National Sorry Day 2011

I rise tonight in support of the Prime Minister's statements on National Sorry Day. In doing so I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I also wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city, this region and to my electorate. The 26th of May is a very important day for Australia and marks the day when we as a country recognise the wrongs that have been committed to our Indigenous people. It is the day that the Bringing them home report was tabled in this parliament, a report that detailed quite clearly what had occurred to the stolen generation and acknowledged the forced separation of Indigenous children from their families. It was a report that caused more than a few tears to be shed, both in this chamber and across Australia, both amongst the Indigenous community and the non-Indigenous community.

National Sorry Day is about more than simply admitting any personal fault. National Sorry Day is about sending a powerful message that you care about and recognise the hurt that has been caused, irrespective of whether or not you were personally responsible for it. It is a very important symbolic gesture and it occurs at the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, a week that recognises two events: the day when 90 per cent of Australians voted in a referendum to recognise Indigenous Australians as citizens and Mabo Day, which is a day honouring the man who gave a name and a face to the important issue of land rights and recognised the historical and cultural significance this continent has for Indigenous people.

However, it goes beyond just symbolism to have practical and tangible effects on the community. To this end I was very fortunate to be invited to attend a special assembly last Friday to honour National Reconciliation Week at Richardson Primary School in my electorate. Richardson Primary School has students from all walks of life and from many diverse communities. It is also a school with a very large Indigenous community. I have been fortunate enough to visit Richardson Primary School on a number of occasions and each time I have been impressed by the inclusive community and the real commitment to learning and to developing and growing the students.

This shone through particularly well at this special assembly. I was especially impressed with the work the students had put into message sticks they displayed at the assembly. They were quite large message sticks and they each had little motifs on them of particular cultural significance to the students. The sticks honoured the Indigenous culture and history of the people around Canberra and also the people around Australia.

The students worked on these sticks not just as part of a class activity but also during their lunch hours, which shows true commitment to the importance of reconciliation. They were really into them and they were very proud of them afterwards. The students, already at this young age, had understood that this week is about bringing together Indigenous and nonIndigenous people to share our stories and most importantly to understand each other. It is about recognising the importance of those stories and what each of us individually contributes to our country. Our stories are unique and important, whether you are Indigenous or not. It is particularly important to point out the need for language to continue, because language is essentially what keeps cultures alive. So it is very important that we keep the many Indigenous languages throughout Australia alive and being spoken. As soon as the communities stop speaking them, essentially that little part of the community, that culture, dies. It is very important that we not only keep these stories alive but also keep the language that tells them alive. Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week are more than just symbolic. They are also about ensuring that we as a parliament and a country are bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to honour the work being done in my electorate by the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service. Winnunga Nimmityjah was founded in 1988 and has grown into a significant and important Indigenous health provider. It is located in a mad, old 1960s or 1970s building in Narrabundah that I think was gifted to the community by the Whitlam government. I have been very fortunate to have visited Winnunga on a number of occasions. One occasion was with Warren Snowdon and Tom Calma to launch a health day for Indigenous communities throughout Australia.

Winnunga has played a very pivotal role in ensuring Indigenous health in Canberra and the region for many years. In fact, they service not only the community here in Canberra but also around 25 per cent of the region. People come from far and wide to use the services at Winnunga. The services are many and varied. There are dental health services. There are a number of doctors who work there part time, often on a pro bono basis, to help the Indigenous community. They do basic medical checks—such as blood pressure checks and cholesterol checks—and a whole range of things. They also provide diabetes checks, which are particularly important given the incidence of diabetes in the Indigenous community, and they offer physio services. What I was particularly heartened by was the fact that they also offer infant welfare services. Infant welfare services are not structured in the same way that they used to be when my mother used to take my sisters and me to get our needles and have health checks in the 1960s and 1970s. So it was great to see that these services are there to help new mums, particularly new young mums, with advice on infant welfare and to support the mothers in breastfeeding and on a range of other issues.

Speaking about Winnunga, I would also like to acknowledge Dr Peter Sharp. He worked at Winnunga and I just heard last week that he has been diagnosed with cancer and the diagnosis does not look that good. I just want to acknowledge and honour the work he has done for the Indigenous community in Canberra, particularly at Winnunga. He has dedicated his life to helping to improve the health of the Indigenous community. It was tragic news for everyone in Canberra, particularly the Indigenous community and those at Winnunga, to hear that Dr Sharp was suffering from cancer. We wish him well and, hopefully, we wish him a recovery from the illness. It was a deep blow to hear that news last week.

In closing, I would like to say on behalf of the people in Canberra that when we said sorry everyone here was absolutely elated. We were very proud of the fact that a Labor government had done it. I think that Canberrans are deeply committed to improving the health, welfare, education and prosperity of the Indigenous community not only here in Canberra but also throughout in Australia. It was a great day for all Canberrans. It is also a great honour to be able to acknowledge that day today and speak during National Reconciliation Week.

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