What a delight it is to be here again at the Straight Talk National Summit and if there have been six Summits then I have attended six Summits! I know I came to the first and have been to every one ever since because I find it to be a wonderfully inspiring experience, and while there are many issues that cross our desks and are on our agenda, I find that taking the time to meet with and hear from some of the women involved in this Summit is a source of great enlightenment for me – and joy.
I knew the Straight Talk Summit was on again when I arrived in Canberra because a number of delegates came up to me to say they were going to be here for Straight Talk on Wednesday, so great to see you!
My congratulations to Oxfam Australia for bringing together 80 inspiring women who are already having a profound impact in their communities right across Australia. I have been impressed with the ideas that have been in your Straight Talk applications, from new ways of dealing with mental health issues or drug dependency or ideas for new community services. I think it is wonderful that you are still energised and passionate about making a positive difference in your communities, in your families, in your world.
Politics can and should be a source of hope. You will gain here the practical tools, the ideas, the knowledge to leverage your engagement with politics and politicians, but see it as a source of opportunity and hope.
What I find inspiring it that you are all role models, each and every one of you are role models. I have always seen the importance and significance and the value in role models – whether you want to be one or not! If you are affecting change, if you are an advocate, if you are speaking out on issues, if you represent an idea that others can relate to, you are a role model. I’ve often heard it said that it’s hard to be what you cannot see. So for younger women to see you and what you are achieving inspires them to do more.
In my role as Foreign Minister, I’ve come across a number of inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women on the international stage. One example, Professor Megan Davis has just been elected Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As she took on this global role she told a delightful story of how as a little girl her mum was on a single parent pension. There wasn’t a lot of money to go around, but her mother always found enough money to buy Time magazine. Megan became ‘obsessed’ in her words, with the United Nations and the General Assembly in particular, and she even had a photograph of the General Assembly on her pin up board in her bedroom.
I think that is such a wonderful story because it shows that her mother knew she had a bright little girl that needed inspiration, needed guidance, needed direction, and she provided it through spending precious money on Time magazine. And here’s Megan Davis today, heading up the United Nations panel on Indigenous Issues. So we can take great pride in the fact that there are Indigenous Australian women shaping the debate on global issues in global forums.
Indeed Indigenous Australian women shone at the recent UN Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People. Ineke Wallis from East Arnhem Land, all of 22 years old, stood up in the United Nations and talked about the housing challenges in the Northern Territory, community issues in the NT and she made us all so proud of her confidence and her ability to articulate the nub of the problems.
At Australia’s urging, the United Nations is now studying the challenges that Indigenous people have in business, the hurdles that they face, the issues that they have to address particularly with a focus on women. Here’s another opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and particularly the women, to shape global economic policy on this issue of Indigenous access to business.
In my portfolio, in foreign policy, I have also been able to support Indigenous people in Australia in an international context. I introduced a student exchange program called the New Colombo Plan. The original Colombo Plan back in the 1950s and 60s brought young people from our region to study in Australian universities and gain qualifications from Australia, go back to their countries and many of them went on to become business, political or community leaders.
Well I’ve reversed it and in 2014 we introduced a scheme whereby young Australian undergraduates in our universities as part of their university courses in Australian universities can study and live and undertake work experience in one of 38 countries in the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific region. By the end of next year, so just in three years since this program started, 17,000 Australian undergraduate students will have lived and studied and gained some kind of work experience in our region.
I am just so delighted with the number of Indigenous students who are being awarded support under the New Colombo Plan. In fact from my home state of Western Australia, 10 students from the UWA School of Indigenous Studies recently went to Indonesia and included a trip to Bali where they focused on cultural tourism, on Indigenous tourism, on using Indigenous knowledge and heritage to promote tourism.
This kind of practical work as well as the study that was associated with it, will have a real impact when they come back to Australia and share their insights and perspectives. I’m particularly proud of Amarina Smith, a young Indigenous student from Griffith University who has won our most prestigious New Colombo Plan scholarships to study at Hong Kong University. She is studying law and government and international relations at Griffith, and she’ll continue those studies in Hong Kong, and she is looking for an opportunity to undertake her articles in Hong Kong and we’ve already had expressions of significant from a number of Hong Kong law firms.
This New Colombo Plan gives our students the opportunity to broaden their horizons, broaden their perspectives, their insights, their knowledge, their skills, hopefully language skills – Indigenous people know all about language skills – but to learn a foreign language as well will make them wonderful ambassadors for Australia. But also think of the connections and the networks that they will set up that they will be able to use to assist others as well as themselves to gain experiences, jobs and opportunities.
So under the New Colombo Plan I’m looking forward to more Indigenous students being encouraged to apply for the short course, the semester, the longer courses and the 12 month scholarship courses, which I think will be transformative.
Another great role model from my home state of Western Australia is Mary O’Reeri from North West Kimberley. Mary is in a community that tragically has a high rate of suicide, and instead of turning to the Government and saying ‘fix it’, instead of lamenting it and doing nothing, she held a summit – the Blank Page Summit – and she involved people from across Australia with expertise, with understanding, with experience in this area, to work on ways to as she put it ‘suicide-proof’ her community. This kind of action leads to outcomes.
So what I hope you gain from Straight Talk is an understanding of the political process, engage with politicians, but also get a deeper understanding of how political action can change lives.
However, as Penny said in her last few statements, change comes from within; from within families, from within communities. Yes, work in partnership with governments, work in partnership with politicians, but the will to change comes from within.
I’m so delighted to see so many inspiring women here. You’ll have me coming back year after year because this is one of the important days in the national Parliament and it’s my honour and privilege to spend some time with you.
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