Remarks at the Indigenous Youth Parliamentarians’ Reception

24 May 2017
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister
Indigenous Affairs


Thank you Tom, thank you Tina.

Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny bulan bugarabang.

Thank you Tina for your welcome to Ngunnawal country. We acknowledge and honour your elders past and present here today. Bill Shorten, Opposition Leader, my ministerial colleagues Nigel Scullion, Ken Wyatt and other ministerial colleagues, all assembled here, parliamentary colleagues one and all.

‘67 campaigners and Mabo plaintiffs, thank you. You have built the great foundations on which the young Indigenous Youth Parliamentarians with whom we were selfie-ing and catching up only a short while ago on the terrace, you’ve built the great foundations that you’re building on.

As you’ve seen this week, we’re honouring those milestones that helped our nation chart a course towards reconciliation and healing. The 50th anniversary of the ‘67 referendum. 25 years since the Mabo decision. 20 years since the Bringing Them Home report.

You’ve been brought here as a wonderful initiative, 50 of you, by the Australian Electoral Commission and with the YMCA and the Museum of Australian Democracy who’ve worked together to make this what I’m sure will be a memorable week.

We have had a good discussion earlier, in somewhat less formal surroundings. But I want to say to you again, what I said then; you young Australians, young Indigenous Australians can do anything.

There is nothing beyond your reach. Nothing that you can dream of that you cannot achieve.

You have the great foundations of 50,000 years of culture and history.

You have the great example of the leadership of the ‘67 campaigners, young people then, young still at heart, as they’ve all assured me, but young people. Think of Charlie Perkins, a university student at Sydney University, yet he led the Freedom Riders to raise the awareness right across Australia, the human rights at stake in our country.

As we were saying earlier about that wonderful badge – “Vote yes for Aborigines”, and as I observed today, inspired by you giving me that badge – thank you -  that was a “vote yes,” the nation voted yes by 90.77 per cent. That’s a big majority in anyone’s language, we don’t often see that in Australian politics.

A big win. That was a “vote yes for Aborigines.” But it was also a vote for Australian values and fairness and a fair go. And that result was because of tireless work and advocacy and courage, of greats like Faith Bandler, Jessie Street, Doug Nichols, Bill Onus, Bert Groves, Joe McGinness and the great poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

Oodgeroo said afterwards: “The victory of the 1967 referendum was not a change of white attitudes. The real victory was the spirit of hope and optimism which affected blacks all over Australia. We had won something. We were visible, hopeful and vocal.”

Our young Indigenous Parliamentarians, and the AEC and you’ve brought here today, this week, walk in those footsteps, visible, hopeful and vocal.

We have been honoured by the presence of some of those campaigners from ‘67 in the Parliament today. Aunty Dulcie Flower, Aunty Shirley Peisley, Aunty Ruth Wallace, Aunty Diana Travis, Uncle Bob Anderson, Barrie Pittock, and Uncle Alf Neal, are just some of those heroes on whose shoulders we all stand.

But you young Indigenous Parliamentarians can draw so much inspiration from.

The ‘67 campaigners and the Mabo plaintiffs, all showed the humility and the resilience required to bring people on the journey and unite a nation rather than divide it. They found the balance between strength and humility, true leaders, great leaders.

And I want to encourage all of you in the Indigenous Youth Parliament to reflect on the style of leader you want to be. Reflect on the values you hope to demonstrate and hold true to those values as you set out on your leadership journey.

Neville Bonner was born on Ukerebagh Island in Northern New South Wales, he was a cane cutter and a stockman. Yet he was able to open the door for others when he became the first indigenous Member of Parliament.

When he rose for the first time in the Senate Chamber in the Old Parliament of course, down the hill, he said “all within me that is Aboriginal yearns to be heard as the voice of the Indigenous people of Australia. For too long we have been crying out and far too few have heard us.”

He was heard and he was followed.

And today there are five indigenous Members of Parliament. You bring the same pride and strength Senator Bonner brought to the heart of our democracy, taken on enormous responsibility as well as enormous opportunity to make a difference.

Ken Wyatt, the first indigenous member of the House of Representatives now the first indigenous member in a Commonwealth Government. Linda Burney, first indigenous woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, and in the Senate, Senator Pat Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Senator Jacqui Lambie.

Now our future is bright and I can see how we can quickly grow from five indigenous members of our parliament to many more. Given the talent, the passion and the energy of the people here today.

We look forward to one day soon, to the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Prime Minister.

What a great moment that would be.

Now when people look back in another fifty years from now, I hope they will be mentioning the names of the people in this room. The names of the young people in this room tonight.

But the key as I said to you all earlier, to grasping those opportunities is education. That is the key that unlocks the door that opens out to all of your dreams.

And so that is why today we’ve announced a $138 million education package to further enable the economic and social inclusion for which the ’67 campaigners fought.

That’s the future people like Faith Bandler, Charlie Perkins and Eddie Mabo saw when they decided not to accept the status quo.

So in this room tonight we have both history and hope; we remember the heroes of the past, acknowledging their families who are with us; and we look at all these young faces full of promise, who are the leaders and will be the bright lights of the future.

As Prime Minister I will always acknowledge that being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian means to be successful to achieve, to have big dreams and high hopes. To draw strength from your identity as an indigenous person in this great country.

You young Australians can do anything, believe in yourselves. You are capable of the greatest achievements. With education, passion, self-belief and confidence, you can achieve your dreams.

Now the ’67 campaigners and the Mabo plaintiffs showed that everyone has the power to lead change and make a difference. Their legacy asks that you, what your contribution will be, what will your legacy be?

The challenges are limitless. Challenge yourself, dream great dreams and go out and achieve them.

Believe me all Australians will be cheering you on.

Thank you very much and congratulations for being here for this week.