NAIDOC Week 2005
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
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
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.