Thank you very much Jackie, Mick Dodson, Mark Leibler, Chip Goodyear, ladies and gentlemen. Before going to the substance of my remarks, I would like to thank Joy, once again, for her very gracious and warm welcome and to pay my respects to the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the land on which we gather. It was as always a very friendly and very generous welcome, and I thank you for that.
Can I pay a special tribute to Mark Leibler and Jackie Huggins for persevering with the arrangements for today and working very patiently and toiling gallantly and successfully to bring this about. This is a complex issue and I want to respond very directly to Mick’s comments because there was great truth and wisdom in what he said. And there’s no point in pretending when you’re talking about a subject such as this. There are many areas where I’m afraid Mick and I would disagree, and there’s no point in us pretending otherwise. And I’ve disagreed on some of these things with other indigenous leaders over time. But what I think fills us with, to use the two words that Mick used in relation to this gathering, fill us with hope and possibility, is the fact that there are many areas where we do agree.
And I think what is encouraging about the reconciliation process to which I recommit the Government, quite unconditionally, is that we are moving towards a greater understanding of the need to work together in those areas where we can agree. There will remain in the Australian community legitimate debate about such matters as constitutional arrangements, the symbolism – and I don’t discount the importance of symbolism, never have, it’s a question of getting a balance between practical outcomes and symbolism. But there are many areas where we can really make, together, an enormous difference. And can I by courtesy of the place card that we were all given, can I just quote some words that are repeated there, that I said at the gathering in May of last year, when I said that ‘the journey towards reconciliation will only be complete when indigenous Australians enjoy the same opportunities as other Australians’. Now I believe that and I think that is the centre-pole of the tent – if I can put it that way – around which our efforts must be directed. And I particularly welcome here today the presence of so many representatives of the business community – and I thank you Chip for your generosity and that of BHP Billiton – and I pay tribute to the ANZ Bank, to BHP Billiton, Canberra Investment Corporation, Centrelink, that’s a familiar name, Melbourne City Council, Oxfam, the South Australian Department of Administrative and Information Services and the Yarnteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation. And could I also especially welcome here today the representatives of the major sports of Australia, or a number of them, because the role of sport in bringing indigenous and other Australians together is quite fundamental. Sport is so much at the centre of our lives and some of the most inspiring role models within the indigenous community, and there’s very conspicuous…one of those here today in the presence of Michael Long. Their inspiration to young indigenous people remains very, very important as part of the process.
I think all of us are aware that reconciliation is not going to come as a result of eloquent rhetoric or high-level communiquйs. It will come through indigenous and other Australians taking millions of small steps in the right direction. I think it’s important if we’re realistic to understand that. I think all of us have probably seen some of the television images in the past few days of Australians coming back from the Middle East and despite what some of their misguided leaders back here may have said, they have all expressed profound gratitude at what was done to bring them home. And you can almost hear them collectively saying, this is the greatest country in the world, and aren’t we pleased to be back to it.
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