I note the contribution from the member for Lingiari and absolutely respect his position on all of these issues and his experience in this area—his knowledge and experience over a long period of time, as he referred to John Howard and his commitment at the head of his government to first moot recognising the Indigenous Australians in our Constitution back in 2007. There is a commitment of both Labor and coalition governments to closing the gap, and over 13 years we’ve been trying. It’s been more trying than we have been able to stand here before you and say, ‘Look what we’ve done.’ In fact, I can go back to Kevin Rudd and his disappointment in our performance.
We respect, as I have respected, the member for Lingiari for his knowledge in this area and his memory of what leaders of our nation have said. I’m sure that, every time they said it, it was heartfelt and deliberate on behalf of their government representing our nation. When you hear the words that John Howard said and Kevin Rudd said and leaders of opposition said in support of what those leaders said, there has been no less desire to respect the Indigenous peoples of Australia, but our respect has not carried through to delivery.
If there’s no respect—if we cannot respect the rights of Indigenous peoples in this country to be at least recognised in the Australian Constitution, as John Howard outlined and as the member for Lingiari described a few minutes ago—how can we progress? If there is no respect between us and the Indigenous communities we represent, and if there is no respect from them to us because we’ve never given them a reason to respect us, we can’t progress; we can’t go forward.
I have openly, along with a number of my colleagues, supported the Uluru statement, in full—no stepping back, but accepting it in full. But this then demands the respect of the Australian people of this parliament to deliver on their behalf. Quite often, my constituents will say to me: ‘We elected you to make decisions on our behalf. We don’t want to have to stand back here in the electorate and make decisions.’ When I go to them and I say: ‘What do you think about this issue or that issue?’ they say: ‘You’re actually elected to make the hard decisions.’
But sometimes, I don’t roll with the mob, whatever the mob are doing, because, when you’ve got the experience of the member for Lingiari, and perhaps my experience in this place as well, you do have regard for the passage of time, and the healing time that it takes to deal with a lot of issues. You’ve got to come to a position of absolute respect for the Indigenous communities the length and breadth of the nation, and to look at the nation as a nation—as I did in the parliament today, talking about Christians who are oppressed across the world—and say, ‘Well, what are we doing here, in our own land, if we’ve got this schism between our communities?’ That respect goes back 60,000 years. You’ve got to look at our nation as a nation 60,000 years old, not 250 years old, and to recognise and respect them as an absolutely integral part of our thinking. When we come to that space and we come to that place of respect, we may have an opportunity to move forward.