms of cultural expression.
The preservation of Indigenous languages and cultures is critical to closing the gap on literacy and numeracy for Indigenous students—an area where we continue to struggle to make inroads.
At the same time the finishing touches were being made to this new national cultural policy, a colleague of mine in the NSW Parliament, the Hon. Walt Secord, was speaking about the need to establish a national Indigenous cultural institution. Mr Secord speaks with a degree of authority on this matter, being of Canadian indigenous descent. I would like to join with him and support his call for Australia to fulfil its obligation to celebrate and help preserve the diverse Indigenous cultures of this land.
Over the past few decades, Australia has embraced Indigenous art, which today can be found in family homes, museums and in corporate spaces. In many suburbs and geographical places, Indigenous names are in common use and are widely accepted, but I wonder how many people understand the origin of these names. My own home is located in a suburb within the Chifley electorate called Colebee. The suburb takes its name from a local Darug man, Colebee, who along with Nurragingy received the first ever Indigenous land grant made in 1816 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. The suburb is now located within the original land grant which only last year was placed on the State Heritage Register. The area I am proud to represent has a very rich Indigenous heritage, but today is home to Indigenous people from Aboriginal cultures from all over the state and elsewhere in the country.
The culture of Australia’s Indigenous peoples are among the oldest continuing cultures in the world and it is remiss of us as a nation that we have no national institution set aside to record, showcase and preserve these cultures. We have museums devoted to the modern history of Australia, maritime history, geological history and even the popular culture of this country and so it is well past time we had a place where the rich Indigenous culture of our nation can be expressed and preserved.
For visitors to this country, it must be a source of disappointment that they have to really dig deep to uncover our Indigenous heritage and that there is no real beacon calling them to one central place. It is a misconception among many international visitors—and even some who live here—that Aboriginal culture is homogenous and that they have the same stories, language and spirituality. It is also a misconception that it can be addressed with the right resources and information.
Mr Secord noted in his speech that both Canada and the United States have institutions which keep alive their own continent’s Indigenous cultures and he highlighted the irony which exists in that a selection of etchings printed at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney will be exhibited at the Aboriginal Art Museum at, of all places, the University of Virginia later this year. It is my intention to write to the Minister for the Arts, asking him to consider this matter, because I do think it is something that we as a nation have not fulfilled and that we should address. It is my fervent hope and wish that we are able to set up a national Indigenous cultural institution.