Opening remarks Coral Bell School inaugural annual lecture on Indigenous Diplomacy, Australian National University, Canberra

  • Transcript, E&OE

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much, Brian, for that introduction and to Tony, thank you for hosting this.

I start, appropriately, by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land upon which we meet today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri Peoples, and pay my respect to their elders, past, present and emerging, and acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present here today.

I restate the Albanese Government's commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, voice, treaty and truth.

I acknowledge and thank you, Paul, for your Welcome to Country. Being welcomed to country is a powerful reminder that diplomacy has been practised here for millennia and that these practices still live on today. It also reminds us that the First Nations peoples of this country were this land's first diplomats.

So I acknowledge the presence of First Nations leaders here at the ANU. And I thank the Coral Bell School for extending invitation for me to speak today at this inaugural lecture on Indigenous diplomacy. Thank you, Dr Mary Graham, Dr Morgan Brigg and also James Blackwell.

Before I move on, though, I just wanted to pick up something about matriarchs. I haven't actually been called a matriarch before. I'm not sure whether to be happy or worried. But I want to just say to you, I think it is a very powerful thing to say and to speak of.

And just to share, if I may, with you, for me, the matriarch in my life was my grandmother, Madame Lai Fung Shim, who was about this high, very small Hakka woman in Sandakan in Malaysia. Widowed during the war. Who lost many children. But whose determination kept my father alive through that period. And because of her, I stand here today.

So I turn now to First Nations people and diplomacy. And I think all of us here understand that knowledge and stories have power and offer connections previously unrecognised or unseen. To draw connections between, to quote that wonderful title, old peoples and new pragmatism.

On taking office as Foreign Minister last year, I made a commitment that I would seek in this role to tell Australia's full story, our modern diversity and the rich heritage of our First Nations peoples. This is a national asset and a source of strength. It opens new ways to engage on shared interests with partners in our region.

I've been to quite a few countries in the Pacific. It's a very big ocean. And throughout Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, I have been welcomed by traditional owners and the centrality of traditional custodianship, customs and leadership of the Pacific way is something Australia should respect in our regional engagement. And it is something we should be sharing with the Pacific family by elevating perspectives and voices of First Nations people across communities, across the blue Pacific. We have the capacity to build on common ground together.

We've already taken steps to elevate First Nations voices in our international engagement. In September last year, I was honoured that Senator Patrick Dodson and I shared a roundtable in New York on indigenous approaches to foreign policy with representatives of Canada, Finland, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States.

Last month, Minister Burney welcomed the US Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, to Australia to strengthen our relationship with the United States, drawing on their experience as the first – both of them, as the first indigenous women to have held cabinet positions in their respective countries. Just pause for that for a minute and think how long that's taken.

And as I speak to you today, my friend and colleague Senator Malarndirri McCarthy leads your country's delegation to the Convention on the Status of Women at the UN.

And we are seeking to engage First Nations communities and organisations to develop new policy approaches, such as our Development Policy and Trade 2040 Task Force. But we've still got a lot to learn and we have to learn it together, which is why this sort of dialogue such as this tonight is so important.

As someone who is not indigenous, I seek to approach this area with both curiosity and respect. Curiosity for that which we do not know, and respect for that which we can learn.

Tonight's lecture follows a landmark announcement in our history. Mr Justin Mohamed will be Australia's inaugural Ambassador for First Nations people. And I welcome Justin here tonight. And I also welcome Dr Janine Mohamed. So thank you for joining us and thank you for taking on this role.

Mr Mohamed is a Gooreng Gooreng man from Bundaberg, with extensive and impressive experience across many roles and he will lead the Office of First Nations Engagement in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He, my department, will work together in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to progress indigenous rights globally and to help grow First Nations trade and investment. This new position ensures, for the first time, that Australia will have dedicated Indigenous representation in our international engagement. We're so happy to have you take this role, Justin.

I hope this underlines what an exciting and hopeful time this is for First Nations diplomacy in Australia, in our region and around the world. We have the opportunity to tell our full story and we have the opportunity to see First Nations business and exports taken to the world. And it is in this spirit that I have the privilege of introducing Dr Mary Graham to deliver this evening's lecture.

Dr Graham is a Kombumerri person through her father's heritage, and affiliated with Wakka Wakka through her mother's people. She has worked across government and universities, teaching Aboriginal history, politics and comparative philosophy, and incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into curricula. She'll be joined in conversation by Dr Morgan Brigg, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland.

I wish you all the very best for this evening's lecture and beyond. Thank you very much.

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