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Senator Patrick Dodson (ALP-WA) – Maiden Speech

Senator Patrick Dodson delivered his maiden speech to the Senate today.


Dodson, 68, was chosen to fill a casual vacancy from Western Australia in the Senate, on April 28, following the resignation of Joe Bullock. He sat briefly in the 44th Parliament but did not make a maiden speech before the Parliament was dissolved for the July 2 election.

After taking up his position, Dodson was immediately elevated to Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader. Following the election, he was made Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Previously a Catholic Priest, Dodson was Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1989. He is a former chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and a former director of the Central Land Council and the Kimberly Land Council. He was Co-Chair of the Expert Panel for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.

  • Listen to Dodson’s speech (25m – transcript below)
  • Watch Dodson (25m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Patrick Dodson’s maiden speech.

The PRESIDENT: Pursuant to order I now call Senator Dodson to make his first speech. I ask honourable senators to extend the usual courtesies to him.


Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (17:01): Ngaji mingan, Mr President? How are you, Mr President?

The PRESIDENT: Gala mabu ngangan. I am good. Gala walju! Go ahead.

Senator DODSON: Yawurugun Janu buru Rubibi. I am from Broome. Ngayu nilawal Djagun. My name is Djagun. Ngayu Banaga wamba. I am a Banaga man. I acknowledge with respect the traditional owners of this country, the Ngambri and Ngunuwal people, their elders and their emerging leaders and I thank everyone who has made me welcome here.

I now come to this place, elected by the people of Western Australia. I am honoured to serve our great state and thank the people of Western Australia for their confidence and trust in me. I will carry out my responsibilities and commitments to all Western Australians with dedication and vigour. I come to this upper house, the Senate, very mindful of the traditional role of this place to represent the views of the states. I know that at times our views in the Senate may challenge those of the House. I pledge myself to negotiating any differences with respect and courtesy.

I am committed to working closely with our Labor team, led by our leader Bill Shorten, and all of my Senate colleagues to make a difference for the future of our country. I am particularly honoured to serve in the 45th Parliament with my Aboriginal sisters, my fellow Labor colleagues, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy in the Senate, and Linda Burney in the House of Representatives. I also acknowledge my Aboriginal and Torres Strait brothers and sisters in both houses of the Australian parliament, and those who have led us here, such as Queensland Liberal Senator Neville Bonner, Senator Aden Ridgeway, and Senator Nova Peris.

The Senate and the House are now becoming more representative and inclusive of all the peoples of Australia. It is a positive step along our road to have Aboriginal people participating directly in the process of making Australian law. This was not the case at the time when our founding document, the Australian Constitution, was drafted. The only two express references in the Constitution were section 127 and section 51(xxvi), and both related to our exclusion—a situation that lingered in the constitutional landscape of this nation until the 1967 referendum.

The presence of the First Australians, who occupied this continent for millennia, in this great land was disregarded. Something that Bill Stanner in his Boyer lectures referred as to as:

…a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale.

Clearly, there is work to be done to address this, with constitutional recognition of the First Australians being an important step in this process. I look forward to the report of the Referendum Council and working with the 45th Parliament on this very important task.


I am a proud member of the Yawuru people of Broome. In the Yawuru language from around Broome there are three key concepts from the Bugarrigarra which shape our ways of knowing and understanding. These concepts will inform my work here, as they have formed my being. They are: Mabu ngarrung,a strong community where people matter and are valued; Mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; Mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community. Its essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.

These concepts are not newly minted. They come from the time before time began. We call this the Bugarrigarra—from when the earth was soft and yet to be moulded and given its form by the creative spirits. The Bugarrigarraencompasses the time well before Western philosophy, religion and laws existed or travelled to our lands in ships.

In 2006, after 12 years of litigation, the federal court recognised the native title rights of the Yawuru, and therein acknowledged the existence of our laws and customs under Bugarrigarrain Australian law. The Yawurunow hold some 530,000 hectares of land in and around Broome. Much of the Yawuruland is held under exclusive native title. Other parts are non-exclusive title. However, native title rights are vulnerable to the principle of extinguishment, which has the effect of returning native title rights to our lands and waters to terra nullius or Crown land.

When the Federal Court handed down its determination in 2006, the Western Australian state government appealed the decision. But two years later the full bench of the Federal Court upheld the original decision. During and following the appeal, formal negotiations were undertaken between the Yawurupeople, the state government of Western Australia and the shire of Broome. In February 2010, these good faith negotiations led to a native title agreement signed by all the parties and registered with the Native Title Tribunal in August 2010.


The ILUA—the Indigenous land use agreement—settled some key matters of land tenure and governance for the state and for the Yawuru people. The agreement provides a basis for building economic opportunity in our shared, cosmopolitan world subject, of course, to market factors and opportunities. The agreement-making process and the agreement itself help both communities to face up to the unfinished business of our place, of our country and of our status within the confines of the act. They do not settle, however, fundamental matters of colonisation and dispossession. It is not a panacea, applicable in every case, but shows that local and regional agreement-making is achievable and can be mutually beneficial.

It has refreshed our spirit, our liyan. It enabled us to move on from the many mistakes, poor policies, ignorance and outright racism that have bedevilled us in the past. We now come to the table in our own right: respected as legitimate stakeholders, whose rights can no longer be bypassed, ignored or simply extinguished without compensation. It is one model of agreement making I can commend, while recognising such a model cannot be adopted in all parts of our diverse country. Its limitations are that it does not deal with the claims of sovereignty that many Aboriginal people argue has never been ceded or surrendered. The basis for settlement remains contested since the discredited legal fiction of terra nulliuswas exposed in the High Court Mabodecision.

As a senator from Western Australia, I will work with my parliamentary colleagues in this place and elsewhere in shaping the social and economic future of our state and the nation as a whole. I am especially focused on the needs of those who live in the regional and remote parts across this great land of ours, particularly in Western Australia. I firmly believe that to be successful in this endeavour we must ensure at all times the full and active engagement of all of our people. I will be working in this place to: make sure that fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are locked up in our prisons; help develop northern Australia, in partnership with regional communities, industries and Aboriginal people; build consensus on changing our constitutional framework, recognising the need for meaningful discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a treaty or treaties; and ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and their organisations are key decision makers and empowered partners in programs to transform the current levels of injustice and bureaucratic domination.


In joining my fellow senators, I acknowledge and welcome those of my colleagues who are also new senators. We have become good schoolmates in Senate school. Some, though, have been elected on platforms which I will undoubtedly find challenging. I will not be averse to argument and debate on these issues. This place is, after all, the sanctuary of free speech. The debates will, however, need to be informed by the fundamental principles of respect for the diversity and richness of our various cultures in Australia, and the recognition of our shared humanity. We know, as a fact, that some Australian legislation in the past was founded on outmoded patterns of thought and belief. Our laws have, at times, been based on ingrained paternalism and racial superiority, denying our shared humanity. Such mindsets justified repeated acts of greed that grabbed the lands of our people without negotiation, settlement or compensation—and at times at great human cost, with many lives being taken or cut short. Those laws built bureaucratic systems and processes that controlled the lives of our people; stifling life choices; creating the sorrow, pain and anguish of children ripped from the arms of their mothers.

My family, along with most Aboriginal families, carry this pain in our recent history. I was born before the constitutional changes of 1967. I was hiding in the long grass in the Northern Territory town of Katherine and watched my age-mates being taken by welfare and police. In Katherine I also watched in fear as white people were bussed in to the town hall meeting, where they vented their hatred and anger against Aboriginal stockworkers for walking off Wave Hill Station and for demanding justice and equal wages. The Australian law at that time was unarguably founded on a social outlook that was highly ethnocentric, even racist. Many of the laws were genocidal in intent, application and consequence. The same moral compass justified the American laws that mandated racial segregation in the US before the civil rights movement. Such views and laws led to the horrors of Soweto and Robben Island and even the hate crimes of Nazi Germany. These systems of laws and regulation shared the same legal, intellectual and moral parentage. These laws and regulations cannot be permitted to emerge once more in our precious democracy.


Our Australian democracy evolves and grows as our nation matures. In times past, people of a different race, a different colour, a different religion, a different sexuality were subjected to exclusion, oppression or discrimination under the laws made in this place. Such laws cannot and must not return to this place. I want to work with all of you in building an Australian nation that is characterised, as it is said in Yawuru, as Mabu ngarrungu—a strong community; Mabu buru—a strong place, a good country in which all Australians of all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities have a life influenced by Mabu liyan—a healthy spirit with the good feelings and sense of worth that comes from mutual respect and balance.

All of us, regardless of race, culture or gender, share a strong identity as Australians wanting to build a common, tolerant and prosperous future together. If we work to find what we have in common rather than what divides us, I believe that we can be better people; we can build a better Australia; we can build a better place for the next generation together.

I would like to express my deepest thanks to my family—and some of them are here today—my friends and the many supporters who have assisted me on my journey to this place. In coming here I have been warmed by the welcome from the Parliament House staff, as well as the security team and the Comcar drivers. I especially wish to recognise all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, men and women, who have gone before, and those who continue every day in the struggle for justice and equality. I acknowledge respectfully the women who have taken on leadership roles for our people—women such as Faith Bandler, Bonita Mabo, Mum Shirl, Lowitja O’Donohue and many others across our lands.


In closing: I was privileged last month to be at the 50th Anniversary of the Gurindji walk off by the stockmen and their families from Wave Hill Station near Katherine in the Northern Territory. The Gurindji, led by Vincent Lingiari, walked off in protest at poor working conditions and living conditions on the station, but at the core of the strike was a fight for land justice, for equality, for recognition of a people’s right to their law, to freedom, to justice and a fair go. Their stance was proudly supported by the union workers of Darwin and by many non-Aboriginal Australians from across Australia.

When Gough Whitlam handed the title to the Wave Hill pastoral lease back to the Gurindji in 1975, he poured dirt from the country into the hands of Vincent. At the time, Prime Minister Whitlam said:

I want to acknowledge that we Australians still have much to do to redress the injustice and oppression that have for so long been the lot of black Australians.

I want to promise you that the act of restitution which we perform today will not stand alone – your fight was not for yourselves alone and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.

All Australians everywhere have been lifted by this powerful moment of moral truth and justice; a moment that made Australia a better place, the kind of country we want to be.

Vincent’s reply to the Prime Minister was in Gurindji, translated as:

Let us live happily as mates, let us not make it hard for each other.

It was a testament to his strength, his resilience and his generosity of spirit. After a century of theft, of violence, of dehumanising exploitation, of structural and institutionalised racism, of a stolen generation policy, genocidal in its intent and its impact, this leader was ready to move forward to build a better place. Vincent held a vision for his people’s freedom—a vision based on fair treatment, getting country back and getting people back on country. His vision was for equal wages, for a self-sufficient, independent, economically secure and culturally grounded community free from oppression and degradation. This vision was never fully realised, but it remains a worthy vision for us all.

In this Senate, I want to work with my fellow senators to help to build a better country, a better place, a strong, just and inclusive Australia. I look forward to our work together.



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Malcolm Farnsworth
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