Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Observance Days

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (2.55 pm): I encourage Queenslanders to commemorate and celebrate three significant dates during the remainder of this month and June in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This coming Sunday, 26 May, is set aside for Australians to observe National Sorry Day to remember and honour the stolen generation. This day was first observed in 1998 to acknowledge the survivors of past government policies that allowed the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. Sorry Day is a significant day. It recognises the ongoing pain and suffering for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly separated as young children from their families and communities. This year’s theme is ‘Sorry. Still Living on Borrowed Time!’, which focuses on the stolen generation’s ongoing quest for justice.

The day after Sorry Day marks the commencement of National Reconciliation Week. This week, which will be held from 27 May to 3 June, marks two other significant dates in Australia’s history. On 27 May 1967, Australia held a referendum that saw Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census. On 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia overturned the principle of terra nullius or vacant land, as claimed by the British when they first arrived in this country. This day is now recognised as Mabo Day and this year celebrates its 21st anniversary. This year the theme of National Reconciliation Week is ‘Let’s Talk Recognition’. The week is a time for Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation effort. The 1967 referendum was a significant event when more than 90 per cent of Australians supported the right of Indigenous Australians to be recognised as equals. Some progress has been made in the past 46 years to redress Indigenous disadvantage, but we still have a long way to go to reach any sense of equality.

One area where we have made significant progress is in the recognition of the connection Australia’s first peoples have with the lands they inhabited for thousands of years before white settlement. The 1992 decision by the High Court in recognising the special connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with the land has paved the way for land rights now known as native title. Eddie Mabo became a national identity for the tireless battle he led to secure land justice for his people. I had the pleasure to be on his home country of Mer Island in the Torres Strait for the handover of the island to Indigenous ownership late last year. During that visit, I was privileged to visit Mr Mabo’s grave and felt very humbled by the experience. Across Queensland a variety of events are being held to commemorate and celebrate those three significant days and I encourage all Queenslanders to participate.