MAIN COMMITTEE - Statements on Indulgence - National Sorry Day

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (18:20): I too want to acknowledge the Ngambri and Ngunawal people and pay my respects to elders, past and present, and also acknowledge the huge pride I feel when I walk with and learn from the Darug people who are part of the Chifley electorate. Too often the vision of our nation's parliament that is captured on nightly news, in media or elsewhere is one that focuses much on the conflict and the drama that tends to inhabit certain corners of this place. However, I think it would benefit the Australian community to, in some part, also witness the words and sentiments that are expressed in this place.
In particular I wish to draw attention to what has occurred here today in recognising Sorry Day and the contributions that have been made by a number of people including the member for Fremantle a few moments ago. I was also particularly impressed by the member for Murray and her powerful contribution. I came in at the tail-end of the member for Scullin's contribution. While he obviously played an enormously critical role to the parliament—a role that he has more recently occupied—not only does he bring to this chamber a voice of reason and regard but also he is something that we may also benefit from. I listened carefully to his contribution and I want to acknowledge the member for Scullin and what he had to say, particularly as reflected on by the member for Fremantle, that we are on a journey together and that the apology itself did not mark an end point but is something that we need to continually work from and aspire to make better.

Today, as every anniversary since the apology delivered by then Prime Minister Rudd, the Mount Druitt and District Reconciliation Group that operates in the electorate of Chifley commemorates the day usually at the Holy Family Centre at Emerton. Chifley, I am proud to say, is home to probably about 6,000 people from Aboriginal background and I am proud to represent and work with locals in advancing their interests in terms of developing a better future, not only for themselves but also for their kids.

Today they will welcome an extremely special guest, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda. The group were particularly fond of an address that he provided to the National Press Club in November 2010. He spoke in that address about his commitment and the work that he would contribute towards the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. I wanted to reflect on some of his words when he said:

It’s not about looking back.

It’s about looking forward and moving forward as one, united nation.

One mob under the Southern Cross.

That speech 'One mob under the Southern Cross' particularly enlivened the Mount Druitt and District Reconciliation Group. They saw that the speech signalled his priorities as a commissioner, and his words touched many which I wanted to quote today. He said:

Relationships are built on understanding, dialogue, tolerance, acceptance, respect, trust and reciprocated affection.

Relationships are destroyed by misunderstanding, intolerance, a lack of acceptance, a lack of dialogue, mistrust and a lack of respect.

It spoke not just to those at the National Press Club but to many people in our local area who were keen to see him and hear from him. My one regret is that, after badgering him and trying to, euphemistically, vigorously represent a desire for him to visit Chifley, I am not able to be present today for his address. But I am sure that he will leave a lasting impact, as he always does, and a lot of lessons that can be learned from his words.

I want to congratulate the Mount Druitt and District Reconciliation Group for the work they do. For the past 14 years, they have every May organised a reconciliation walk in Mount Druitt. It continues to grow and they had a particularly successful one last year. I would like to acknowledge in this place the selfless work of a number of people. It is not just once a year; they meet every month and work quietly within the community, building bridges but also inspiring others. I want to acknowledge Marguerite Tobin, the president, and Pat Smith, the secretary, and they are joined by Michael Maxwell, Lyn Leerson, Kim Martin, Uncle Greg Simms, Uncle Wes Marne and Holy Family at Emerton for the work they do in providing a platform and a base of support for the Mount Druitt reconciliation group and all the great work that they do.

The member for Murray indicated, and I was particularly happy that she made reference to the fact, that I too am a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. I sought to be on the committee, given that there are a lot of people in my neck of the woods whom I am keen to work with and advocate on behalf of. I was especially pleased that the committee took on the work of inquiring into Indigenous languages. I think that most people who have grown up where English is a second language recognise that a connection to one's mother tongue is important on so many levels, not the least of which is that it is the link between generations; it also forms a concrete bond with culture.

In large part this is not an esoteric exercise. This inquiry is important. People in the broader community want to engage in speaking English for a host of obvious reasons, but I think there has to be space within our education system to provide for people to be able to learn Indigenous languages, and in particular for the younger generations of Indigenous Australians to learn their mother tongue and be able to pass that on and transmit culture between generations. I certainly feel strongly about that. I look forward to government receiving the formal report of the committee's inquiry and taking tangible, concrete steps, because I think it is so vitally important in so many ways.

Again, it is an honour for me not only to participate in the debate but also to listen to contributions made by people who are setting such a great example for this parliament. As I said, I look forward to the outcome of a number of other important initiatives. As reflected on by the member for Scullin, and as I mentioned earlier in this contribution, we are all on the journey together and together we look forward to making some tangible and concrete improvements.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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