Waves of grief, waves of hope

Verbal brawls, a blatant disrespect of the Chairperson and very little in the way of robust, democratic and intelligent debate, characterised WA State Parliament on Thursday 20th February.

There was talk of private investment in resorts, golf courses, shopping centers and multi-story car parks; there was a mention of the quarterly CommSec report stating Western Australia ‘… remains the top-performing economy in the nation with no slippage in the ranking over the past few months.’

Then the Member for the Kimberley stood up, and the Parliament fell into a fidgeting silence.

The Hon. Josie Farrer gave notice to State Parliament that the State Constitution be amended to recognise Aboriginal people as the First Peoples of Western Australia.

“It is time—it is very definitely time—that we here in this Parliament, through our leadership, demonstrate that we are all equal in law, in humanity, in life and in death … I know this is not a timid step and I know there are people on both sides of this house who want to shy away from this because they will be afraid, but timidity has never achieved anything great,” she said.

“It will be a way to demonstrate to the rest of the nation that WA accepts and recognises that true reconciliation means bold action, brave people and meaningful dialogue.”

She commended the Premier’s commitment to introduce a bill recognising the Noongar people as the traditional owners of the south west of Western Australia, but reminded the parliament that not all Aboriginal people in this state are Noongar people.

“We may look the same to some of you mob, just like you white people look the same to us!”

There was laughter at this.

“(But) Seriously, what about our people? What about my mob, the Kija mob? What about the Nyikina, Yawuru, Karajarri, Ngurrura, Bunuba, Martu, Miriuwung Gajerrong or Ngaanyatjarraku peoples?”

Ms Farrer suggested the following words be added to the preamble amending theConstitution Act 1889:

‘And whereas the Houses of Parliament resolve to acknowledge the Aboriginal peoples as the First Peoples of Western Australia and traditional custodians of the land, the said Parliament seeks to effect a reconciliation with the Aboriginal peoples of Western Australia.’

Ms Farrer also touched on a number of crucial issues relevant to people living in the Kimberley.

She noted that while many constituents would have enjoyed a holiday over the Christmas break, this wasn’t the case for her. In the Kimberley over Christmas there were three suicides, including a 12-year-old boy in Halls Creek who hung himself.

“Suicide continues to create a wave of grief throughout my electorate,” she said.

Ms Farrer urged the Legislative Assembly to think about the bipartisan commitment given by members to the issue last year.

“What has happened since that time in communities to improve and support the mental health and well-being of people who need it?” She challenged. “Interagency collaboration and communication is still not fully utilised, and the current silo approach of departments is not effective. Procedures, especially for data collection methods, are not consistent and shared between departments that have a vested interest in the same situation—namely, police, Department for Child Protection and Family Support, youth justice, education and mental health.”

Ms Farrer then went on to ask why, in this state, with the top performing economy in the country, there are people living in third world conditions, children who miss out on weeks of education because the roads into communities are cut off by flooding, whole families crammed into homes with leaking sewage, exposed electrical wires and structural problems. She asked why the Indigenous housing package was delayed for two years, and now won’t be rolled out until 2015.

As Ms Farrer’s speech indicates, the reality on the ground in the Kimberley is quite different to the abstract reality of affluence and growth intimated by the recent CommSec report.

With this in mind, there continues to be a pressing need for the kind of work KRED Enterprises does in supporting local Aboriginal people to be active participants in the economy and to secure long-term economic independence for Aboriginal people in the region. By standing together we’re strong, and we have a real chance to make positive changes to address some of the issues Ms Farrer raised in parliament last Thursday.

But change needs to happen on a political level, as well as a community level.

KRED Enterprises and the Ambooriny Burru Foundation applaud Ms Farrer for beginning the push for a change to WA’s State Constitution. It’s well and truly overdue. We look forward to the day Aboriginal people are officially recognised as the traditional custodians of this land.