Staunch, Blak and ready to shake the place up


In this excerpt from her first speech this month, Senator Cox reflects on the journey that brought her to Parliament and the work that lies ahead.

By Senator Dorinda Cox

Ngany kwel Dorinda Cox, ngany moorditj Noongar Bibbulmen Yamatji yorga wer ngany koora  boodiya yorga moort yey nitja yaak.

Ngany moort Kaneyang, Yued, Amangu wer Wajarri - South West wer Midwest Gascoyne,  Western Australia boodja, ngany maya-maya Whadjuk boodja, Boorloo.

Ngany kaaditj nitja boodja, nyitiyung barang. Ni, ngany karnarn, kalyakoorl Ngunnawal wer Nambrey boodja wer ngany waangk -kaya ngany moort, koora boodiya moort, yey boodiya moort wer yirra koorliny boodiya moort. Benang, boorda boodiya moort ngalak kalyakoorl doyntj-doyntj yaak.

Nitja boodja, ngany moorn moort boodja, kedalak, yey yoowart bibool nyitiyung wer ngany moort.

My name is Dorinda Cox and I am a strong Noongar Bibbulmen Yamajti woman and come from a long line of powerful matriarchs. I belong to the clans of the Kaneyang, Yued, Amangu and Wajarri peoples from the South West and Mid North West regions of Western Australia.

I acknowledge and pay my respects to the stolen lands on which we meet today that belong to the Ngunnawal and Nambrey peoples of this area and pay my respects to their Elders past and present and their emerging leaders who we nurture, love and support for the future generations who will continue our legacies.

Sovereignty of this country remains as there are no treaties with the First Peoples of this country.

I start this speech in the Noongar language, the ancient mother tongue of my Noongar Bibbulemen people where I live, work and raise my children.  I call Boorloo (Perth) my home, and the two dingo dreaming tracks are where I grew up as a child in Walyalup (Fremantle).

I want to acknowledge my mother Margaret, my brother Michael and my daughters Ailish and Ciara and the rest of my family and friends who are not joining us here in the chamber today due to the COVID restrictions of quarantine, but instead watching online. 

Firstly, it's not the same as providing this important and momentous first speech without having you all here with me. But I can feel the love, support and energy you are sending from afar today and I am comforted by knowing that you are all with me in spirit. I am well aware that the sacrifices I will make starting today and in the future serving as a senator for WA – will and do matter to you personally and that through my work we will be able to see the impact it will have on the lives of so many others. Thank you for generously allowing me to do that with your blessing and, more than ever, I want you to know this is possible because of you and that this is your legacy, too.

I've travelled from my home state, the fifth strong Greens woman from the west and I thank those that have welcomed me to country Billie, Leah, Paul, Tjanara and Jason at the Tent Embassy this morning and extend that also to those here in this place. 

I would also like to acknowledge my First Nations colleagues in this chamber and the house – my sister and Greens colleague Lidia Thorpe, Senators McCarthy, Dodson and Lambie and MPs Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney.

It is a humble privilege to join an esteemed group of First Nations political leaders past and present who have paved the way for us to represent the First peoples of this country and their issues in these political forums.

Looking back

It was the year 1994 that I first travelled here to Canberra, as a 17-year-old fresh faced young girl just out of school visiting my mum who was working for the Commonwealth at the time. While visiting the public gallery I read the Redfern speech of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. It was in this moment that I felt he understood the impact of mine and my family's story, one which is shared across so many families and communities etched in our past, but also in our present.

In particular when he said that “we removed the babies and we smashed the traditional way of life” and, as I reflected recently, this was a significant moment that sparked my interest in politics. But as I sat on the chair outside posing for a photo I knew there were no Blak politicians here in the Parliament since Neville Bonner, a Queensland senator in 1983, and it would be another five years til Aden Ridgeway came here as a NSW senator.

It is my dream to re-create this moment and others like it for many more First Nations and Australian girls and boys to spark their passion for participation in our political systems – rather than the sorrow or discontent I hear in their voices when they talk about our current system and representation. One I constantly hear doesn’t represent them or their future, particularly on issues like climate action.

I want every young person in this country to believe that regardless of your background – one day you could be standing here providing your first speech too, and that you have the right to belong in this system that should represent you and your issues. 

I pay my heartfelt gratitude to my party, the WA Greens, who took the step of making me the first First Nations woman from WA in the Senate. I thank the members for your confidence in me and your investment in our grassroots movement. Together our vision to continue this work of fighting for a future that prioritises people and our planet.

I join the Senate to follow the important and unforgettable legacy of my predecessor Rachel Siewert. Rachel’s work, as many of you know and commented recently, over 16 years her amazing drive, tenacity and leadership, working across all sides of this place is what we commit ourselves to do as part of our responsibilities. It is not my intention to replace her in this place but to continue with her same admirable dedication, passion and commitment in our work for the Australian people.

Looking ahead

My message to the people of my wonderful home state of WA: it is my honour to be your senator and to represent the voices and issues of our diverse people, place and circumstance which is our footprint, which is sometimes forgotten here in the federal Parliament. 

When I think about the sheer geographical size of our state it's easy to see why we are one of the most isolated places in the world.  When you travel the breadth of the state which I have in my life from Mirrawong country near Kununurra, to Wongutha country in the Goldfields, across to Malgana country of Shark Bay to Minang country near Albany and everywhere in between, we share some amazing and spectacular places.

My job will be to fight for our interests and issues to be heard and considered and to make sure our diverseness and uniqueness is recognised and respected for its valuable contribution to our nation's political, cultural, economic and social priorities.

Coupled with my vast lived experience, I come to this place through a journey shaped by opportunities, hard work and challenges.  I come to this place, not as a career politician but as a First Nations woman who has worked in the area of social policy for two decades at state and federal government levels of this country. I have worked on the international stage as a delegate on behalf of this and successive governments.

I bring those learnings into this place, coupled with my knowledge of my people, country and our history to make a difference in all of our lives.              

A shameful past

As a recognised leader in the international community, Australia has been heavily criticised for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and domestically we continue to see the ever increasing erosion of Indigenous rights including the rights to country and culture – which impact on our daily living. 

Under the cloak of economic and social development, we make laws and enact decisions in this country that destroy the fabric of social and cultural rights of our First Peoples, while at the same time asking them to extend a hand to reconcile a past – one they are unable to escape in modern day Australia.

This degree of marginalisation continues to perpetuate despair and hopelessness. This is not a new thing and in fact my Noongar grandparents had to apply for citizenship – not because they were not from here, but because they needed to access rations to feed their children in the 1950s. All because this was government policy and they were classified and treated differently because of their race.

The serious lack of political will by our successive governments to prioritise the implementation of its obligations as a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must change, we need action to go further than a debate or conversation in this place. Remodelling and reshaping this important process to create models for governance must include the voices of our First Nations people from our recognised political and community leaders to our grassroots people. 

A future we can be proud of

The time to do this is now and requires nothing more than courage and leadership from all of us here – bipartisanship to ensure the next generation are able to participate and enjoy the shared future that recognises, respects and elevates the sovereignty of our First peoples of Australia.

The only way I see to do this is to join other Commonwealth countries in creating our own National Treaty. We need truth-telling processes that pick up where the apology stopped, and bring together the sovereign nations, complimenting and enhancing state-based processes that enable us to drive localised change – and to hear the important stories that clearly articulate the experiences of First peoples in the conversation.

Co-producing a national framework for our national Treaty to speak directly to the Parliament – understanding two-way law and cultural practices that decolonises a system for the true benefit of the people.

A true national identity shaped and celebrated by every single Australian – one that we can all be proud of.

It's time for us in this place to create a shared vision, one that is grounded in humility and justice for our future generations and ratified through the internationally recognised treaty processes set by the global community. This work can and will bring reparative and restorative processes to our collective shared history and provide peace, healing and hope for our future Australian generations.

Watch Dorinda's full speech below:

Hero image: Auspic.

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