Acknowledgement of Country

HUTCHINS (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) — I move:

That the house authorises the Speaker to give an acknowledgement of country each sitting Tuesday.

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which this Parliament stands and the people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to its elders, past and present, and to any other elders from communities who may be here today or watching at home.

I rise today as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to move a motion to introduce an acknowledgement of country, like the one I have just given, on the first day of each sitting week in the Legislative Assembly. Earlier this year I travelled extensively across the state to hear directly from Aboriginal people and organisations. This listening tour was a way of hearing about the needs, the priorities and the aspirations of Aboriginal communities across our state. It was clear to me from these discussions that Aboriginal people believe recognition of their culture and connection to land holds more than just a symbolic value. Equally clear to me was the need for the Victorian Parliament to lead by example when it comes to recognising this country’s first people.

Following those discussions with Aboriginal traditional owners, leaders and members of the wider Aboriginal community, I wrote to the Presiding Officers to ask that the Aboriginal flag be permanently flown over this place, that at long last it fly where it rightfully belongs, because by flying the Aboriginal flag we acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land and we also strengthen Aboriginal culture and identity. I have to say I have seen many a tourist out the front taking photos of the flag as it flies above.

The flag and acknowledgement are two ways in which we can do what our society has failed to do in the past. Only by being honest can we lay the foundation for closing the gap. It was a privilege to be there to see the flag permanently raised alongside the Australian flag and Victorian state flag — just as it has been a privilege to work alongside the Victorian Aboriginal community in achieving both that historic outcome and this historic outcome. I thank the Speaker for his leadership on this matter. I also thank the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, along with the crossbenchers for their support and the Presiding Officers and their staff for so graciously accepting the request.

But although this is a step forward, there is still a lot more to do. In the same letter to the Speaker and the President, I raised the possibility of a permanent acknowledgement of country being undertaken as well. An acknowledgement of country is important to us as non-Aboriginal people, and it is very important to Victorian Aboriginal people. Just as Victoria has a strong and proud Aboriginal history, it deserves to be understood and the continued connection to land stretching back many thousands of years deserves to be respected.

The exclusion from the connections of our history books and our classrooms can never be undone but, as the Premier said earlier this year, it is never too late to do the right thing, and paying respect to traditional owners is beyond symbolism. It is a small but respectful gesture that recognises Aboriginal people’s deep and continuous connection to land, and acknowledging country every sitting week in our Parliament demonstrates our firm commitment to working alongside Aboriginal people in protecting and preserving this rich history.

The Andrews government is delivering on its promise to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal Victorians to achieve better outcomes and opportunities. Supporting the principles of self-determination is at the heart of this commitment. It is not for government to dictate and decide what the Victorian Aboriginal future looks like, but we need to be open, transparent and, most importantly, respectful in working alongside the Victorian Aboriginal community. To achieve this the government is establishing a new engagement framework with Victorian Aboriginal leaders to inform the way forward, including a Premier’s gathering with Aboriginal leaders, relating to the future of Aboriginal people in Victoria; a new Victorian government ministerial forum with ministers across government and Aboriginal peak and statewide service delivery agencies; and also a new Aboriginal Victoria forum with traditional owners, registered Aboriginal parties, local Indigenous networks, Aboriginal community organisations, peak bodies, statewide agencies and other Victorian Aboriginal representative groups to look at ways we can best communicate and achieve what we need to achieve in closing the gap and delivering for Victorian Aboriginal people.

Earlier this year I distributed acknowledgement and welcome to country protocols to every member of the Parliament. As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Minister for Local Government, I also wrote to every council encouraging them to perform an acknowledgement of country and welcome to country before meetings and official events. I must say a lot of councils already had that process in place, and I thank them for that, but there are still many more to take that up. I have been struck by how prevalent the acknowledgement and welcome to country is in the councils I have visited. There is a lot more work to do, and I look forward to working with councils in doing that.

I therefore move that on the first day of each sitting week an acknowledgement of country is made by the Speaker. Like the raising of the flag above Parliament, this acknowledgement will mark another historic moment in recognising traditional owners in this country. Like the raising of the flag, it will acknowledge the continued strength and tenacity of Aboriginal identity. And like the raising of the flag, it shows that when governments are prepared to actually listen and to genuinely partner with Aboriginal people we can achieve great things.