Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Welcome to UN Special Rapporteur, Professor James Anaya

Location: National Museum of Australia, Canberra

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Thank you Matilda for your welcome to country.

I pay my respects to all the elders past and present on whose land we are meeting today.

It is a pleasure and privilege to welcome Professor Anaya to Australia.

In March last year, the Human Rights Council appointed Professor James Anaya as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people.

Professor Anaya is recognised as one of the world’s leading human rights advocates and legal scholars.

His advocacy and legal work on behalf of Indigenous communities command worldwide attention.

He has represented groups from many parts of North and Central America in landmark cases before courts and international organisations.

While in Australia he will meet many Indigenous Australians along with governments and civil society groups.

He will be seeking their views on the most pressing issues and examples of international best practice.

This is an extraordinary opportunity for an honest and open exchange of views and experiences.

Conversations like these, with a person of Professor Anaya’s calibre and influence, are another way the Australian Government can reaffirm its commitment to resetting the relationship with Indigenous Australians.

In April, the Australian Government pledged its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

It followed the Prime Minister’s apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, particularly the Stolen Generations.

Both great and moving occasions.

Which have also given us the impetus to work together in trust and good faith.

To advance human rights based on principles of equality, partnership, good faith and mutual benefit.

Professor Anaya, your visit around Australia will shine a light on human dignity.

This includes the human rights of the most precious, and often most vulnerable, community members – our children.

For our next speaker, Mary Victor O’Reeri – the wellbeing and safety of children is paramount.

Twice now, Mary has welcomed me to her home and community – a place called Billard on the Dampier Peninsula in the far north of Western Australia.

Words can’t really do justice to the spontaneous warmth of Mary’s welcome.

Mary is a remarkable person, and a strong leader.

She is a woman of considerable compassion and ambition.

Ambitious for all the very best reasons.

Ambitious for her sons and her daughters, her nieces and nephews and the many members of her large extended family.

As a leader, Mary has great ambitions for her people.

Ambitions grounded in Billard’s great spirit of communal responsibility.

A community with steadfast self-reliance but always there to give others a hand when they need it.

As Mary says – “we are successful not by accident but through our own efforts.”

Mary’s family has known terrible tragedy.

Two of her brothers – young men in their twenties – lost to suicide.

Mary says the family could have remained inconsolable forever.

They could have become angry and bitter.

But instead they channelled their grief and late last month held a national summit – the Blank Page Summit on Suicide.

They brought together hundreds of people from across the country to confront the tragedy of suicide.

And to start the difficult and complex search for answers.

I remember how on that day in the remote bush of Billard, Mary, her father Stephen and her remarkable family did what I have now come to expect of them.

They set themselves another substantial challenge and they started working to meet it.

Inspiring others to do the same.

As Mary said at the opening of the Summit:

” This is about more than hope – it is about recasting the die at the highest level within ourselves.”

Mary, this time it is you who have travelled so far to be here.

And while it may not be as unique as a Billard welcome, it is an enormous pleasure to introduce you today.

And to hear more of your story.