Australia Day Address 2019 – Delivered at the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens.

I’d like to acknowledge the Member for Wannon Dan Tehan and Warrnambool City Councillors present here this morning.

I wanted to acknowledge and thank Adeline McDonald for that wonderful Welcome to Country, how fantastic it was to hear it done in the language of the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gunditjmara people.

For many years I worked with the aboriginal community, they are a proud people, proud of their culture and heritage, and they have every right to be proud – their history spans back hundreds of thousands of years.

Last year at this very event, I spoke about the need for the entire community to learn and embrace the indigenous culture of our country.  We have made a start, but I still believe some of what we do is tokenistic and not from a place of true respect and understanding.

You’ll notice I didn’t verbally pay my respects to the elders of the land. That was intentional because I do not believe a simple line at the start of every speech I make is paying respect. You show respect through your actions and the way you deal with people.

Before I started working in the indigenous community, I thought racism was a thing of the past, that people were treated equally no matter the colour of their skin or their heritage.

I remember one day doing groceries with an indigenous woman and she said to me, take notice of how they hand back change to you and then watch how they give it back to me.

The change was placed directly in my hand, while the change for the indigenous woman was dropped into her hand from some height.

While that may not seem like a big deal to most of us, to the woman I was with it was a signal that she was different, she was not the same as me and the other customers in that shop.

It’s also not to say that it was done intentionally, but it was that day I realised there is still an underlying sense of racism towards our indigenous population, an engrained culture if you will.

We as a community must do better. We as politicians and leaders must do better.

We must truly work together with our indigenous population, to understand, embrace and respect the culture and we must listen and act on what they say will help their community feel accepted and embraced.

Until the indigenous community really feel that their culture and heritage – their story – has been understood, embraced and respected, and feel that what we do to recognise their history is not just lip service; we will never reach true reconciliation or equality.

As happens every year there is a debate about changing the date of this day. I do not have an opinion on that subject, because it is not my call to make. We need to have a meaningful discussion with our indigenous community, listen to their view and then work towards a consensus.

No matter what the date – I’m sure we will still see celebrations like this, to reflect on what we can be proud of as a country. To recognise this country had a long, rich history and culture prior to the arrival of European settlers and to look to our future as a proudly multicultural nation that embraces and celebrates the people who chose to make this country their home.

Congratulations to our local award recipients here in Warrnambool and in other community’s across the south-west and my warmest welcome and congratulations to those who are becoming Australian citizens today.

Thank you and Happy Australia Day.

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