South Sea Islanders

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (2.27 pm): One hundred and fifty years ago the first South Sea islanders were brought to Australia to work as indentured labourers in the Queensland canefields. This practice, known as ‘blackbirding’, represents a grim period in Queensland’s history. Many were taken against their will; others were simply deceived. Some of these people were out fishing when they were taken; others were picking up shells on the beach. They came from Tonga, the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides, which is now Vanuatu, and many other islands across the South Pacific. This shameful practice continued from 1863 to 1904. The practice was phased out when the White Australia Policy was adopted. While many South Sea islanders stayed in Australia, others were simply dumped back onto South Pacific islands, often not the ones from which they originally came.

It is important that we take the time to acknowledge the significant contribution—and ongoing contributions—that these people have made and continue to make to this wonderful state we all call home. We need to let the wider community know about the shameful past that brought South Sea islanders to our shores. We need to demonstrate all these years on that we—all Queenslanders—are proud of the contribution Australian South Sea islanders have played in our collective communities. 

Madam SPEAKER: Minister, do you wish to seek leave to have your speech incorporated?

Mr ELMES: Yes, thank you. 

Leave granted.

Madam SPEAKER: I have viewed the speech.

Australian South Sea islanders have played a huge role not only in the development of Queensland’s primary industries, but indeed in every area of life. Be it business, sport, community services, education or the arts, Australian South Sea Islanders continue to have a positive impact on, and input to, our society as a whole. Just recently I approved more than $40,000 in grants for South Sea Islander based applications to assist with the commemorations of the 150th anniversary. Madam Speaker, it is important the South Sea Islander groups recognise and celebrate this significant anniversary in a personal way. The Newman Government has assisted in ways like supporting the recent Vanuatu-South Sea islander Invitational rugby league team on a tour of the Queensland Coast. This tour has connected players from Vanuatu, with Queenslanders who are of South Sea Islander heritage and given them an opportunity to represent their nation together. The team played games in Rockhampton and Townsville, with stops in Bowen, Proserpine, Ayr and Mackay. Unfortunately the game in Mackay was washed out. Nevertheless the tour was well supported not only by the South Sea Islander Community, but the wider community as well.