2013 Garma Festival

Garma Festival

2013 August, 4

2013 Garma Festival

[The video starts with a Press Conference]

We've got together with eight communities across the country. From the Kimberley, to Sydney, to the Central Coast, down at Shepperton and the central desert. We've all got together to really go to the next stage of indigenous reform and we've resolved together that there's a lot of commonalities in the policies that we propose.

We believe that there's good things happening in different parts of the country but we need an interface with government that enables us to further add to the gains we’re making and to pursue this common set of ideas that we have about indigenous reform. We're in furious agreement about our policy agenda of increasing indigenous responsibilities of rebuilding social norms in our communities.

Much of the agenda that we pursue at the Cape York Welfare Reform is actually a shared agenda in different parts of the country and we can't replicate entirely Cape York’s agenda because we have an agenda for Cape York but what we want is to enable every region to be assisted by government, and to work in partnership with government, to pursue the dreams they have for their people. And those dreams are economic empowerment, social rebuilding, and cultural renaissance. This is a common agenda from all corners of the country and I’m very pleased today that the minister has announced support for a study that would look into the potential interface mechanism and I'm very delighted with my colleagues that we've all signed up to a pact here which really is a challenging reform agenda for the next parliament.

[Then the speech starts]

Thank you very much Dawn for your kind introduction. Let me also acknowledge the Yolngu people and thank you for your kind, Welcome to Country. I've been a great follower of Galarrwuy’s leadership ever since I was a young man. I really appreciated his mentorship over the decades.

The three things I want to talk about: firstly, I want to talk about the unity of opposites. If we were a North American audience and I said ‘red’, half of us would feel warm and the other half would feel cold. And if I said blue then it would be the opposite. If I said North Pole those of us from the South Pole might somewhat differ. In these debates I often think about dualities and opposites.

Urban and remote.

North and south.

East and west.

Practical and symbolic.

Which is the right side of all of those debates?

If I said indigenous rights, and if I said indigenous responsibilities, different among you would resonate. If I said culture, and if I said economy, those terms would resonate in different ways in our various breasts.

Over the past 13 years we in Cape York decided that many of the things that we'd heard talked about long before we came along needed to be a sharp part of our policy. It became obvious to us that we needed to think about what we meant by self-determination. That's another word. If I said self-determination there'd be resonance and there'd be disquiet. Perhaps 49% one way and 51% the other. But it seemed to us when we examine what we meant by self-determination, that the best explanation that was ever given to me was given by the then Indigenous Premier of Greenland. When he came to Cape York and told us about the new self-government arrangements that they had secured, he said this to us:

‘self-determination is hard work. Self-determination is about practical action. Self-determination is about responsibility.’

And a light switched on for me. I realised then that self-determination is the right to take responsibility.

Rights and responsibilities weren't opposites. There was a unity in those opposites, if properly understood. It is ultimately about power. What is the greatest power other than responsibility? And yet we've been hesitant whenever the word responsibility has been used in indigenous affairs. We've disowned it. We've been quite comfortable with the idea of rights. But we've disavowed any relationship or ownership or connection with the notion of responsibility. When if we had properly understood self-determination surely self-determination ultimately is about people taking control of their own lives and their own destinies.

That is why we've been pushing the agenda that we have a right to take responsibility. It is the greatest right. If our people are deserving of anything it is an acknowledgement and a concession that we have a right to take charge of our destiny and a right to take charge of our lives. If we were Yolngu, we would have understood the unity of opposites, Yirritja and Dhuwa. Unity. Ngurraar and Wandaar. Unity in my own community.

The yin and yang that makes up communities. I can never resonate with more than half of my own home community. People necessarily have a slightly different perspective on issues and those perspectives are not illegitimate. People have different emphases, but what I've been searching for is not to deny that but to find the radical center of all of these tensions. I would suggest that the radical center between rights and responsibilities, between indigenous rights and indigenous responsibilities, is the indigenous right to take responsibility for our own lives and our own futures. It is a right that has been taken away from us.

The second thing I want to talk about is about the mouse and the elephant. Our most compelling challenge is how it is that the 3% mouse of indigenous Australia can take a decent place in this our own country when we're dealing with a 97% elephants. The fulcrum for fair dealing between the mouse and the elephant has not been created. Our democracy does not allow us to interface with the government in a dignified way. On a table of level playing. On a table of fair dealing. And so it is no surprise that the elephant, whenever it deals with us, it deals with us in a relationship of mendicancy. It is all that it can do. Our 3% presence in the Australian democracy counts for little more than naught. Our extreme minority status is a large part of our structural problem. And a large part of our inability to get this democracy and government to work with us, and for us. Rather than what is the default position, unfortunately, of largely working against us.

I've had sufficient relationships with people in power over the past two decades to be able to progress an agenda from the communities of Cape York Peninsula from time to time. I've been able to occasionally get the ear of prime ministers, and ministers, and their state counterparts and so on. And you're able to leverage that to do good things.

I'm really excited about what we're doing with schools in Cape York Peninsula. I think we're breaking through. But I needed Jenny Macklin's leverage to make that happen because there was no way the Queensland education bureaucracy was going to do it of its own volition. And so when I had a plan, Jenny Macklin organises a strategy very subtly to get the Queensland Premier Bligh into a corner and signed up. And then when that happens, and we get a bit of pushback in ruction the Deputy Prime Minister comes in and thumps the premier at the appropriate time and you get a solution. But in all of our endeavors you can't rely on that kind of leverage for this thing to work. You can't just rely upon solutions arising because sometimes you're able to exercise some strategy or some kind of political leverage in order to do good.

Instead, the challenges we have require fifteen solutions a week. People in organisations on the ground need the machine to work as a matter of course, rather than as a matter of banging your heads against the wall and on the table. We need a structural solution to our relationship with governments, and that structural solution must empower indigenous people and organisations who are concerned and who have tender anxieties about the future of their communities. We need a structure that empowers them to be the senior partner of governments.

And I say to Jenny, and I say to Nigel; if you take away in your heads one idea, it is the idea that we must move on to governments being a junior partner in the future. Governments, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, will never be able to do anything that we ourselves are unwilling to do for ourselves. Governments can never do anything that we ourselves are unwilling to do for ourselves. And yet that sanction has been more dishonored than any other.

Governments of both political persuasions invariably think that they're in charge of the big diesel engine of social progress and they're going to mobilise their departments to save the black fellas yet again. And that illusion, we can't return to that illusion. I'm pleased to say that in our work in Cape York Peninsula, Jenny Macklin has gone a long way towards confronting that illusion. She has empowered us to make progress, and the principle of welfare reform which she has so steadfastly upheld with all of the bricks and bats that she has endured over the last five years, based on an understanding that this welfare reform thing is not a black fella thing, it's a disadvantage thing. And so these principles in my view are inexorably going to end up as tools to improve the lot of disadvantaged white Australians, as much as black fellas.

Let me finally say about anchored leadership and empowered communities. The overwhelming metaphor that came to mind when we met with our colleagues on the Central Coast under Sean, Jenny, and Bronwyn's kind aegis, the overwhelming metaphor was the idea of anchored leadership. These are people who are strongly anchored in their own people, in their own places. It is not a service delivery thing even. We could deliver all of the coordinated and the flashiest funded services in the world, but if there's not a people to own it, and to lead it, it will count for naught.

So what struck me about my colleagues up here, and those of us who got together and had this common conversation, was that these people are anchored in a real place. They work with real people. It's not an abstract proposition. The future is not some kind of abstraction. These people are concerned about real children and their destinies. And we've got to create a situation where a structural interface with government has got to enable those communities to deal from a position of equal power.

Djawa’s brilliant metaphor this morning replaced Thomas Hobbes Leviathan with the notion of the octopus that is at odds with itself. And it is certainly the 97% octopus that we have to deal with and we need an interface to be able to deal with them that not just kind of commits people to proper dealing, but obliges them. Obliges them to surrender some power. Because how can there be empowerment if there is not a transfer of power?

This is obviously a structural problem and we need a structural solution and there will be structural resistance. But I say to you that it's never been a much more privileged experience than the one I've had in the last six months. When I followed Jawun’s lead, I was terrified when I went around the countryside. Because I know that when you say the word Noel, I'm not even sure that it's 49%.

So I went up to the aboriginal housing company and Mark Spinks the Chairman looks at me and said, ‘you’, he said, ‘geez, you're a controversial black’. ‘But, he said, remember Jesus Christ had his critics, too’. That wasn't comforting to me.

But I want to pay tribute to my colleagues for the agenda we're talking about. Who did I first hear talk against welfare? Charlie Perkins. A long time ago, when I was just a kid. So this agenda is not some kind of recent invention. In fact, in many ways we're returning to a set of ideas that our people possessed a generation and more ago. It is just that I believe in these recent decades we have allowed welfare and government to take too much power away from us. And we're never going to overcome our parlous condition until we not only resolve but we work with government to create an interface between us and the government that not only commits them to doing the right thing but obliges them.

And so I really welcomed Jenny Macklin's commitment here this morning to work with these regional communities to devise what it is that that structural solution might be.

Thank you.