Speech in Parliament - Lidia Thorpe: I rise to grieve for all Victorians and Australians who believe 26 January is not a day of celebration. On 26 January I attended the biggest Invasion Day rally Victoria has ever seen. I marched side by side with more than 60,000 others in solidarity as well as those joining withus in spirit.
I want to acknowledge and thank the young women of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance for mobilising and uniting us in protest. I have been attending Invasion Day marches since I was five, and now as an elected representative for the people of Northcote I will continue to represent the voices of so many Victorians who want to acknowledge 26 January as a day of mourning.
When I woke up on 26 January, my first thought was not whether I had enough sausages for the barbecue. I thought about how terrified my great-great-grandfather must have been, hiding in a log with his brother as they watched their parents being massacred. I thought about how he must have felt seeing his children herded onto missions where they were forced to stop talking their language and had to live on rations in a prison camp.
Being a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman it is painful to know we once had over 50 clans of the Gunditjmara. Today just seven survive. And we are not alone. Of the estimated 300 clans that once lived in Victoria, about 100 survive today. We were invaded and have resisted and stood strong for 230 years since the arrival of the First Fleet.
Aboriginal people in this country have never ceded their sovereignty. Aboriginal people have recognised 26 January as a day of mourning long before it became the national holiday it is today. It is the day our country was invaded, triggering the systematic dispossession of our lands and genocide against our people.
It hurts to see such a public display of celebration when all you feel is grief. We have a system that fails us and a culture that rubs salt in the wound by partying on a day that marks our dispossession.
We absolutely need a day to celebrate everything we love about our Australian dentity — mateship, freedom, diversity and a fair go — but we need a day for all Australians. To have part of the country celebrating while another is in mourning divides us, and the sooner we change the date, the sooner we can move forward as a united people. We cannot alter history, but we can learn from its mistakes. The first step is telling the true history of our country.
I believe that if people were to have a clearer understanding of our country’s true history and the atrocities that began as a result of 26 January, most Australians would agree it is not a time to celebrate. Here in Victoria, this Parliament has the power to change the date. We hold the legislative responsibility for the Public Holidays Act 1993.
We also hold the moral responsibility. The Premier has claimed to lead the ‘most progressive government in the most progressive state’, yet he has suggested that performing an acknowledgement of country on 26 January makes it A-OK to keep it as Australia Day. That is absolute rubbish. A truly progressive government would agree that the injustices of the past that continue today against Aboriginal peoples should not be papered over with a simple acknowledgement. A truly progressive government would lead the country in action and reform. It would change the date and campaign for other states to follow.
But it is not just about a date. As well as cultural events that unite rather than divide us, we need real policy change that leads to better outcomes for Aboriginal Australians. Australia continues to be the only commonwealth country in the world to not have a treaty or treaties with its first peoples. Here in Victoria I stand with the tens of thousands who joined me in protest on 26 January.
There are now countless Australians calling for true self-determination for Aboriginal peoples. True self-determination is not merely acknowledgement or recognition. It is action and agency. It is clan-based treaties to ensure all family groups have free, informed prior consent, in line with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The government has initiated a process to develop treaties in Victoria. We have the opportunity now to get this right. Unfortunately so far the government’s process on treaty has been less than ideal. It has failed to properly engage the clans.
With this honour the people of Northcote have bestowed on me, the honour of being elected as a representative of the people, I promise I will do whatever I can to ensure that this government starts to address the injustices against the first peoples of this land. I will continue to speak out against the celebration of the invasion of this land. I call for truth telling, so that the depth of the atrocities can be heard and the healing can really begin.
This is not the time for weak political hearts. I will fight to ensure that the lie of terra nullius, the lie that this land was vacant of people and all the injustice that went with it, is finally rectified through treaties with the clans.
I know that one day we will set these things right. We will heal the hurts and create a just system, so that future generations of clan elders, women, men, youth and children will be able to walk unburdened by the pain of living in a country that has denied their sovereignty. One day soon we will all be able to walk forward together with equal footing and shared understanding as Victorians.