Thank you, Madam President. I am immensely honoured to be standing here before you as part of the 47th Parliament of Australia as a Senator for the Northern Territory.
The Northern Territory is not only geographically Australia’s gateway to South East Asia but it is a place of rich diversity and spectacular landscape. We boast some of the largest agricultural and mining industry operations in the nation, along with a prevalent representation of multiculturalism, Aboriginal land titles and language-speaking Aboriginal people. As a true Territorian it is this rich mix of co-existence that makes me proud to say I always was and always will be a proud Australian.
The growth of the Northern Territory and our government, as the youngest state or territory in Australia, have been rapid and should not be lost in any dialogue. The Territory as its own jurisdiction of self-governance is two years older than I am. My mother was born under a tree and lived within an original Warlpiri structured environment through a kinship system on Aboriginal land. Her first language was Warlpiri, and her own parents, my grandparents, had only just come into first contact with white settlers in their early adolescence. Despite this rapid advancement, much has been achieved and gained.
The Northern Territory calls a spade a spade. We are realists and this is likely due to the direct connection to our environment. We have space to think, and the harsh reality of our country is that you need to be very aware of your surroundings and yourself; otherwise, you could perish rather quickly. We have a foundation of a sophisticated but brutal culture, where it was kill or be killed over resources such as water, women and later livestock—food for survival—or from doing the wrong thing like marrying the wrong way or sharing knowledge that’s not yours to share.
Like many countries around the world, when cultures collide and are forced to find ways through socialisation, everyone is affected. Often, those that are left behind become even more marginalised and are preyed upon by many opportunists for monetary gain, power and control. This is no different to what we are experiencing in the Northern Territory—by Labor design. Wadeye, Tennant Creek, my family’s community of Yuendumu—nobody in Australia can pretend they don’t know the names of these places, and for all the worst reasons. Despite billions being spent, the violence and despair that puts these places and many others like them in the headlines is not changing. We need change and we need the right legislation to effect it. My vision, my hope and my goal is that we can effect change that will see women, children and other victims in these communities become as safe as any of those living in Sydney, Melbourne or any other Australian city.
My goal is to halt the pointless virtue signalling and focus on the solutions that bring real change that changes the lives of Australia’s most vulnerable citizens—solutions that give them real lives, not the enduring nightmare of violence and terror they currently live. It is not good enough that the streets of our Northern Territory towns—and other towns across regional Australia—have gangs of children aged six to 16 wandering around with no adult supervision in the early hours of the morning. It is not good enough that almost all of these children have witnessed, or been subject to, normalised alcohol abuse and domestic, family and sexual violence throughout their young lives and that that is the reason for their presence on our streets. Such neglect in great numbers would not be accepted in the prosperous suburbs of our capital cities.
My colleague and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser witnessed firsthand these scenes on the streets of my home town of Alice Springs and in nearby communities on his recent visit. I don’t know where else in Australia a member of federal parliament can provide a tour of the numerous places their direct family members have been violently murdered or have died of alcohol abuse, suicide or alcohol related accidents. On one route, I pointed out seven separate incidents relating to places we had visited and made reference to numerous other incidents across the Northern Territory, all just within my own family.
Just last week, 30-year-old mother of three, Alena Tamina Kukla, and her two-month-old baby boy, Orlando, were shot dead in what is coming to light as a murder-suicide. The families involved and our community are reeling from these not only deeply tragic but, I believe, avoidable murders. From conversations with her family, I have been informed her alleged killer had a history of violence and mental illness, and was due to face court for perpetrating violence against a former partner. We have a well-oiled supposed justice system in the Northern Territory that acts as a turnstile for offenders. More often than not, instead of being remanded, perpetrators are put on bail and, more often than not, while on bail, they perpetrate more violence. If the perpetrator had been dealt with appropriately, eight-year-old Isziah and three-year-old Tison would not be without a mother and a baby brother. The system is broken when it serves perpetrators exceptionally better than victims.
Another Indigenous woman in Katherine was killed by a woman close to her in a domestic violence incident in the same week. These killings occur so regularly in the Northern Territory that locals can’t help but feel desensitisation. Perhaps it is because of the scant—or often wrong—reporting from the media or the reluctance of the police media to report publicly. These days, we rely on social media and independent media outlets to provide our Territory communities with relevant details. The mainstream media have largely been silent on these latest killings. They have not sparked nationwide protests because the Indigenous victims have died at the hands of Indigenous perpetrators. Alena and Orlando were Australian citizens, like you and me. They deserve outrage to demand an end to violence and murder. They deserve to be acknowledged the same way that the women who protested to this very parliament deserved to be acknowledged. Their lives, like so many other lives taken in black-on-black violence, deserve better.
Community safety is pertinent to the lives of all Australians, and supporting our authorities to successfully provide community safety is key to ensuring it. When a child is forced to report sexual abuse, it is a police officer they must report to. Therefore, the strength of this relationship will determine the success of a conviction. The police officer may be the only person that child can truly trust. Yet there is an activist class determined to destroy the healthy relationships between our authorities and these vulnerable members of our society who need them the most. We must uphold the rights of all Australian children by maintaining the same high standards of quality of care for every child and never lower these standards based on racial identity, nor should we do the same for any Australian citizen under any circumstances relating to social need. Perhaps it is time to give serious consideration to transferring state and territory responsibility for the lives of children to the Commonwealth. I am acutely aware of the many failures of states’ and territories’ child protection systems to uphold and prioritise the rights of Australian children, who are not just our nation’s most vulnerable but who are our future. If we protect our most vulnerable and hold to account those who cause them harm, we can reduce violence and sexual abuse. Our focus must be to represent the interests of the victims before the perpetrators.
However, reducing violence and sexual abuse also reduces rates of incarceration. In the 30 years since the handing down of the royal commission into black deaths in custody we are told there have been 450 black deaths in custody. Despite the expectation the commission would find systemic racism a fundamental factor contributing to these deaths, the report found it was not in fact the case. Nor did it find Indigenous Australians more likely than others to be incarcerated but that we are grossly overrepresented. Our greatest problems lie with the fact that in the same 30 years over 750 Indigenous Australians were murdered at the hands of other Indigenous Australians, yet there is little concern or acknowledgement that this is why Indigenous Australians are incarcerated at such high rates. We cannot support legislation that fails to acknowledge the true causes of why Indigenous Australians are marginalised or false narratives that suggest racism is the cause when it has been proven over and again that this is not the case. We cannot support legislation that prioritises freedom of the perpetrator over justice for the victim in an attempt to reduce rates of incarceration or to minimise responsibility for criminal behaviour for the same purposes. The same standard of law and order must be upheld for all Australians regardless of background. We must not allow the racism of low expectations to prevail.
In his book, Arresting Incarceration: Pathways out of Indigenous Imprisonment, Don Weatherburn, the former director of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, outlines the causes that lead to incarceration. Leading factors include: poor parenting; child abuse and neglect; poor school attendance; and unemployment. These factors are cause for any person, regardless of race, to be more likely to commit an offence leading to incarceration. Just like Indigenous Australians are overrepresented in prisons, so too are they overrepresented in causal factors. Better employment outcomes contribute to better functioning households where children are more likely to attend school more often. Like my distinguished predecessor, Senator Neville Bonner, I believe free enterprise coupled with sound fiscal management in a progressive commercial environment forms the basis for economic independence. In other words, business and jobs are the key to economic health for a community, not the shackles of welfare dependency.
Under the current land rights act, coupled with growing welfare dependency, this environment has not had the opportunity to materialise for the marginalised traditional owners of the Northern Territory. This is a parlous situation I’m determined to improve. The intent of the act was to provide access to conduct traditional activity and to provide opportunity for economic use. But, despite traditional owners having around 45 per cent of the Northern Territory landmass and 80 per cent of the coastline under the act, and its serving over 30 per cent of the Northern Territory population, it has failed to deliver economic independence or generate employment opportunities. Traditional owners have been left to pick the lock that the layers of gatekeepers have welded so hard around the act.
Despite over 90 per cent of the land claims being completed across the Northern Territory and connection already being proven for generations, traditional owners are still being forced to repeatedly prove connection to place to successive anthropologists and representative bodies under the influence of opportunistic Indigenous community politics. It is a constant cycle of Indigenous-industry gravy-train consumers and a static system that gathers under the banner of opportunistic collectivism.
I believe in small government, which equates to small bureaucracy, so that Australians may get on with their lives more effectively. We must better determine where our national budget is being spent effectively, and change expenditure accordingly where it is not. Fiscal management is integral to the success of a nation, and therefore must be a leading component in all decision-making.
We have seen the immediate impact of the new Labor government’s minimum wage increase: forcing small businesses to close. The cries of businesspeople struggling with cost-of-living pressures, whose livelihoods are now destroyed, have fallen on deaf ears. This would have not occurred under a coalition-led government.
Tax cuts are what delivers an increase in a worker’s pay packet on payday. Tax cuts are what supports small businesses to survive through the pressures of increased cost of living, to ensure they do not have to lay off workers or close altogether.
It is not only the private sector that is suffering. Non-government organisations that provide services to victims in domestic violence situations are now being forced to reduce staff numbers. These staff specialise in work specific to supporting victims of abuse and the reduction of family and domestic violence. Careful consideration must always be taken when delivering legislation, so as not to produce outcomes that exacerbate already difficult circumstances.
Due to the impacts of the recent pandemic, our nation is currently struggling with a worker shortage across many sectors and industries. Foreign workers have played an integral part in maintaining a strong and functioning national economy. The agriculture visa that the farming and agricultural industries have been desperately calling for must be implemented. Their family businesses should not suffer any more than they have during the last few years, where millions of dollars of crops have gone to waste for lack of availability of a workforce. The flow-on effects disrupt food supply and place strain on our economy.
The strengthening of our national security and defence systems must be prioritised, given the geopolitical threats we are currently faced with. Simultaneously, we must encourage all Australians to recognise and take pride in our national identity—as, historically, we have done, effortlessly. Without a sense of unity and pride, we leave ourselves vulnerable to external forces that would delight in our demise.
Along with my fellow senators, we have been elected to the 47th parliament to represent Australians of all backgrounds—to be the voice of the voiceless. But, in order to do this, we must listen with intent and serve with integrity. It is not for us to be silent on issues that affect a particular demographic that we may not ethnically originate from or the gender we do not belong to. The purpose of our successful Westminster system is to courageously represent the interests of all. The tireless investment and effort of the former coalition government provided record funding for education support through scholarships and concentrated programs, and investments such as the Yellow Shirts program, getting kids to school, and investing in state and territory governments, universities and organisations.
We know that education provides choices. We invested hard so that better choices have resulted in better communities and lives. We now see the benefits of this investment, with more Indigenous doctors, architects, lawyers, teachers, business owners and tradespeople. Thank you to our Liberal and National Party leaders, to my Country Liberal Party predecessor, Senator Nigel Scullion, and to every Indigenous person who took this opportunity to build a better future for themselves and our nation. Your efforts are acknowledged.
In Australia, we have experienced historically significant acts of symbolism that include the 1991 reconciliation walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge. For six hours, 250,000 Australians of all backgrounds walked together to demonstrate the fact that we are not racist but are overwhelmingly in support of Aboriginal Australia. We have spent a week every year since, commemorating this event and what it means. Throughout Australia, the reinvention of culture has brought us welcome to country or recognition of country, a standard ritual practice before events, meetings and social gatherings by governments, corporates, institutions, primary schools, kindergartens, high schools, universities, workplaces, music festivals, gallery openings, conferences, airline broadcasts and so on and so forth.
I personally have had more than my fill of being symbolically recognised. It has become a racial stereotype that we Australians of Indigenous heritage should belong to and support the Labor Party. It was an exchange with the former leader of the Labor Party Bill Hayden, who conveyed this very stereotype, that compelled Neville Bonner to confirm his membership within the Liberal Party of Australia. Bonner had been handing out how-to-vote cards for a Liberal friend when Hayden exclaimed, ‘What are you doing handing out those how-to-vote cards? We do more for you bloody Aborigines than those bastards do.’ ‘Well,’ Bonner thought, ‘How dare someone come up to me and presume that, because I’m black, I should support a particular party!’
It is the same attitude we hear with platitudes of motherhood statements from our now Prime Minister, who suggests, without any evidence whatsoever, that a voice to parliament bestowed upon us through the virtuous act of symbolic gesture by this government is what is going to empower us. This government has yet to demonstrate how this proposed voice will deliver practical outcomes and unite, rather than drive a wedge further between, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. And, no, Prime Minister, we don’t need another handout, as you have described the Uluru statement to be. No, we Indigenous Australians have not come to agreement on this statement, as you have also claimed. It would be far more dignifying if we were recognised and respected as individuals in our own right who are not simply defined by our racial heritage but by the content of our character.
I am an empowered Warlpiri Celtic Australian woman who did not need and has never needed a paternalistic government to bestow my own empowerment upon me. We’ve proven for decades now that we do not need a chief protector of aborigines. I got here, along with 10 other Indigenous voices, including my colleague the senator for South Australia Kerrynne Liddle, to this 47th Parliament of Australia like every other parliamentarian: through hard work and sheer determination. That’s how we got here. However, you now want to ask the Australian people to disregard our elected voices and vote yes to apply a constitutionally enshrined advisory body without any detail of what that might in fact entail. Perhaps a word of advice, since that is what you are seeking: listen to everyone, not just those who support your virtue-signalling agenda but also those you contradict.
We see two clear examples this week of this failure to listen. We see the news that grog bans will be lifted on dry communities, allowing the scourge of alcoholism and the violence that accompanies it free reign, despite warnings from elders of those communities about the coming damage. Coupled with this, we see the removal of the cashless debit card, which allowed countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing the money claimed by kinship demand from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group. I could not offer two more appalling examples of legislation pushed by left-wing elites and guaranteed to worsen the lives of Indigenous people. Yet at the same time we spend days and weeks each year recognising Aboriginal Australia in many ways—in symbolic gestures that fail to push the needle one micro millimetre toward improving the lives of the most marginalised in any genuine way.
But we must always remember that our nation is not simply black and white. We are rich with the contribution of Australians of many backgrounds, 30 per cent of whom were born overseas, and this is one of our greatest strengths as a nation. My elders taught me that any child who was conceived in our country holds within them the baby spirit of the creator ancestor from the land. In other words, Australian children of all backgrounds belong to this land. They too have Jukurrpa Dreaming, and they too are connected spiritually to this country. This is what I know true reconciliation to be.
These teachings cannot be delivered through legislation, nor through any corporate reconciliation action plan. These teachings are about what it means to be a modern human in an ancient land. It’s time to stop feeding into a narrative that promotes racial divide, a narrative that claims to try to stamp out racism but applies racism in doing so and encourages a racist overreaction. Yes, it is time for some truth telling.
Our nation’s schools’ sole responsibility should be to educate, not indoctrinate, but we have in recent times witnessed the overwhelming politicisation of our children. Children are now encouraged to skip school to be paraded as activist spearheads by adults who place the weight of the world on their shoulders. Meanwhile, children in remote communities, where school attendance rates are in some places as low as 19 per cent, do not have the privilege of gaining an education that the activist class take for granted. Everyone wants to be an activist—to push governments to solve their dilemmas—but no-one wants to be responsible for themselves.
Our aim should not be to blame our current democratic institutions for all our perceived failures but to encourage the individual responsibility of all Australians. Where we fail is where we encourage others to believe responsibility for one’s own life can be avoided and disadvantage can be charged to another. We need to focus on nation building, not nation burning. Our laws as they stand now are not racist, as some will claim, but exist because we have overcome historical racist legislation.
I would like to acknowledge each and every proud Australian who has joined me, supported me and inspired me on my journey to this day. I would like to pay my respects to our nation’s elders of all backgrounds, who came together through hard work and sheer determination to forge an Australia we can all be proud of and whose shoulders I stand on at this momentous occasion. I want to thank my husband, Colin Lillie, for challenging me to challenge myself whenever I have needed it. Thanks to my sons, Leiland Castle, Ethan Castle, Declan Castle and Kinkade Lillie, for your many forms of love that have nourished me. I want to acknowledge my brother, Linawu, whose life ended too soon but whose love is always with me.
I also want to acknowledge those who have worked to support the goals and aims I have outlined today, including my mother, former Northern Territory minister Bess Nungarrayi Price; my father, David Jurrumarntarla Price; the Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory; the Centre for Independent Studies; my tatata Tess Ross and my pirli-pirli Theresa Ross; Heidi Williamson; Tamara Giles; Cheron Long; Warren Mundine; Elizabeth Henderson; Jamie de Brenni; Peter Cochran; Suzanne Ingram; Jim Franklin; Irene Drizulis; Anthony Dillon—my mixed up blackfella/whitefella family, who’ve done nothing but love me all my life—and lastly the people of the Northern Territory for trusting me to represent you. I’m here to represent the Northern Territory but also to support people across Australia who are experiencing the same problems and to help us all work towards real and lasting change for Indigenous Australians, white Australians and Australians from a myriad of other cultural backgrounds. Australian wati yungurlipa mapirri warrki-jarrimi—in other words, for all Australians.