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NAIDOC Week Reception for the Diplomatic Corps

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Speaker: Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter N Varghese AO

Thank you very much Suzie. Can I start by welcoming all of you and can I say how delighted I am that you're able to join us for this celebration of NAIDOC week. Let me begin by also acknowledging the owners of the land on which we meet, and to pay my respects to elders, past and present.

Jude, thank you so much for your Welcome to Country. It may be a cold land this week, but it was a very warm welcome and very much appreciated. Can I extend a welcome to the diplomatic corps, to the Heads of Mission and other representatives of our partners around the world, and to the Dean of the diplomatic corps, my good friend the Ambassador from Argentina, Pedro - thank you for your continuing support for all that we do.

Let me acknowledge Stephen Page, the Artistic Director of Bangarra. You'll shortly be seeing the Bangarra dance company performing. They're an absolutely outstanding dance company and terrific representatives of Australia and of Indigenous Australian culture.

You know, diplomacy is a form of storytelling so it's particularly appropriate that when we think about the contribution of Indigenous Australians, we should think about how this department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, fits into the story of Australia and the representation of Australia abroad.

The theme of NAIDOC this week which is 'We all stand on sacred ground. Learn, respect and celebrate", in many ways actually encapsulates how we, in this department, wish to tell the Australian story from the angle – not just of the country, but of the people. To learn, to respect and to celebrate are three important strands in how we go about that.

Firstly it's very important that anyone who represents Australia learns about our Indigenous history and learns about the contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have made to that history and learns to tell that history honestly, in its darkness and in its light. And I think one of the great contributions [the members of] our very active Indigenous Network make is their ability to teach the rest of us so much more about Indigenous Australia than we would otherwise know. To learn about it is also to respect it and certainly in what we do, both here in Australia and importantly what we do abroad, that sense of respect is a very important element.

There are many things that we are doing as a department which seek to give force to that commitment to respect: enshrining a commitment to reconciliation in the values statement that we have publicly issued; ensuring that in the work we do we recognise the contribution of Indigenous Australia; and given we are a department of foreign affairs and trade, working in particular on the business connections of Indigenous business groups. I'm delighted that later this year, Warren Mundine, who is the Chair of the Indigenous Chambers of Commerce, will be, as part of our program, going to Solomon Islands to forge further business connections with Indigenous groups. It also means working with other Indigenous peoples around the world and making a contribution through the United Nations and in other ways to international policy relating to Indigenous peoples.

As a department and as a diplomatic service we have a wonderful opportunity also to celebrate Indigenous Australia and to celebrate the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. In the last year we have conducted or hosted some 50 events overseas with that theme. We have supported art exhibitions, photographic exhibitions, lectures. Some of the material you see around here is a contribution to it.

We will be sponsoring the Bangarra dance company in its tour of Turkey and France which is part of our country programs. So I'm delighted that the theme of learn, respect and celebrate resonates so closely with what we're doing in the department.

Finally can I thank all of the members of the Indigenous Employees Network for the work that they do to advance the interests of this country - and thank them, in particular, for the wonderful work they've done in organising this evening and the other events of NAIDOC week. I'll say something about this network – they've got a bit of class when it comes to organising events. For those of you who were here last year, we had that fantastic fashion parade so I think maybe as we build our public diplomacy we can probably learn a lot from them.

Thank you very much, thank you for coming this evening, and I hope you enjoy the show.

Last Updated: 12 August 2015
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