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Senator Pat Dodson urges youth to lead reconciliation

Dominic Giannini -

Highly respected Indigenous senator Pat Dodson has called for a sustained pathway to reconciliation, led by young people, as he farewelled politics.

Senator Dodson announced his retirement this week after returning to parliament following cancer treatment, saying he regretted not being able to actively campaign during the referendum for an Indigenous voice to parliament due to his health.

The West Australian and Yawuru man said the referendum result of 60 per cent against the voice showed Australia was a divided nation.

He said he left at a time when the nation was at a crossroads on Indigenous issues and the result could not mark the end of the debate.

"We need to heal through honest and open dialogue without the rancour and discord that infected too much of what passed as debate ...around the referendum," he told the Senate on Wednesday, in an emotional speech.

"We have the opportunity now to approach reconciliation on a basis of justice that will strengthen our integrity as a nation. Australians have become aware of these issues far more than they were before.

"This is an exercise I leave to the next generation, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth of this country, to pursue - those with vision, those with ambition, those with hope, those who love this nation."

Senator Pat Dodson receives a standing ovation after delivering his valedictory speech in the Senate (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The referendum result should not be seen as a repudiation of Indigenous people, but rather "as giving the nation a fresh opportunity to discuss substantive matters of reconciliation and hopefully to agree on resolution", he said.

Senator Dodson called for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a step towards dealing with the lingering legacy of First Nations disadvantage.

"First Peoples want control and management of their own affairs," he said.

"They want to have a constructive input into finding solutions to the chronic poverty, disadvantage and dependency that many of our people live with."

If governments worked together to reform human rights processes, implement the declaration and empower Indigenous people "then we will be able to contribute to a more substantive way of dealing with the reconciliation process and its challenges".

Truth telling and treaty would also be vital, he said.

The outgoing Labor senator received two standing ovations, one at the conclusion of his speech and a second as he left the chamber.

His final day in the Senate will be on January 26, three days before his 76th birthday.

Dominic Giannini - AAP

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