In two weeks time, though, it’s 50 years since Queensland Liberal senator the late, great Neville Bonner entered the Australian Senate and he was selected on merit to represent his state and the Liberal Party just four years after the Liberal government held the 1967 referendum to essentially recognize that Aboriginal Australians were people for the purposes of the census and so forth. So when you think about it, Neville Bonner’s achievement 50 years ago was phenomenal. It wasn’t a quota anywhere in sight.
And until this particular monumental moment, Neville bought, his story really was very typical of a person born in 1920 to poor educational opportunities. In fact, they only completed year three. But his personal determination to achieve for himself made him anything but typical. Neville Bonner went on and served the Australian Senate for 12 years, and while he eventually lost the numbers that he needed in the Queensland Liberal Party to stay in a winnable position on the party ticket, Nepabunna never saw himself as a victim, nor did he believe anyone owed him.
He was his own proud man. Neville Bonner inspired many, and he brought his culture and his traditions to work for all Australians. He saw his role as unifying Australians of all backgrounds. I never met him a couple of times, but my wife knew him when she was first starting out. And Neville was really in the last year or two of his time as a senator. My wife was a very young Coalition staffer in those days, and she often shared travel time with him between Brisbane and Sydney.
And they were fun times to like when Lorraine booked him into a nonsmoking seat just for a joke because they all said he needed to give up the diaries. But my wife liked him and admired him, which is, of course, good enough for me. This week is National Sorry Day and National Reconciliation Week. There’s been a lot of virtue signaling from the usual political and business suspects, but this, I think, masks their consistent failure to recognize the crisis in our first Australian families and the communities they are part of that hasn’t been repaired by the carefully crafted statements we’ve heard this week.
You say it’s what you do when no one’s watching, which actually counts. And most of the virtues signalers sadly seem to be doing nothing. One big failure is to recognize the against odds achievements of people like Neville Bonner. And those achievements are actually in reach. If we make families safe from violence, family safe from the perils of alcohol, poor nutrition and give them supported educational opportunities. I believe all Australians deserve equality of opportunity, but we are all guaranteed an equal result.
But all lives do matter. And a few words over a few days like we’ve heard again this week, and that only happens once a year, isn’t the answer for the reality of higher than the Australian average infant mortality, poorer than the Australian average education outcomes, earlier than the Australian average death? It’s just dreadful what our first Australians continue to suffer. It is a disgrace that black like Neville Bonner might have been gone for now, what? Twenty-two years.
But his example should never be forgotten. But I think actually it has been I think actually in a lot of ways, so much of the debate has gone backward since Neville Bonners enormous personal political achievement. There are so many in public life who now just prefer to admire problems rather than solve them. That’s just too many people who seek to divide us rather than unite us, create more victims and perpetuate situations which frankly, we should have solved by now. After one hundred and twenty years since Federation and over two hundred and fifty years since Cook arrived here, it is sad to think that there are those who want to perpetuate divisive approaches to create a sort of separate development industry for our first Australians.
And by definition, separate development means Australian apartheid hurting too many children and their mothers robbing too many of them of the equality of opportunity the people like Neville Bonner wanted for all of us. And for this, I got to say to you, I am very sorry and I am very, very sad and quite angry.