Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the 16th Anniversary of National Apology Day

13 February 2024 


Today we mark the 16th anniversary of the national apology to Australia's Indigenous people. As we mark this anniversary, I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri elders of the Canberra region, where parliament gathers, and I also acknowledge the traditional custodians of my area in Warringah. Their names remain contested, but they are part of the longest-surviving culture in the world, and the area is rich in heritage. I acknowledge too their sorrow and the cost of sharing this land. I commit myself to genuine healing, and I acknowledge that the land was never ceded. The national apology was a milestone event in Australia that was met with generosity from First Nations people, but today I must say the ceremony was a little sad. As we reflect on last year's referendum outcome, I remain committed to the Uluru statement, especially the truth-telling, particularly about the stolen generation and the ongoing impacts of government policies. We also received the Closing the Gap annual report and the annual plan here in parliament today. A review by the Productivity Commission shows that the current approach is not working. The report made four important recommendations: the need to share power, to recognise and support Indigenous data sovereignty, to fundamentally rethink mainstream government systems and culture, and to implement stronger accountability. We are not listening to our First Nations people. We cannot close the gaps and further our national journey of reconciliation if we do not listen, so it's heartening to hear the government commit today to making structural changes to the way they work, interact and walk alongside First Nations communities. There must be genuine partnership and active listening.

I welcome the establishment of a National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People. We need to focus more on the rights of the child in how we craft policies and laws at the federal level. This is especially true for First Nations children. Pick any statistic and you can see why. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that suicide accounted for 27 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's deaths in 2022. I understand, sadly, that that rose following the sense of rejection from the outcome of the referendum. A third of those children were aged between 15 and 17. That is tragic. The commissioner can help turn around such appalling, sombre statistics by advocating for those most at risk of taking their own lives.

I welcome the immediate assistance of $96 million in grants to frontline First Nations organisations assisting First Nations women and children affected by domestic violence. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are three times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women, 11 times more likely to die due to assault and 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of that violence. I share the enthusiasm of the government that our First Nations people can contribute to the transition to renewable energy as well, noting we already have major First Nations involvement in renewable energy. They have been custodians of this land for so many years, and they did so in a manner that had such a lesser impact than the one we have imposed on this land. So I look forward to seeing the First Nations Clean Energy Strategy that Minister Bowen is currently developing.

With the Voice referendum being unsuccessful a few months ago, we must chart a new course in the spirit of reconciliation and walking hand in hand with our First Nations people. In that spirit, I take responsibility for Warringah. My office is committing to enacting a reconciliation action plan, and I urge other MPs and businesses to do the same if they haven't already. It will put a focus on four core pillars to provide tangible benefits to our First Nations people in the electorate of Warringah: relationships, respect, opportunities and governance, to act and to walk with First Nations people in Warringah and around the country.

As a country, we have become far better at acknowledging our Indigenous heritage, and at celebrating it. However, I still feel the defeat of the Voice to Parliament last October in the Referendum. It shows we have a long way to go, especially in truth-telling and in acknowledging our history, its conflicts and the cost that First Nations Australians have borne. We say of Australia that it is the lucky country. I think we are lucky, in that we have the privilege of having the oldest living continuous culture in the world—some 65,000 years. It enriches us and makes us better. But we're still far from truly recognising it, acknowledging it, learning from it and respecting it.