Wednesday 1 February 2012

Like most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I am heartbroken that the events of last week have caused distress and division amongst our people.

I am here today as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner due to the efforts of our elders.

It is the efforts of early campaigners, including those who established the Tent Embassy 40 years ago, that have enabled people like me to access and pursue education and employment opportunities that would have been unheard of in our elders’ lifetimes.

However, the struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is far from over.

If we are to overcome the challenges that we still face, and there are many, we must engage constructively with each other, peacefully and respectfully.

It is time for us to change the conversation.

It’s time for us to come together and include all views and opinions in the debates we have been having and must continue to have.

But we must do this in a robust way and in a safe way where all of our people are able to voice their opinions, no matter what end of the spectrum they come from, without fear of abuse or harassment.

I’ve said since I stepped into this role that the legacy of our dispossession and oppression which manifests in lateral violence in our communities continues to undermine our best efforts to move forward.

I stand by my belief that violence, harassment and threatening behaviour in any form is unacceptable in any circumstances. It is also counter-productive - in our dealings with others and in our dealings with each other. For these reasons it is immaterial whether someone else was violent first or to a greater degree.

From the outset of my term, I have said that I will invest my efforts building and strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the non-Indigenous community.

It is precisely times like this when we have to focus our joint efforts on achieving this.

It is the perfect time for us to work together towards solutions to the issues that we all agree must be resolved – be they issues of sovereignty and self-determination or ensuring that remote communities have access to clean drinking water.

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Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597