ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES BILL 2017
I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to debate on the Aboriginal Languages Bill 2017. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land in the communities I represent—the Darkinjung people on the Central Coast and the Awabakal people in Lake Macquarie. I also acknowledge and thank the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the member for Port Macquarie, for the wonderful work she has done in that portfolio and for her continued support of Indigenous cultures in our country today. I acknowledge the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the member for Wyong, and the great work he does. Both members have cooperated to produce great outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
When we think about culture we often think of the external aspects of culture, the things we can point to and say, "This is who I am." Music, art, dancing and language weave together with tradition, ritual, and spirituality to create a rich tapestry of identity. In the 200 years since colonisation, successive governments have worked methodically to tear apart the cultural tapestry of the Aboriginal people and to rob them of their identity. Tragically, this attack on Aboriginal people's identity has meant that some Aboriginal people have struggled to remain connected to country and culture.
This year's NAIDOC theme, "Our Languages Matter", has highlighted the vibrancy, diversity and resilience of Aboriginal culture and language. It has enabled non-Aboriginal people to reflect on how interconnected language and culture are. At each NAIDOC event I attended this year, I was moved by the power of language to transport and transform an audience, to open up a window into another culture and allow two cultures to connect. Seeing young Aboriginal children speak in language on their country—as their ancestors have done for thousands of years—was a powerful reminder of the importance of language in connecting with one another and connecting with one's culture. This bill is a chance for us to acknowledge the two centuries worth of injustices committed by governments against Aboriginal people. It is a chance for us to take a small step towards righting those past wrongs. It is crucial that we do this correctly and that the Government's actions do not inflict further harm.
I hope everyone here understands how important self-determination is to Aboriginal people. Self‑determination for Aboriginal people is fundamental for our community to work together towards healing and reconciliation. The right of Aboriginal people to self-determination is a fundamental human right enshrined in United Nations covenants and upheld by various levels of government in Australia. At its most basic, self‑determination is the right to have meaningful control over one's own affairs. Meaningful control is key in this debate. Meaningful control means being empowered to drive the agenda on reconciliation. Meaningful control means empowering Aboriginal people to regain ownership over their language and their culture. Meaningful control means enabling Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal people to lead the way on issues that are fundamental to their identity. In this context, meaningful control means engaging in a robust consultation process with Aboriginal people in New South Wales to ensure that their voice is front and centre on this issue, which fundamentally affects them.
Many Aboriginal organisations around New South Wales have demonstrated leadership and have been working for decades to revitalise language and empower their communities. Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Cooperative Limited celebrated its fortieth anniversary this year.
That is 40 years of fighting for recognition, of empowerment and building on the legacy of the Awabakal people, with language and culture front and centre throughout that journey. Awabakal is now one of the largest Aboriginal community-owned and run organisations in New South Wales, with leaders who have dedicated themselves to fostering an environment which allows their language to thrive. It was great to see Dr Ray Kelly from Awabakal translating for Minister Mitchell in the Legislative Council last week when this bill was introduced.
At the end of the day, the passage of this bill is an historical occasion for New South Wales, and it makes me very proud to be here and to give this speech today. We have heard an ancient language being spoken in this Parliament on a bill which acknowledges just how important language is to Aboriginal culture. On that note, like the member for Wyong, I too thank and applaud the President in the upper House for allowing the language of our first peoples to be heard in that place. As always, we must remain vigilant in ensuring that we uphold the fundamental right to self-determination. It is the first peoples of this country who must be empowered to lead. I commend this bill to the House.