Malarndirri McCarthy Speech: The Face of Closing the Gap

Malarndirri McCarthy is Labor Senator for the Northern Territory

Ten years ago, my families and I were grieving for the loss of my mother. She had died six months earlier and had been on dialysis. She had been on dialysis for quite some time—a number of years, actually. And in that same year, just prior to the apology and the first Closing the Gap report, my cousin-brother died as well. He was in his 40s. So our families were still grieving, in sorry business. In February 2008, the Australian parliament navigated through incredibly complex political walls, hard hearts and deaf ears to persevere and do what no other parliament in the history of the Australian parliament had done—to apologise, to say 'sorry' for the policies of previous parliaments and previous politicians that had moulded and shaped the tortuous and at times confusing and frustrating future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country.

So on that day in February 2008, in the Northern Territory parliament, stolen generation members gathered to witness what they couldn't see in person, what many couldn't make the journey to see here in this parliament. While those stolen generation members who had been removed from their homes and country sat in that hall, they watched family members, people they knew and people they didn't know enter the halls of this parliament. They watched where, on the lawns at the front of Parliament House, thousands and thousands of Australians had walked or driven to for that moment in our history. We must always hold onto that moment of incredible generosity of spirit of the stolen generations that received the words 'I'm sorry'. This parliament says, 'We are sorry.' It is that generosity of spirit that we all need to call upon and to reflect upon.

I pay tribute to the elders of this country, the traditional owners, the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples—Senator McCarthy then spoke in language—for my peoples, the Yanyuwa in the Gulf Country, because I know that when this parliament, which represents the Australian people, comes together on this day to seek a better future for the first nations people, we must do it with a generosity of spirit. We must allow the memory of this day to enable us to still persevere, to still strive to work together, because we know that there are deep systemic issues facing Indigenous people across this country in various places—remote, rural and urban.

Close the gap has a face. My family, my extended families: the Yanyuwa, the Garrwa, the Mara and the Kudanji peoples. They are the people, the faces, of close the gap. Senator Dodson and his family, his people, and the people that he represents are the face of close the gap. The member for Barton, Linda Burney, in the House of Representatives, is the first-ever Indigenous woman to stand in the parliament where the Prime Minister said 'sorry'. She is the face of closing the gap—her family and her children. And Minister Ken Wyatt and his family and extended family, and his history. That is the face of Close the Gap. So when members come into this house, or the other house, to talk figures and statistics, they are our figures and statistics. If I came in here to talk about your family, how would you feel? Each year, standing here, wondering if your family is going to have their children finish high school; if your family is going to go on to jail, which is what is expected; if your family is going to have a future on dialysis; or if your family is going to have employment opportunities on CDP to look forward to, for those who can graduate. That's what we're talking about here. This is the human story of closing the gap. It matters. It matters that this parliament takes it seriously.

When the minister stands up and talks about all these things—I know Minister Scullion and have worked with him over many years—I don't ever doubt the good intent behind what he tries to do. But he's not really the problem. It's the rest of you who sit beside him in cabinet. Where is your willingness to close the gap, to provide the housing instead of providing excuses?

I'm immensely proud of Labor's plan to establish a stolen generations scheme for members of the stolen generation in the Northern Territory and here in the ACT. When we come to government, we will offer payments of $75,000 to living stolen generation survivors who were removed from their families and committed to the care of the New South Wales Aboriginal protection or welfare boards. We will provide a funeral assistance fund, which will provide one-off payments of $7,000 to stolen generation survivors to assist with the cost of funerals. This scheme will cover approximately 150 surviving members of the stolen generations.

It's really sad, because three weeks ago I buried my cousin. He was a stolen generation member. He'll never get to see that support. But he did get to see the apology. When Australians came together on 13 February 2008, they came together in this House and there were many members on that side who didn't want to know the apology. I hope you may be able to reflect on where you were 10 years ago and where your spirit of generosity is this day. Because it was that gathering of all Australians who said, 'This is the right thing for this parliament to do,' and as one heartbeat our country came together. Let's hold onto that. Always remember that, and that is the spirit of the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples of this country that lives on every time and every year we stand to close the gap.

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