Remarks at South Australian launch of Buraadja

Thank you for the welcome from Mickey O’Brien and to Kerrynne Liddle for your kind remarks.

Kerrynne, I am excited that we will soon be colleagues in the Senate if all goes to plan. 

This year marks 50 years since Neville Bonner first represented Queensland in the Senate and we welcome more Indigenous representation from my party in the red chamber. 

Premier, I thank and acknowledge you and the work of your government. You have embraced the creative spirit of liberalism and Indigenous policy which has been a feature of the Liberal Party at various times in our history. 

Also I congratulate you on commissioning the $200 million Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Lot 14 which I understand will open in 2023. 

You will emancipate 95% of a hidden collection of artefacts which have been living in a leaky storage shed. You have delivered a home for the largest collection of its kind in the world, more than 30,000 artefacts from across Australia.

Your commitment to deliver a voice is very welcome and it is a serious step in support of reconciliation. Bring on competitive federalism. 

We gather in the Old Chamber at the South Australian Parliament - the site of the second draft of the federal Constitution. This Constitution of course was drafted without the input of Indigenous people. 

The Constitution has been a very successful charter of government for Australia. Australia is a great country but it was not been a great country for Indigenous people. Part of that is because of the exclusion that was there at the outset. 

It took 66 years to start making amends. In 1967, Harold Holt’s referendum meant that Indigenous people would be counted. That referendum did two things: it delivered a new head of power to the national government and it included Indigenous people in the census. 

The new head of power was used to later deliver laws like Native Title, heritage protection, Aboriginal corporations and a dozen other laws. 

Less than a decade later, Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Government passed the Land Rights Act. In the research for the book. 

Fraser’s Minister Peter Baume told me the passage of the federal legislation for the Northern Territory paved the way for adoption of a similar law in South Australia by the Tonkin Liberal government. 

The point of all this is that Australian liberalism has delivered its share of contribution to Indigenous policy. 

There has been good and bad but we should remember the good to ensure that the ambition remains alive in the present when we consider proposals like the Uluru Statement. 

Australia hasn’t finished the job. 

Our Constitution makes no reference to the world’s longest continuing people - the traditional custodians. 

We committed that we would do so in 2007 under John Howard and over the last 15 years we have been uphill and down dale on the question of recognition. 

The landmark 2017 Uluru Statement seeks recognition though a voice - designed to create agency and input for Indigenous people. 

We should do this because as Tony Abbott said of constitutional recognition, it would “complete our constitution”. It would be unifying, not divisive. 

And as we reflect on our surroundings here in the Old Chamber with Premier Marshall, it feels like something we could do in the next federal Parliamentary term. 

There will be a restlessness in all of us until this is done. 

I thank you Premier, Kerrynne, Mickey and my editor Damien Freeman of the Australian Catholic University for being in Adelaide on this day.

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