Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Oxfam Straight Talk Summit

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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Thank you very much and it is a really great pleasure to be back with you again on this wonderful celebration of women’s leadership, women who really do know how to make a difference.

I want to start by acknowledging and thanking Aunty Agnes. As always giving us such a lovely warm welcome to country and we all join together Aunty Agnes in acknowledging you as an elder, acknowledging you as someone who brings to all of us the significance of and the importance of the welcome to country. So thank you for your welcome. We not only acknowledge you but all the other elders who are here with us today.

Now I do want you to put your hands together for Aunty Agnes because she just turned 80. I did check out in advance whether this was a publicly acknowledged thing and she in her very forthright way said it was just fine thanks very much. Congratulations to you, and wonderful to see you being so strong and providing your own leadership in your own way for everybody.

Thank you to Michelle and Jo and to Oxfam for all of your great leadership. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Oxfam and the way in which you’re determined to really bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to the fore and we really do appreciate it.

It is great to be here with my parliamentary colleagues, Julie Bishop and Rachel Siewert.

Ken Wyatt is here and I know he’s a boy but he’s also pretty special. Ken we know that you’re the first bloke in the House of Representatives, first Aboriginal bloke. But for the women I just want to say to you, we’ve got some great women in our State and Northern Territory Parliaments who are doing a fabulous job. So over to you and take this opportunity to learn and see how you can participate. I am sure Ken will tell you it is possible and it is a place where you can make a really, really big difference both for your own people, but also for all Australians around the issues that you feel so passionately about. So get active.

Julie Collins is here, my Parliamentary Secretary. My other Parliamentary Secretary who’s not here is Jan McLucas, who’s not well. But we’ve got a wonderful woman who’s a participant here who also works Senator McLucas, Kayannie Denigan. Kayannie, a very big welcome to you. It’s fantastic that we have someone who’s taking the opportunity to join us all here today as part of this leadership forum, but who’s also been given a chance to be employed in a Senator’s office.

To all of those Senators and Members, I see the Member for Murray up the back there too, and if there’re any other MPs here that I haven’t mentioned, my apologies.

This for me is always such a pleasure. I love coming to this event because, and I especially love the part at the start when I get to say hello to you all and get that sense that you really have come from all over Australia to join this very, very exciting time. Whether it is from right up at the top in the Torres Strait, right across to the west, we’ve got lots of people from different parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In the Centre, someone’s here I just met from the APY Lands, welcome to you. All of our cities, different parts of urban and regional Australia. It’s so exciting to know that so many of you are here and so many of you are committed and active.

Of course that is because you as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are change makers. Change makers in your families, in your communities, in your workplaces.

What we want to do with Oxfam right across the political spectrum, is do everything we can to support you and your voice becoming even stronger. That’s why we’re all here today, that’s why we do want to spend time with you while you’re here to pursue the issues that are so important to you.

Whether it’s in education, employment, health, whatever the topic is that’s important to you, we want to be able to sit with you and work through with you how it is that the Parliament can make a difference with you.

We know that it’s all about working together, working respectfully, understanding each other. You coming here and understanding the weird things that go on here in Parliament House. We also know how important it is that we understand you and this is an opportunity for you to talk to us as well as for us to talk to you about the way we both do things.

I think we all know that we’ve got to grow and learn together. The old ways often have to be put aside so that we can figure out more productive and more effective ways that we can work together.

I know that we’ve got some fantastic examples here and people that you’re going to hear from.

People who are already leaders in their communities, people who are part of our new National Congress for Australia’s First Peoples. So make sure you take the opportunity to hear about their experience and take what they can give you back to your home towns.

From the Government’s point of view I do want to really reinforce how much we want to continue this work with women both locally as well as nationally and internationally.

We’ve got some people here today who are also contributing at the international level and I’ve got this wonderful quote from Jahna Cedar, part of the Australian delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Jahna went to New York earlier this year and she said:

“As I shared my views, I sat and pictured the pride on the faces of my Elders and Ancestors before me. How hard they fought for justice, equality and acceptance.

What a history and journey that has now led to me, a small town country woman sitting in the United Nations in New York, sharing ideas on how to better the future for all Australians…”

So if I can say to you as another small town country woman from a different part of Australia, you can do it. You can do it wherever you’re from, whatever your background. You too can go to New York. You too can come into the Federal Parliament and make a contribution.

Through our Indigenous women’s program we’re really pleased to be supporting communities right across the country in very practical ways and we’re always looking for new ways to do that. Please share your ideas with me for those of you who are coming to see me, but also with the departmental staff who are here today.

To use just one example, we’ve got from the north-west coast of Tasmania the fantastic example of an Indigenous woman using her own experience of prison to help young people who are at risk of entering the judicial system.

Things like that that can really help us figure out how to better support people on the ground, building on your experience in your communities.

We’re wanting to do this at the national level as well, making sure that women’s voices are heard through the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance. I know there are women here who are part of that Alliance. Keep being strong through the Alliance, keep your voices coming through.

We were very pleased to announce the money for that Alliance at this Summit last year and that money is making sure that you are able to come together as a group of women and really be a cohesive and strong force.

Also make sure that you feed into those women who are participating at the international level. Make sure they hear what you have to say, the issues you want spoken about.

The real message is that your voices do matter. They do matter. Things that you want to say do matter.

I’ve just spent a lot of time on the ground in the Northern Territory as part of our thinking to build stronger futures for Aboriginal people there.

A lot of time sitting on the ground talking with people about what’s important to them. The message, especially from women, young women, mums, grandmas, who’ve really sat down and talked with me has been exactly what I think many of you will say to me as well.

What we want is the best chance for our kids to get a great education. We want them to be at school. We want them to make sure they’re able to go on and get a decent job. We want to make sure they’re growing up safely, that they have a decent home to live in. And they also to say to me over and over again, yes, we want these things, we want these things passionately for our children, but we also want them to grow up part of our strong culture. Part of our culture that continues to be strong in each and every one of our communities. And it’s not that any one of these issues is more or less important. We want these issues to be dealt with together so that our children do have a stronger future.

Of course to get that message across you need a strong voice. You need a strong voice in your own communities. You need a strong voice on the national stage and the international stage. Please use your strong voices. Make sure you take this opportunity that’s here with you today to get that message across to all of us who also come to this with a very open heart and a very open mind.

Thank you so much for coming and we look forward to a very, very productive time together. Thank you.