Speech to National Indigenous Youth Parliament, Rydges Canberra
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Thank you Kevin [Kitson, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission] for your kind introduction.
Good evening, everyone.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
In particular I want to acknowledge Matilda House for her warm welcome.
And I would like to acknowledge:
- the YMCA volunteers,
- AEC Indigenous field staff,
- Deputy Secretary Michael Dillon (FaHCSIA),
- AEC and FaHCSIA staff.
And of course, each of you – the representatives that come together to make up the National Indigenous Youth Parliament.
It’s a pleasure to join you here, to welcome you to Canberra, to the heart of our nation’s democracy.
It is a great honour in being chosen by your peers to represent them.
I know that honour is something that Members like me who sit in the Parliament just up the hill also feel.
But it brings a great responsibility too.
Later this week, you will be meeting at Old Parliament House.
But I think you will also have the opportunity to visit us in new Parliament House.
It’s a building designed with our people, our land and our democracy in mind.
It’s built into Capital Hill – like our democracy, Parliament House is a part of our landscape.
Inside, the House is filled with light. Its high ceilings and hard floors echo and it is hard to move quietly.
The noise – combined with large windows at the end of each corridor – serve to remind us of outside, of the people we serve and of our responsibility to them.
As you begin your careers as representatives in this youth parliament, I know you will also be thinking about the responsibility you have to the many people who have helped support you to be here today.
To the other young people in your communities.
To the people who have shared your excitement about what will occur over the next few days, and who have shared their ideas with you about what they would like for Australia’s future.
And it can be a little bit daunting.
I’ve been a Member of Parliament for 16 years. And yes – I realise that must make me seem unspeakably old to many of you!
And I’ve been a Minister for five years now.
I can tell you that for me, that sense of excitement, as well as that feeling of responsibility, has never gone away.
It is something I feel every time I stand up in the House of Representatives.
When I move legislation that I hope will allow the government to work with Indigenous people to bring about real change and improvements.
I think of all the people I have spoken to over the past five years as Minister, who I have a responsibility to.
To the strong women in remote communities, who have told me that they want to work with me and with the Government so that their children grow up strong and healthy.
People who do not get the opportunity to stand in the House of Representatives and speak for themselves.
But it’s our responsibility to listen, and to make difficult decisions that do the right thing by people across this country of ours.
It’s the responsibility you have as representatives to this National Indigenous Youth Parliament.
And I can also tell you that from my experience, this responsibility is often not an easy one.
But I know it is a responsibility that you will take seriously.
You have all been chosen to be here because you are already on the way to becoming leaders in your communities.
If I can have leave to draw on some of my years of experience to do what older people love to do – and that is to offer you some advice – I would say to you:
As representatives, the most popular decisions may not always be the right ones. And the loudest voices may not always be the ones you need to listen to.
You will have the chance, and the privilege, to talk to many people who don’t always shout loudly. Remember them when you are thinking about what you want to do.
And while you do this work, you do not have to be alone. I know that many of you will have strong mentors, people you can turn to for advice and counsel. Don’t ever forget them.
And while you remember your responsibilities, don’t forget that sense of excitement and the passion that I know you have all brought with you today.
Because as representatives, we can achieve great, exciting things.
For me, one of those great, exciting times happened very early in my time as Indigenous Affairs Minister.
When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised on behalf of the Parliament to Indigenous Australians and in particular to the Stolen Generations.
On that day, I stood with him as he welcomed more than 200 members of the Stolen Generations to Parliament House.
Two hundred people walked through the Ministerial entrance, through the Prime Minister’s courtyard and into Parliament House.
And we stood ready to welcome them to the Parliament so we could pay them the respect of saying, as representatives of the Australian people, we were wrong. We are sorry.
A respect we owed to them and to the generations that had come before them.
It was a long road to that day.
Indeed, as I know many of you know it has been a long road for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have their voices heard in our nation’s democracy.
While you are here you will be celebrating the significance of what happened fifty years ago, when in 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to give Indigenous people the right to enrol and vote in Federal elections.
In 1967, young Indigenous leaders helped campaign for a yes vote in the referendum.
And Australians voted for change.
Australians have more work to do.
And we will need young Indigenous leaders to help us do it.
This year, the Prime Minister received the report of an Expert Panel who looked into whether we should recognise the First Australians in our founding document, the Constitution.
The Panel has recommended that after engaging with Australians from all walks of life, we ask for their support to change the Constitution.
To recognise the special place Indigenous people have in our nation.
We support the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia’s Constitution.
But we know this decision is not only up to us. It’s up to all of us as Australians to get behind this change.
We all have more work to do to make that change we want to see. We all have a responsibility.
Over the coming days, consider this.
You have a voice – use it.
But you have a responsibility too.
We all have a responsibility for change, but those who are chosen by our peers to represent our views have a particular responsibility.
It’s not always an easy burden to bear.
We have in this room the next generation of Indigenous leaders.
I look forward to the outcomes of your deliberations over the next few days.
But I am more excited about the path you will tread.
You have a journey ahead of you too.
I wish you the very best of luck.
I am confident you will remember both your responsibility and your sense of excitement as you continue your careers as representatives.