NAIDOC Week 2005

Official Flag Raising, RG Casey Building Forecourt.

4 July 2005

Address by Ms Stacey Morgan, Member, DFAT Indigenous Employees Network


Firstly, I would like to pay my respects and say a special thank you to the local Ngunnawal people whose traditional land we are standing on today.

Next, and on behalf of the Indigenous Employees Network of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade I would like to thank the Secretary's representative for this event, Doug Chester and colleagues for attending this flag-raising ceremony to inaugurate our week-long NAIDOC celebrations for 2005.

NAIDOC celebrates the survival of Indigenous culture and the contribution of Indigenous Australians to modern Australia.  This year's theme "our future begins with solidarity" is a difficult one to grasp.  It is much easier said than done in a culture which is so diverse.  It is hard to imagine a common cause for Indigenous Australians around which to rally. 

When it happens though, some wonderful results can be achieved.  Take, for example, the news from last week about Australia's biggest native title settlement ever.  The Ngaanyatjarra people have been working for 20 years to achieve recognition of their rights with respect to large portions of Western Australia's central desert region.  The settlement was achieved as a result of negotiation, not through the process of litigation, and the settlement provides for a mixture of rights to various groups including the traditional owners, State and local government, miners and explorers.  The success of the negotiation just goes to show that a conciliatory approach can result in a satisfactory outcome for all stakeholders. 

There are good news stories like this one all the time.  Unfortunately, it is more newsworthy to talk about the failures of Indigenous people, the disadvantages of Indigenous people, and the difficulties associated with trying to fix the problems of Indigenous people.  Success, achievement and accomplishment are not often the words associated with Indigenous issues in Australia, but there are plenty of good news stories out there. 

Another great news story came out of the recent Northern Territory election.  Five Indigenous members of parliament have been elected, three of them women, to represent the population of the Northern Territory, which has the biggest Indigenous population of any State or Territory in Australia.  Hopefully, we can look forward to the new members doing some great things to progress Indigenous issues in the North. 

And although the departure of Aden Ridgeway from the Senate is the loss of an advocate for Indigenous affairs at the federal level, I understand that Mr Ridgeway will continue to his involvement in Indigenous issues by heading up a new Indigenous Tourism body to be called Indigenous Tourism Australia. 

At the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we play a significant role in promoting or creating good new stories.  The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programme projects an accurate and positive image of contemporary Indigenous peoples and cultures in Australia through a range of cultural and other programs.  The Public Diplomacy Division supports talented Indigenous Australian artists through organisation of touring exhibitions, and also provides support for performing artists travelling overseas.  Each officer posted overseas with DFAT has a role to play.  My own posting experience in Canada demonstrated that individuals and governments overseas are particularly interested in finding out more about Indigenous Australia.

But for my giving this speech today, and unless you know me personally, most of you wouldn't know I was Indigenous.  To almost everybody in the Department, I'm an obstructionist lawyer.  The Department has thirty five Indigenous employees, most working in "mainstream" jobs.  But, in addition to those responsibilities, most take an active role in the recruitment, career development and retention of Indigenous employees in the Department.  Most also act as informal advisers on the conduct of this Department's activities, as they relate to Indigenous Australia.  Most are also fabulous role-models in their own communities. 

There are always plenty of bad news stories around, and it is valid to focus on the improvements that can be made in every facet of Australia's engagement with Indigenous people.  But occasionally, it is worth celebrating just how far things have come. 

So, a quick personal story.  I'm from a place in Western Sydney called Blacktown.  There are no prizes for guessing how it got that name.  Blacktown still has one of the highest populations of urban Indigenous people in Australia, and hence, is often referred to for its terrible statistics on Indigenous health, employment and welfare.  It was the former site of a "Native Institute", set up by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to achieve "the civilisation of the Aborigines of both sexes".  But, despite having such a horrid history, and despite all the problems that remain today, you get the occasional success story of a girl who was the first in her family to go to university, the first to have a white collar profession, and definitely the first to represent her country overseas.  And those are the kinds of stories that don't get told often enough. 

So, to conclude, I hope you take the opportunities on offer during NAIDOC week, both within DFAT, and outside, to celebrate the survival of Indigenous culture and to focus on the success stories that are out there waiting to be heard.  On that note, the Indigenous Employees network has worked hard to bring you some great events during this week.  So, take a break from your computer screen and head down to the Gareth Evans Theatre for a film, exercise your inner-boffin and contribute to a great Indigenous charity at the trivia night, or take a moment away from your briefing notes to enjoy the Indigenous Art and Fashion exhibition in the foyer of the building.

Thank you.