2023 AIATSIS Summit

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Perth, WA

Thank you Kerry Anne for the wonderful Welcome to Country.

I acknowledge Traditional Owners and Custodians of all of the country and waters across our great land –

And particularly acknowledge the Whadjuk Noongar people.

I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today from all points of the southern sky. 

Getting on with the job

When I spoke to you last year at the AIATSIS Summit on Kabi Kabi country – 

It was just a week after I had the honour of being appointed as Minister for Indigenous Australians.

I spoke with great enthusiasm about the things I’d be working on -

  • The full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart -  
  • Justice reinvestment - 
  • The NT homelands. 
  • Replacing CDP – 
  • And Closing the Gap. 

And a year on we’ve made progress. 

Our landmark First Nations justice package is starting to rollout. 

We’re investing in housing and services in the Northern Territory homelands – 

We’ve signed an agreement with the NT Government to deliver on the $100 million commitment to improve housing and infrastructure in NT Homelands –

We’re scrapping the failed CDP and replacing it with real jobs, real wages and proper conditions.

We’ve announced $97 million to support the New Jobs Program trial and to meet the sustained service demand. 

We’re making First Nations Australia part of the way we engage with the world, through the appointment of an ambassador. 

And it’s great to see the First Nations Ambassador, Justin Mohamed, here today.

I said we would continue to work with the Coalition of the Peaks on Closing the Gap – and lifting the ambitions for our people. 

And we’re doing just that. 

We’re improving First Nations health infrastructure - including renal services in the city and the bush. 

And we’re working with Aboriginal Controlled Health Services to train 500 extra First Nations health workers.

We that so much more needs to be done, but in our first year, we’ve hit the ground running. 


To Jodie and Craig from AIATSIS – thank you for inviting me again this year. 

AIATSIS is vital to the preservation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and stories –

And your annual summits are one of the ways we strengthen our cultures and knowledge.

First Nations stories are fundamental to the national conversation about our country’s history – 

The work you do to bring cultural material held overseas back to Australia - lets the world know that our culture deserves respect – thank you. 


The Noongar Settlement

Now, it would be remiss of me to stand here in Perth and not mention the Noongar Settlement. 

Native Title settlements always take time –

They involve long processes of mediation and negotiations - 

And the recent South West Native Title Settlement, was ground-breaking. 

It is the largest Native Title settlement in Australian history - 

And it formally recognises that, since time immemorial, the Noongar people have maintained a living cultural, spiritual, familial and social relationship with Noongar Boodja. 

This is an incredible demonstration of the Noongar people coming together – 

Controlling your destiny and building a solid future for generations. 

To the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council and the Noongar people – I say congratulations!

You inspire us all.


Towards the Voice referendum

Now, the theme for this year’s summit is “Navigating the Spaces in Between”.

And implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, is a way for Governments to better ‘navigate the spaces in between’. 

Because the Voice to Parliament will change the way Governments engage with First Nations people and knowledge systems –

And change it for the better.

To ensure more voices can provide innovative solutions – 

But before I get to why the Voice will make a difference. 

In the spirit of truth-telling - let me tell you a bit about my story.

Some of you may have heard it before – 

But at a summit like this, it’s important to remember who we are and where we came from. 

I am a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation. 

I grew up in a little town called Whitton – in the Riverina. 

I learnt to swim in irrigation channels.

We shared that water with yabbies, leeches and red bellied black snakes. 

I was born at a time when a white woman having an Aboriginal baby was shocking - 

And doubly so if that woman was not married.

My great aunt Nina, and her brother Billy raised me.

They were of Scottish heritage and in their 60’s when they took me in.

It was not easy for them.

It was an incredible act of courage.

But through their love and kindness – they gave me a solid start in life. 

And laid the foundations for the life I have today.

In 2010 I returned to Whitton.

It was the 150th anniversary of the local public school – 

I was a NSW Cabinet minister at the time.

And a man a little older than me — I guess he would have been one of the big kids when I was at school — said to me:

‘You know, Linda, the day you were born was one of the darkest days this town has ever seen.’ 

The darkest day this town has ever seen. 

I was so shocked I couldn’t respond.

That someone with my unlikely story – can be a Minister – 

The first, First Nations woman in the Federal Cabinet –

And the Minister for Indigenous Australians – is not lost on me.

But what matters is what this represents for Australia. 

How far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. 

I was 10 years old when Australians voted in the 1967 referendum. 

So for the first decade of my life, I wasn’t even counted as part of the Australian population.

Today, I am the Minister responsible for another referendum. 

This time to recognise our peoples in the Constitution through a Voice to Parliament.

And you know what, the nasty comments I used to get in the school yard, I now get those on Twitter and on Facebook. 

And the thing that gives me strength. 

The thing that motivates me to get up every morning and make the case for Australians to vote ‘Yes’. 

It’s you.

It’s the people in this room. 

It’s the people struggling to have their voices heard in Tennant Creek or Cooktown.

It’s the family in Fitzroy Crossing struggling to find a safe place to stay tonight.

You motivate me to do better. 

You give me strength to do better. 


A few weeks ago I was at Uluru to mark the 6th anniversary of the Uluru Statement.

To recommit the Australian Government to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full.

On that red dirt –

In the heart of the continent - 

We committed to Voice, to Makarrata, to truth-telling and agreement-making.  


Now, I want to give a special shout out to all the WA mob out there – 

You’ve got a big job helping me with this referendum – 

A big job. 

And tonight I’m pleased to say that soon I will be joining you by crisscrossing WA for a whole week – 

I’ll be listening to and talking with communities about the Voice referendum - 

From Kununurra to Claremont. 

From Perth to the Pilbara. 

I’ll be there with you, having a conversations with everyone about why we need a Voice. 


Because, we are at a defining moment in our history – 

This referendum is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

We have within our grasp the chance to make a positive change that will last for generations.

A change that will outlast all of us here. 

An enhancement of our democracy – by giving our people a Voice. 

A recognition of our peoples in this country’s founding document. 

A chance to make structural change that can address the injustices of the past and create a better future. 

Friends, history is calling us. 

And I hope more than anything that the answer is “Yes”. 

“Yes” to a Voice to Parliament. 

“Yes” to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. 

“Yes” to a more united Australia. 

And when the history of our generation is written – 

Let it say that we were the generation that voted to give our people a Voice.

Let it say that we were the generation that finally closed the gap. 

Let it say that we made Australia a better place, for everyone.

Thank you.