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12 March 1991 - Current

 
Address by Aboriginal community members
Page 874
28 March 2018
ASSEMBLY Address by Aboriginal community members DANIEL ANDREWS

Mr ANDREWS (Premier) (12:36:18) — I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my deep personal respects to elders past and present.

On behalf of all honourable members, I would like to thank Mick and Jill, Geraldine, Paul, Vicki and Janine for being here today. We are honoured by your presence. It is only right that we have members of Victoria's Aboriginal communities here with us today and, whilst it is disorderly to reflect on those who are in the gallery, to have so many others not on the floor of the chamber but here with us today — members of communities — who have been central to this very, very important step. It is also appropriate not just because of work that has been done but because essentially, despite our setting, today is not about politicians. Today is not about politics. Today is about Aboriginal Victorians and their long, long struggle to be heard. That is what today is all about.

We have heard three very fine speeches made today, and I will speak for just a few moments about the journey we have been on and the hopefulness with which we look to the future for this very important process. I remember standing in Queen's Hall almost three years ago to the very day. It was yet another Closing the Gap event and another milestone to measure our progress — at least that is what the event was billed as, an opportunity for us to pat ourselves on the back for the enormous progress that we had made. The only problem with that was that we had not made very much progress at all.

There was some progress. There were some improvements in child mortality and school enrolments, and in school retention rates. I do not diminish those for a moment. They are all hard-fought. They are all hard-won by dedicated women and men in our schools, our hospitals and our community-controlled agencies — those organisations that I will return to in just a moment. But despite the improvements we had made in those areas, we had in fact gone backwards in others. Three years on, things are not much better. In fact in some areas the gap has not closed. Far from it — it has grown wider and deeper. Things on some measures are worse today, not better.

This year of course we celebrated what I would consider a most mediocre of milestones. For the first time ever, three of our seven targets were 'on track' — three out of seven. It is a decade on and we cannot reach 50 per cent. Just 50 per cent is beyond our reach at this time. In Victoria we sadly, indeed shamefully, fared even worse. We managed to tick just one of those necessary boxes. Of course these kinds of cold, clinical targets can only measure so much. They cannot tell a full story, but they do tell a very powerful story nonetheless. They can never, however, grasp the true scale of human suffering. They can never calculate that 'torment of powerlessness'. And they can never, ever capture Aboriginal people's proud resistance in the face of it all.

And so it has been for all of these decades. Over and over, governments have promised a solution. And over and over, governments have failed. It is why, three years ago, on that day in Queen's Hall we committed ourselves to doing something different. We committed ourselves to actually listening. Now it is fair to say that we were met with equal parts suspicion and cynicism — after all, Aboriginal communities are all too familiar with 'cheap and easy' promises. But still Aboriginal communities across Victoria took a chance. Aboriginal Victorians, defined by hope and survival, took a chance on us and a chance on this process.

From across our state, different voices and different views came together, and they told us loud and clear they wanted treaty. They wanted the responsibility and the respect to write their own story. Because all those targets and metrics — we will never be able to meet any of them. We will always fall short of those targets, unless and until we are fully reconciled, and until we hand over the control for the health and wellbeing, the prosperity and the prospects of Aboriginal people to Aboriginal people.

This is an obvious truth that I know profoundly: the better outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians will only come if they are led by Aboriginal Victorians.

There is still a long way to go, and it will not be easy because the most important work never is easy. But today marks that all-important first step: a new partnership, a new way of doing business with each other, not just for Aboriginal Victorians but for every Victorian. I have said this many times: Aboriginal history is Victorian history. And just as it can be said of our past, it must also be said of our future. A more just, more equal, more decent future for our first peoples can only mean a more just, more equal, more decent future for our state.

The time has come. The eyes of the nation are on us. And there really is 'everything to gain'. I commend the bill to the house.