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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 5 Hansard (29 May) . . Page.. 1143..


MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

community. I would like to convey to the Samoan community, on behalf of all Canberrans, the sentiments of profound sadness that we all feel. The Samoan community are significant members of our wider community and their loss is felt by us all.

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.34): Last week we marked the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum. This referendum symbolised the acceptance of indigenous Australians as full citizens of their own country. It represents a milestone in the struggle for respect and social justice.

Few who were living in Australia at that time could forget the sense of hope and euphoria in the aftermath of the vote, the optimism and the faith that it created. It seemed inevitable that some day we could re-establish our relationship, based not on paternalism and hegemony but on respect and empathy. Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians felt that we could now enter into a new conversation with one another. Many Australians regarded the referendum as an opportunity to create a new era of respect and social justice in Australia. Mick Dodson once said:

Social justice is what faces you in the morning ... It is the ability to nourish your children and send them to school where their education not only equips them for employment but reinforces their knowledge and understanding of their cultural inheritance. It is ... a life of choices and opportunity, free from discrimination.

A number of Australians have spent the last week wondering whether we have made the most of the opportunity that the referendum afforded us. I suspect Australian Aborigines do not simply want to be assimilated into mainstream society, whatever that may be. Indigenous Australians want power and respect for their unique heritage. They want to live in a hygienic, safe and culturally appropriate home. They want access to an inclusive education. They would like a clear relationship with government. They would like respect from government. Indigenous Australians want and are entitled to these things.

We must acknowledge today, as we did in 1967, that the journey of Australia is only as important as the experience of every community. Every community is valuable, and we cannot dismiss the very real alienation and rejection of people because we feel they must assimilate.

Crucially, we must stop trying to solve the Aboriginal problem. Imagine how it feels to be called a problem. Indigenous Australians are nobody's problem to solve. To the contrary, right under our nose are rich indigenous cultures that have existed in this country for tens of thousands of years. They can and would like to offer their own solutions to any of the challenges that we face. Any government would be arrogant to think that it has everything to teach Australian Aborigines and nothing to learn from them.

Many of our leaders deny the importance of symbolism in strengthening our relationships. The referendum is my answer to this. What we did in 1967 was more than resolve a problem within our constitution. We created a symbol that has lived on


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