Jawun 15th anniversary Dinner

Jawun Dinner

2015 August, 31

Jawun 15th anniversary Dinner

Good evening, friends, Jawun-karra,

I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal traditional owners and thank them for their welcome to this beautiful country.

I've long known it, I've always sought to be a brief visitor, particularly in winter time, but we've always been welcomed by the Ngunnawal people and I thank them for their kindness. I bring greetings from Cape York.

I'm so very pleased to see my colleagues from across the eight Empowered Communities regions. I want to acknowledge my uncle, Ron, who is indeed our kind of spiritual succour to our Jawun relationship. He's my mother's younger brother and he's always been a source of great support to myself and my family.

I want to say to Graham, Colin (Colin Carter), Chris (Christopher Bartlett), who's not here. Graham Wise who was playing around with some ideas with us, and Michael Winer, about the need for some kind of business institute. And we had some support from Rupert and the Myer Foundation.

In the way that has been the great strength of Jawun: “It's not what you know, it's who you know”. I love that Ted Hawkins line. No matter what you know, it's who you know. And so Graham knew Colin and Chris - they’re old Harvard friends. And Graham enjoined them in the business of thinking about the startup of this organisation. Michael Winer was there and he played such a crucial role in the early years getting this idea off the ground.

But it was at the Weipa Business Summit in 2000 that we really got lift-off when Ann (Ann Sherry) came onto the scene. Ann and Colin got together and decided that they were going to give us secondees from their respective organisations. That first provisioning of secondments from the Boston Consulting Group and from Westpac started this whole journey. And in particular seized the right direction with great alacrity.

I don't know anybody in this country who is more committed to the idea of spreading opportunity than Ann. She participates at the front line of corporate life, but she has a mercurial desire to give other people opportunity. And I really appreciated that lesson to me. I don't know that if I was at the top of a corporate tree, I would have as much time as she does. I don't know that if I was at the front of Australian life, I would never lose the determination that one should always try to open the door from the inside to the people on the outside who can't find a handle from where they sit.

So, I want to acknowledge Ann, I think she's been a real driver of this organisation in its 15 years. I just want to say I'm proud of you all. I'm very proud this evening. But I'm almost guilty about the attention directed at me because I just know that this is a credit to all of you and I am so proud of everyone in this room. But, the numbers of people who helped all of this come about are much greater than those of us here this evening.

I'm very proud of our indigenous leaders, our Empowered Community leaders. They have been a real source of constant support to me. I just think the leadership that's been shown in all of the eight regions is a really humbling thing for me.

I'm in the leadership business, but I've heard a speech by young Josh to me at Garma at the fireside with the leader of the opposition, that really was a completely extraordinary demonstration of young leadership. There's so much very good leadership in our eight communities and I really thank Sean for nurturing our team and for his kind of steadfastness in constructing our Empowered Communities agenda. I just want to say that it's really been a privilege for me to be part of the eight Empowered Communities.

I want to say that I'm proud of all our partners and very grateful for the work you've done and your people have done over a decade and a half. And there are so many great things that your people have done. I come across things all the time and I think where did that come from? And I asked the question and people say; “Oh yeah, some Jawun secondees did this back in 2011 or something. Or they did this back in, you know, 2004.

So I see so many good things that are the consequence of our partnership and our friendship. I just want to say I'm very proud of all of your efforts. I think this has been a very important relationship from our point of view.

I want to say what a great engine this is. This is a great engine for social change that we built here. It is unprecedented. The kind of power that we put together here in this room and in this Jawun partnership is a very strong engine. And I think we're at the height of our powers. We're at the absolute height of our powers, if there's any better way of corporate and philanthropic Australia supporting a disadvantaged people to rise up in the world, I know not of it. This is as keen as it gets.

And I really want to enjoin everybody to the great power we have in our hands here to achieve real social change and to lift this country up because this country will never be truly lifted up until its most disadvantaged people are off the floor and participating in the privileges of being Australian.

We have two agendas ahead of us. Agendas that we played a big role in bringing about change: The Agenda of Empowerment and The Agenda of Recognition. Our work on empowerment over these last two years, really, I cannot lay claim to responsibility for it. It really was Karyn's (Karyn Baylis) drive. She's like the great kind of connector. Karyn is an extraordinary connector of people, opportunities, friendships, tentative goodwill. She can turn suspicion into friendship. She can turn tentativeness into great and bubbling enthusiasm. And some of the meetings I had when I went around to the eight communities, some of us and some of the people were meeting for the first time, even though they lived just across town. Some people who had never met, even though they lived on the other side of town.

And that's the great advantage of Jawun, that it's caused a lot of good relationships amongst our own people. And of course, it's given us all of the power that comes from networks, people, angles, insights, opportunities, resources and power. Jawun has been a great contributor to that alchemy.

I want to say that I think we're now at the height of our powers. We can only add more numbers. But in terms of our leverage and our ability to contribute to social and economic and cultural change, we are very much indeed humming.

I think I also commend the quality and nature of the indigenous leadership that we have. The next generation, that emerging generation of leaders. I met Corinne today and her colleagues on the Emerging Leaders Group this year. It is just so very exciting to see that next layer of leadership percolating up in our communities. We know that there are just layers of our young people developing and heading towards the kind of the vision that we've always had for them.

I think there's a strong indigenous leadership. I think that our corporate partnership is just absolutely of the highest order. I think our challenge is to get the government working. We've got two thirds of the equation together. We've been engaged with government. We have very good friends in government who've worked with us diligently and they're here tonight. But we haven't got it right yet. The government piece is still not right. I think we have got the indigenous piece right. We’ve got the indigenous leadership part, right. We've got the corporate shoulder right, but we haven't got the government piece right yet.

I will be convinced that we've got the government piece right when the Pemulwuy project has a solution. That is when we know that government is finally working in the way that it must work. A project that Mick Mundine and the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern have been prosecuting with three parts: student accommodation, commercial district, self-funding. The necessity for the indigenous families to reoccupy the block so that the capital of indigenous Australia can once more be restored, requires a solution for affordable housing for that community. And for all of the efforts that that community and Mick’s leadership over the years, we still don't have a solution. And it is a testament to the way in which our relationship with government is still dysfunctional and not producing results for people on the ground.

Of course, Pemulwuy is but one of many things that we need to get right in our relationship with government but I would think that a project of that kind of complexity and significance is a real test of the reforms that we're seeking with Empowered Communities. Our work on the Empowered Communities project identified with the Productivity Commission and Department of Finance, that in excess of $30 billion is spent every year in the name of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. That is a flabbergasting figure.

My colleague, Richie Ah Mat tells me that the new figures are even more horrendous, something like $34 billion spent in the name of Indigenous Australians. And you cannot believe that even a small fraction of that is reflected on the ground.

So, we’ve got to get that right. We've got to get the piece with the government right and we need a fulsome response on the part of the government to our Empowered Communities proposal. Otherwise, we will end up having strewn pools under swine. We need a fulsome response to Empowered Communities. The government must ensure that the kind of integrity that we put into our proposals is met with the requisite amount of diligence on their part.

The second part of our agenda is recognition. And Brian's (Brian Hartzer) speech this evening reverencing events such as the tent embassy on the lawns of the Old Parliament House in the early 1970s, is a speech of an Australian CEO, the like of which I have never heard before. There has never been a speech of its kind that I have ever heard and I thank him for that recitation and reminder of our history. There has to be recognition. And perhaps an adopted Australian, it has taken one such as he, to speak so plainly and clearly about the truth of that history. About the truth that when the old Parliament House was opened, our people didn't have a vote and we were not citizens.

The question of recognition will not be answered by some kind of minimalist preamble that is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution. There's got to be an answer to what I think is the question that Indigenous Australia is now raising to their fellow Australians, and it is this: that this is our country too. This Australia is our country too. And a recognition that continues in that old tradition of not being appropriately generous in its acknowledgement is a form of recognition that will never be accepted by indigenous peoples.

This is not a time for short changing. It is not enough to say to the indigenous peoples of this country that the promissory note of justice was spent on the 26th of January to a foreign sovereign. There's got to be a proper accounting in relation to recognition, and our proposals are modest but profound. And we cannot go under the line of modesty and profundity. And to think that we can have a rerun of the 1999 Referendum that failed because the preamble was so miserable, is a forlorn political agenda.

I urge the Jawun community to continue this conversation of empowerment and recognition. We need friends. We need jawun-karra, to understand that the dignity we seek as an indigenous people is an agenda that started a very long time ago, and that is what I so appreciated about Brian's comments here this evening. This agenda for recognition is now very old.

Paul Briggs’ ancestors were the people who originally raised the agenda. We are talking in the 1920s. We're talking in 1938. We're talking about petitions that stretch back a century, people seeking representation in parliament, recognition. This is an old agenda that's been agitated in every generation. And Australians have never fully responded to it.

So, I urge the jawun-karra of Jawun to keep abreast of this debate and to take responsibility for this debate because it is a debate, not just about our people. It is not just about the recognition of our people; it is a debate about the recognition of yourselves.

Only when you recognise the original peoples of this continent, fifty-three thousand years later will you recognise yourselves. The act of recognition is not just one where white Australia is bestowing something on our people. You will find yourselves when you recognise the original owners of this land.

So, these are two very profound but important agendas that we urge the government and the opposition to embrace an agenda for empowerment and recognition. And if we do this over the next 15 years and if we get this right in the opportunity that is before us, then in the next 15 years we will sail. We will sail if we get this right.

I'm just extraordinarily grateful for the very fine and good things that Jawun has given us over the years. I'm completely irresponsible for it. I am completely astounded at the good things people do. And I want to thank you all for that, and I want you, who know people that are not here tonight to communicate to them our great gratitude and admiration and pride for what they've done for us in this past decade and a half.

And finally, I want to say that, of course, Karyn's been the magic this past 10 years. She's really lifted the organisation. It's grown. She's been, as Alan said, indefatigable in her energy. And I just pay tribute, and of course behind every great woman, there's a great man as well. Tony's been just steadfast as a rock supporting Karyn or perhaps unable to restrain her, I don't know which it was, but obviously I just want to completely embarrass Karyn as utmostly as I can by saying the obvious, the obvious to us all that she's really been the person who's helped us put the helium in the balloon.

Thank you.