Ged Kearney MP
Federal Labor Member for Cooper
31 August 2020
I'd like to acknowledge that I'm standing on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations here in my electorate of Cooper, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment (Jabiru) Bill 2020 and to support the amendment moved by my wonderful colleague the member for Barton. I pay my respects to the Mirarr Aboriginal people, who are the traditional owners of the Jabiru township.
As the member for Barton has indicated, Labor will support this bill. It will at last return the ownership of the town of Jabiru to the Mirarr people and allow for a community entity representing the Mirarr to hold a head lease over the town. It is a move long awaited by the Mirarr people and is supported by the Northern Territory land councils, and means that the traditional owners will at last be able to make decisions that uphold their cultural connection to the land.
This is a great outcome for the Mirarr people, who have withstood immense pressure from political and mining industry influences and worked so hard to maintain their own cultural identity and connection to the land. I offer my warmest congratulations to them and wish them all the very best in their endeavours to transform Jabiru from a town focused on mining to one based on the social, cultural and natural resource wealth of the region. As the member for Barton said, Labor stand with them in this hope, as we are committed to greater self-determination for First Nations Australians.
It is important that the House is reminded that it was a Labor government, back in October 2009, which set this course of Mirarr self-determination, with an in-principle agreement for amendments to the land rights act. In January last year Labor committed to a major upgrade of the Kakadu National Park visitor facilities. Undoubtedly, it was the knowledge of that commitment that spurred the Prime Minister to commit similar funding.
My electorate is named after William Cooper, a proud Yorta Yorta man. I am lucky enough to have met his direct descendant—his grandson, Alfred Cooper, known as Uncle Boydie—who came to Melbourne from his own lands to celebrate the electorate's renaming. Uncle Phil Cooper is a friend of mine and a great support to me. He is a great-nephew of William Cooper and resides in my seat, along with his family.
William Cooper was an Aboriginal leader born in Yorta Yorta tribal territory, around the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers, who lived from 1861 to 1941. He was a trailblazing activist for Aboriginal rights in the 20th century who spent his life working to advance the rights of our First Nations peoples. He was a skilled and courageous spokesperson who helped establish the Australian Aborigines' League, an organisation that fought for rights for our First Nations Australians. These included land rights, enfranchisement and, topically, direct representation in our parliament. William Cooper forged the establishment of National Aborigines Day, which is now celebrated nationwide as NAIDOC Week. He led the first Aboriginal deputation to a prime minister, to ask for federal control of Aboriginal affairs, in 1938.
He's also famous for standing up for other persecuted groups. Despite his own people's struggles, he led a protest at the German consulate in Melbourne against Nazi persecution of the Jewish community. This has been recognised by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as the only protest of its kind to have taken place in the world. He collected 1,814 signatures from Aboriginal people all over Australia, and a statue in his home town of Shepparton now honours that legacy. The statue depicts him holding that petition.
William Cooper was also a proud union man, an AWU member who laid the foundation for Indigenous industrial rights today. His legacy has inspired positive social change for First Nations communities in Melbourne and throughout Australia.
He would have been thrilled to know that the Aboriginal community has always been at the heart of the Cooper electorate's identity. Many First Nations peoples live and work in Cooper. That seat that now bears his name is home to many great Aboriginal organisations: the Aborigines Advancement League; the mighty All Stars football team; the Sir Douglas Nicholls Sporting Complex; the Aboriginal voice radio 3KND—that's 'Kool 'N' Deadly'; the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service; the Victorian Child Care Agency; the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, on campuses of the Federation University; the Victoria Aboriginal Community Services Association, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for Victoria; and Yappera Children's Service Co-operative.
It is also the home to the extraordinary Aboriginal owned social enterprise called Spark Health that trades as Clothing The Gap. Laura Thompson is the amazing Aboriginal woman who created the organisation. One hundred per cent of the profits from the sales of their fabulous clothing go to support, educate, advocate for and celebrate black excellence, adding value to Aboriginal people's lives. Their clothing is exemplary and proudly Aboriginal. Like so many Aboriginal organisations, they incorporated the wonderful Aboriginal flag into their designs. Those ubiquitous colours—red, black and yellow—are proudly flown by their products.
In June last year, Clothing The Gap, along with other businesses and NGOs, including several sporting codes, were issued with a cease and desist notice from WAM Clothing for celebrating and displaying the Aboriginal flag on clothing. Currently, WAM Clothing holds an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with the flag's copyright owner, Harold Thomas, to produce the Aboriginal flag. First Nations leaders and business operators are now expressing their grave concerns about this copyright agreement. The copyright of the Aboriginal flag is valid for Harold Thomas' life plus another 70 years, so potentially we are looking at another 100 years until the rights of the flag enter the public domain. I ask this: should WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous business, control the market and profit from the resistance, resilience and perseverance of Indigenous people?
Laura and her colleagues started the Free the Flag campaign, and there's a petition that was created by Clothing The Gap. Over 140,000 people have signed the #PrideNotProfit petition, which is calling for a change to the current licensing arrangements around the Aboriginal flag, with the common goal of freeing the flag from copyright. I'm proud to be an advocate for and a supporter of the campaign. I have worked with Laura and others in ensuring that senior Labor politicians are also supporting the campaign, and I was pleased to be able to host Laura and Nova Peris in Canberra so that they could discuss the campaign with parliamentarians.
As the member for Barton has already noted, Australia is made up of many Aboriginal nations, as well as the Torres Strait Islanders, and the Aboriginal flag is the one symbol that unites those nations. And yet we are slowly seeing the flag disappear because of WAM's decision to enforce its licensing rights. The famous red, black and yellow flag was missing from the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round. Instead, we saw a number of AFL teams sporting 'Free the Flag' guernseys at training, as the AFL is no longer able to incorporate the flag into their Dreamtime clothing. Many NGOs, including Aboriginal health bodies, proudly and successfully offer things like T-shirts with the flag on them as an incentive to attend and have health checks. They can no longer afford to do that now.
We hope many more organisations and people will join the protest and make it known that the flag should be able to be flown freely. Labor is now calling on the federal government to do more to protect the Aboriginal flag, which, as some say, is being held hostage. As the member for Barton said in her second reading amendment, the government should do everything in its power to free the flag so that it can be used by all Australians, while still respecting and protecting the rights of Harold Thomas.
Most flags, including the Australian flag, have their copyrights owned by the government and remain in the public domain, free for all to use. In terms of the nation, flags are the most public pieces of public property. Logically, there is an inherent contradiction when the Aboriginal flag is privately owned. Importantly, the government also recognised and proclaimed the Aboriginal flag in 1995, and again in 2018, under the Flags Act. Therefore, there is a legitimate expectation of free use of that flag.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians want no more and no fewer rights to the Aboriginal flag than we do to the Australian flag or the Torres Strait Islander flag. I commend the work of Clothing The Gap, Dreamtime Kullilla-Art and each and every organisation and individual who has added their voice to the call to free the flag. In the words of Laura Thompson, 'The flag represented a struggle and a resistance movement, and now it just feels like a struggle to use it.' Next year, in July, the flag will turn 50. Laura wants it freed by then. As the member for Barton has said, 'WAM should do the right thing and give the flag back.' Just because something might be legal does not mean it is right.
In my first speech, I said that the value of solidarity is what will drive me as a politician. I said:
"Solidarity is the expression of our shared humanity. It is the importance of not merely reaching out but standing beside. Solidarity is not individual charity but collective empowerment. Solidarity does not subsidise; it does not patronise. It is the fundamental recognition that the greatest human dignity is the experience of opportunity and equality."
Today I stand in solidarity with First Nations peoples in their quest to free the flag.
Authorised by Ged Kearney, Australian Labor Party, 159 High Street, Preston 3072