Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe delivered her maiden speech to Federal Parliament on Wednesday.
Senator Thorpe, a proud Djabwurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman was sworn into Parliament in early October and is the first Aboriginal person elected to represent Victoria in the Senate.
In her speech, which was livestreamed on Facebook, the Senator addressed the need for climate action, and the destruction of Country by industry and Government.
“Here, in Australia, we have seen Rio Tinto blow up the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara, blasting 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in an act of cultural and environmental vandalism. We know they have more planned,” she said.
“In Western Victoria, ancient birthing trees are being destroyed. At this site, on Djab Wurrung Country, Aboriginal women have given birth to an estimated 10,000 babies over many centuries. My ancestors’ blood runs through the soil that nourishes these trees.”
“We’re tired of watching governments and their agencies pay lip service to an Acknowledgement of Country while at the same time destroying the very land they claim to respect.”
Identifying the desperate need to address injustice faced by Aboriginal people, Senator Thorpe spoke the names of eight people who had died in custody.
She reinstated that whilst there have been 441 Indigenous deaths in custody, no one person has ever been held criminally responsible.
The Senator addressed child removal, the age of criminal responsibility, suicide rates and called for Treaty.
“We can celebrate what unites us, protect the rights of First Nations people and acknowledge injustices, both past and present. There can be no justice without peace. Treaty could bring that peace. It would end the suffering and heal the wounds,” she said.
The Senator paid homage to the women in her family that came before her. She spoke about her great grandmother Edna Brown who was forced off Framlingham Aboriginal reserve during the White Australia Policy and established the Aboriginal Funeral Fund.
She spoke of her Nan Alma Thorpe, one of the founders of the original Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in 1973, and her mother Marjorie Thorpe, who sat watching her daughter deliver her speech, a co-commissioner for the Bringing Them Home Stolen Generations inquiry and a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
“This is where I come from. As I followed these strong women, I learned through one of the toughest periods of my life that strength comes from community. Living in the Collingwood housing commission flats saved my life,” she said.
“Public housing helped me escape family violence and gave me and my son the safety and stability I needed to get a job and pursue further education. That is what everyone deserves—a safe place to call home, secure work, food in their belly and the hope of a future with potential.”
Thorpe thanked the Greens Party and celebrated former Victorian Senator Richard Di Natale. She ended her speech with a promise of accountability and a vision of purpose.
“To every person watching today, particularly those who have lost hope in politics as a vehicle for change, I say this to you: change is possible. Hold me and every other elected representative in this place accountable,” she said.
“Our job is to serve you. We have an opportunity to build a stronger, more unified nation. I invite you all to come on this journey with me, a journey of truth-telling, healing and justice. Together, we can build a brighter future. And I’m here to fight for it.”
By Rachael Knowles