31st August 2023, 16:24
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

May I firstly join Dr Ratnam in expressing my thanks to Ms Watt for her heartfelt and eloquent presentation in opening this discussion. On behalf of my colleague Ms Payne, we pay our respects to the traditional owners of these lands and waters, which have never been ceded. We are an ancient country. We are a home to an ancient sovereignty – the oldest continuous civilisation in the world. For over 60,000 years this nation’s First Peoples cared for this country, living harmoniously with nature in one of the harshest environments in the world. The Uluru Statement from the Heart speaks eloquently of this legacy. It states:

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion … It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

Australia is also a new country. My family migrated to this new country, this new Australia, to make a better life for themselves and for their families, like so many others have done and continue to do. Indeed the areas that Ms Payne and I represent, the Western Metro Region and the South-Eastern Metro Region, with so many residents born overseas, epitomise this new Australia. Over the last 200 years this new Australia has given much to those who have come here and achieved some extraordinary things that we can rightly be proud of. At the same time, this new Australia has done some terrible things, none more so than to our First Nations people. We need to be clear eyed and honest about the consequences of what our 200-year-old project has inflicted and continues to do to these people, these Australians, these first Australians. There is no greater moral challenge than to reconcile the first people of this ancient country with those of the new. I believe this country we all love will not be whole, will not be right, until the old and the new are one.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart succinctly and powerfully articulates both the need for and the path to reconciliation of the old Australia with the new Australia: constitutional recognition, the enshrinement of a Voice, the telling of truths, and treaty. As a Victorian I am genuinely proud of our state government and of this Parliament for commencing this process. It has been done with integrity and inclusion and without great fanfare. May it continue to be fruitful in achieving its stated aims. On 14 October we have the opportunity to commence this process nationally through recognition and Voice.

I would like to note, however, in the context of the activities that have been undertaken here in Victoria, that contrary to Mr Davis’s doomsday scenario, the fabric of our society here in Victoria is in fact not unravelling as a result of this process. Mr Davis’s contribution wallowed in a swamp of paranoia and untruth. It was shameful fearmongering. It is a conspiracy theory that makes the X-Files pale into insignificance. I do not intend, however, to wallow in this disgusting swamp of disinformation and fearmongering. The Uluru statement ends with the words:

We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

That is the spirit we should embrace – not a spirit of paranoia, not a spirit of fearmongering. I hope and pray that the members of this chamber will take up this generous invitation to walk this path to a better future, a first step towards truly reconciling our past with our future.


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