Remarks at Australian Capital Territory launch of Buraadja

In acknowledging country I thank the Ngunnawal traditional owners for their welcome. 

Ken, thank you for launching the book here in the national capital. Ken, you are a great trailblazer and it is an honour to serve with you. 

I acknowledge the Parliamentary colleagues, Indigenous leaders and my editor Damien Freeman of Australian Catholic University, which has published Buraadja, and kindly hosted this morning’s launch. 

As I say in the book, the Great Australian Silence is still alive and well in different parts of our national life. I notice it in Canberra. 

In Canberra, there are no statues of Indigenous people, no major national institution in the Parliamentary Triangle and there are no Indigenous flags flying in this building’s common areas.  

Rob Harris of the Sydney Morning Herald recently said: “In fact there are now more statues of kelpies than Indigenous Australians or Australian women in the green spaces surrounding the nation’s seat of power.”

No Bonner, no Perkins, no Mabo. 

Yes we conduct smoking ceremonies but there is more we could do. More we could do to demonstrate our living commitment to Noel Pearson’s formula of modern Australia.

I am pleased that in this week’s Budget, our government is funding a feasibility study to establish a major Indigenous institution inside the Triangle. 

Last week in Adelaide, Uncle Mickey O’Brien provided me with a possum budbily which I wore for the duration of the SA launch. 

This is a mark of respect which we could permanently adopt into our ceremony like the opening of Parliament. 

These softer elements are important. They meet a symbolic need. 

This book also has hard elements. It evaluates the legal and constitutional options and makes certain conclusions.

Put simply, it is that our Constitution should make reference to the 60,000 years of Indigenous occupation. I believe this should include an obligation on the Commonwealth to engage with Indigenous people; an obligation to ensure Indigenous voices are heard, especially as we make special laws.

As the book shows, there are many ways in which the Constitution could create such an obligation. 

It is possible to anchor a commitment to hearing Indigenous voices in the Constitution, as called for in the Uluru Statement, without establishing any new illiberal institutions in the Constitution.

The book wouldn’t have been possible without AIATSIS and Craig Ritchie who is here today. Craig - thank you for your leadership. 

AIATSIS helped the Yuin people bring the Dhurga language back. AIATSIS was established by the Menzies government to do just this, preserve and conserve culture and language. 

This work is allowing Australia to see the full picture of our history and the continent’s unique culture over 60,000 years. 

The return of language is exciting for Australia. Buraadja highlights the return and the work of AIATSIS and the Yuin traditional owners. 

I travelled to Moruya to seek the consent of the traditional owners for the book’s name. The traditional owners have developed a dictionary which is now being used in local schools.

It is a real achievement to have the words presented in a manner which is easy to engage with. 

Yesterday, today, tomorrow: bugiya, nhaway, Buraadja. By using it, I hope it shows respect for language and culture.

Ultimately Buraadja is a pitch to liberal and conservative voters to embrace the reconciliation agenda which contains the soft and hard elements. 

It can’t be done without the bulk of the community: the 97 per cent of us who are non-Indigenous Australians. This doesn’t mean speaking for Indigenous people, we have made that mistake for 250 years. 

What it means is engaging on the content put forward by Indigenous people - it’s the least we policymakers can do.

Three petitions have been made for us in this place: the 1963 bark petitions, 1988 Barunga Statement and the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. 

This time we must not miss the opportunity. We ought not forget the formula: a majority of people and a majority of states. 

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