Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program

Address to the Indigenous Welcome to Country

12 February 2008

Opening of the 42nd Federal Parliament,

Member's Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

I begin by honouring the traditional owners of the land on which this parliament now sits.

I begin also by honouring the traditional owners of all the lands across this continent, Australia.

And I thank the traditional owners here for their welcome to country, the warmth of that welcome, the beautiful traditional message stick, with which I have been presented.

Exactly 100 years ago the land on which we stand was chosen as the site as the nation’s first capital. Eighty years ago, we built an old Parliament House and 20 years ago, we built this new great house of the Australian democracy.

Yet the human history of this land stretches back thousands of years through the dreamtime.

The histories of the Ngunnawal and Walgalu – and to the west, the Wiradjuri; to the east, on the coast, the Yuin; to the north, the Gundungurra; and to the south, the Ngarigo - a thousand generations or more.

And we who have come to this land more recently, perhaps for five, maybe six, even seven.

Despite this antiquity among us, and despite the fact that parliaments have been meeting here for the better part of a century, today is the first time in our history that as we open the parliament of the nation, that we are officially welcomed to country by the first Australians of this nation.

And Matilda, I thank you for the welcome.

For that welcome, we are all here, Senators and Members, truly honoured.

In 1927, when we opened the old parliament, no Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander people were invited.  There was no welcome to country, they were not welcome at all. No place at the national table as we began the national parliament in this place for the first time.

But one man, Jimmy Clements, came, and stood alone, referred to by the Canberra Times in 1927 as, and I quote, “a lone representative of a fast vanishing race”, unquote.

I celebrate the fact that indigenous Australia is alive, well, and with us for the future.

Today we begin with one small step, to set right the wrongs of the past. And in this ceremonial way, it is a significant and symbolic step.

And let us resolve here, as Members and Senators and Members of this great Parliament of the Commonwealth, that whoever forms future Governments of the nation, let this become a permanent part of our ceremonial celebration of the Australian democracy.

Incorporating the ceremonial of the dreaming from antiquity into the ceremonial of this great democracy.

It’s taken 41 parliaments to get here. We can be a bit slow sometimes. But we got here. And, when it comes to the parliaments of the future, this will become part and parcel of the fabric of our celebration of Australia in all of its unity and all of its diversity.

Our challenge this week, then is to write a new page in the country’s history, and this is one small step. But for that page to be truly written, it must be written between ourselves and indigenous Australia, and within this parliament between those who are Government and those who are Opposition. And it is in that spirit that I invite the Leader of the Opposition to support my remarks.