Light on the Hill Address





Thank you for inviting me to Bathurst, in Wiradjuri country this evening for the annual Light on the Hill speech and thank you, Dr. Jennings for your kind introduction.
It is great to be in this fine inland city and to join you in commemorating the great Labor leader, Ben Chifley, Prime Minister and Treasurer of Australia from 1945 to 1949.
It may be said that his greatest legacy was managing and leading the reconstruction of Australia after the horrifying challenges of the Second World War.
This lecture is rightly known as the “Light on the Hill” speech.
And my aim tonight is to tell you a little bit about three things.

  1. About myself
  2. How Labor will shine that light on the hill for First Nations peoples
  3. For Australia as a whole.

As well as the Bathurst Light on the Hill, I want to reflect on two other hills, being Wave Hill in the Northern Territory, and Capital Hill in Canberra.
Ben Chifley, a locomotive driver, was always a practical and down to earth man, not one as he said himself to “go around engaging in emotional appeals and waving flags.”
The Light on the Hill speech was given in 1949, to the NSW Branch of the Labor Party. This was the year after I was born in Mary Street in my grandmother’s house, in Broome, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The speech was a status report on the issues confronting him as Prime Minister, such as potential conflict with Russia, migration, the problems of the European economy, possible recession in the United States, currency issues, materials shortages, the coal industry and so on. Towards the end of the speech, he reflected on his role:
‘We may make plans and pass legislation to help and direct the economy of the country. But the job of getting the things the people of the country want comes from the root of the Labor movement- the people who support it.’
That is as true today as it was seventy years ago.
He said:
“I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people.
We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.
I agree with Chifley, but we have more to do as a Labor movement, to ensure that light on the hill shine for our First Nations people not just in welfare reform or greater participation in the broader economy, but so they may enjoy the fruits of the betterment of mankind.
But shine it will.
And it will shine more brightly, when the people of Australia recognize that it is past time for the Abbott Turnbull Morrison Government to leave the hill, and allow a Shorten Labor government to take the stage so that the light beams of hope, compassion and greater equity and honour may shine.
Our Nation has yet to deliver the First Nations communities, with the standards of quality living identified by Ben Chifley.
First Nations people do not enjoy the same quality of life as others in this country.

  • We are the most over-incarcerated.
  • We are the poorest.
  • Our kids are more likely to end up in out of home care, or in prison.
  • Or hungry on the fringes of a remote town.
  • Our life outcomes, at every stage of life, are not equal.
  • Our people have the highest unemployment.

The indicators to date on the Closing the Gap matrix show minor marginal improvement – we are yet to see the changes to that strategy promised by the government.
Chifley said in 1949:
If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some mother or father a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.’
A Shorten Labor government can deliver that vision for our First Nations communities.
But I said I would tell you a little about myself. (You obviously know more about Chifley than you know about me.)
I was born in Broome into the era of the 1905 Western Australian Native Affairs Act, administered by the infamous Mr. A.O. Neville. My parents had to get his permission in order to marry because my father was white. They then had to leave the State of Western Australia for Katherine in the Northern Territory.
Far distant from the Hill here at Bathurst, the site of your famous car race, is the community of Wave Hill station on Gurindji land in the Northern Territory.
The Gurindji, led by Vincent Lingiari, walked off from the station in August 1966 in a strike that protested their horrendous, slave like working conditions, but also declared their traditional and ongoing rights to their land, their culture and their independence of whitefella domination over their lives.
This was a campaign for equal rights at work that evolved into a campaign for equal rights to property and land. 
Our Australian country is a better place for knowing this, acknowledging this, and formally recognising this. The colonial and settler narratives are yet to have truth-telling adopted as an essential element of building our society.
Aboriginal people, those who had survived the killing times, were re-located to the ‘blacks’ camps’ on the stations and began to figure out a new mode of co-existence and survival on their own country.
They had to learn how to work for the newcomers, but not to lose themselves in the process.
And work they did.  Hard, tough, long days of physical labour. Men and women all were pushed and prodded, cajoled and beaten, whipped at times, shot for absconding at others. The Aborigines Act of Western Australia and other places justified their slave like conditions. 
Women were taken, their children removed.
The landlords of the country, the Gurindji, became the slave labour of those who had usurped their land. It was only during the Wet or ‘holiday time’ that they could travel their country for hunting, gathering and ceremony, keeping the knowledge of Law and country alive.
The story of Vincent Lingiari, his mates, the walk off from Wave Hill, the eight years of living rough, is a powerful Australian story. It was Vincent who told Lord Vestey:
I’m gonna make a station. This is my place. It must a been one time. It was my place before you come over on top of me,’ I told Vestey. ‘Before you come over on top of me this country was mine, and you’ve put your business up after me. He was Aboriginal land.”
I grew up when Vincent Lingiari staged the Wave Hill walk off. It was then that the Union Movement and the value of its strength became clear to me, and its connection with the Parliamentary Labor party working towards improving peoples lives, with the vision to create a society of fairness.
And the memory and vision of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari, standing as equals in a world where I knew we were unequal showed that Labor could be a pathway towards substantive justice for First Nations people.
I was lucky to be rescued from the more draconian policies that removed kids to institutions. I was instead sent to a secondary school in Hamilton Victoria. While the Western District of Victoria is often seen as the land of the land of gentry, I got to know the decency of human beings who were outside my social and cultural beginnings and who helped lay foundations that have enabled me to look for common ground and reconciliation with justice. For which I will forever be grateful.
My work has primarily been in advocacy for land rights justice. I have sat on various boards to deal with the execution or failed execution of Indigenous policies.
My formal introduction to the Labor Party was a phone call from Labor Leader Bill Shorten, inviting me to fill the vacancy for a Senate position in Western Australia.
Thus, my life of fishing and enjoying the Kimberley came to a halt, as I now had to make my way towards ‘life on the hill’ in Canberra.
My early encounter of Labor exploitation was to see Aboriginal stockmen paid rations and minimal cash after months of hard work, and I was given the equivalent as a jackaroo.
That was not fair.
After the award wages and many people being dispersed to the fringes of town off these stations the cry came out from communities that they did not want ‘sit down money’.
Thus began the saga of social security money and the search for real equity of employment.
This is the same today.
First Nations people want and have a right to real wages, real jobs, and fair work conditions where they live.
This is no different from what Lingiari sought when he led his people off Wave Hill.
Vincent’s vision was for Equality of opportunity, for Respect for his culture, for recognition of his ability to run and manage his own affairs and that his position be honoured not only by Governments, but by all those of the ruling class.
Those of us, in positions of power on Capital Hill, have a responsibility to make this dream come true.
Different governments, Labor and Liberal, have put together programs and create jobs and meaningful work for people. But Chifley’s practical vision has not been achieved in the Australian bush.

  1. People are not comfortable.
  2. People are not secure.
  3. People do not have work they can rely on.

This Government, the Coalition Government has created a program called the CDP, the Community Development Program (or CDP).  Of the 35,000 participants – around 85 per cent are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
Nationally, the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking work are in the CDP (35,000 out of 53,000).
This program, designed in Canberra and rolled out in the bush, is  fatally flawed.
The CDP program is making small remote First Nations communities, places where people are starving, where kids are breaking into the stores to steal food, where crime rates are higher, where people are poorer.
The penalty regime enforced upon CDP participants is ruthless, draconian and discriminatory.
Under CDP –

  • People must immediately start work-for-the-dole for 25 hours a week with only up to six weeks leave, when they can get it.

Under the mainstream Job Active program –

  • People do not have to go into work-for-the-dole for 12 months and also participate for 25 hours a week, but for only 26 weeks a year.

This racially discriminatory burden on jobseekers in remote communities is objectionable.
Since the Coalition Government’s CDP was introduced, the number of financial penalties applied to people in remote areas has increased sevenfold – from 5,900 per quarter to over 45,000 per quarter.
By comparison, Job Active participants average fewer financial penalties per quarter (37,000), despite the program having 20 times more people in it.
The impact of these financial penalties on the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in Australia is well known to our communities. It leads to overcrowding, to family violence and to poor health.
This Coalition Government promised substantial reform to CDP, and we are currently opposing a Bill before the Senate, down on Capital Hill.

The Government Bill does not fix the very real problems, but just goes tinkering around the edges despite the lure of 6000 subsidized jobs.
A Shorten Labor Government will transform the CDP.
A Shorten Labor Government will focus its reforms around the following principles:

  1. Greater empowerment of local communities in administration and management.
  2. Separation out of the mainstream policy and administration scheme to confine to discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  3. Funding quarantined for the benefit of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities managing the program.
  4. A clear focus upon wage parity and award conditions.
  5. A clear focus the scheme upon community development and training.

An approach that Ben Chifley would recognise and support working towards:

  • Real wages for real conditions for the work undertaken in these areas.
  • Real support for employment creation and community development.

This is like the struggle that Ben Chifley made his own, working with Nugget Coombs, in the reconstruction of a nation devastated by distant wars.
We are working through the issues, in close collaboration with First Nations organizations and community groups.
We are working towards a totally new approach to remote community labour force participation.
This has to be Light on the Hill for our remote First Nations communities.
They are not making the sort of lifestyle choices Tony Abbott derided.
We will work with First Nations communities to create the security, comfort and predictability that will enable them to survive, thrive and grow.
As a Labor Senator, I am proud that our Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was the Australian leader who helped to make the Gurindji story a key part of the larger Australian story. He helped to push along the moves to bring truth and justice to this country.
It is also important to remember that the Australian Union movement helped the Gurindji people in their years in the strike camp, sustaining them in their struggle. They gave Vincent a voice in the big cities. The truck they used is now in the National Museum.
In August 16th 1975, forty years ago, Gough Whitlam came from Capital Hill to Wave Hill and poured the soil of this country into the hand of Vincent Lingiari to mark the return of more than 3,000 sq km of the Wave Hill cattle station to his people.
At the time the Prime Minister said:
I want to acknowledge that we Australians still have much to do to redress the injustice and oppression that have for so long been the loss of black Australians.
The title handed over was a lease not freehold. While recognition was a big step along the road, more steps needed to come.
The challenge Gough outlined echoes today. We Australians still have much to do.
First Nations people are still asking for a voice.
Vincent’s reply to Gough back in 1975 was far-sighted, “Now we can go forward as mates”. The challenge remains for the nation to own and share the vision of Gough and Vincent.
A centrepiece of the campaign by Vincent Lingiari was that of men and women being given a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.   Still today that is not happening in our remote communities. People do not have the chance to do real work for real wages. Vincent’s vision, for fair treatment, for real work, for real jobs has not become a reality.
From the hills of Bathurst to Wave Hill in the North, to Capital Hill in Canberra, the Labor movement is working hard to make sure that all Australians, including First Nations Australians, get fair treatment, equal wages, and job security.
We are also committed to building a Voice for the First Nations to the Parliament, and we will look at the referendum possibilities and we will support Truth Telling and Agreement Making. The discussion of Treaties is no longer off the agenda.
It is a vision that Ben Chifley, were he still alive, would have taken the pipe from his mouth, grinned crookedly and signed his name to support.

In closing, I would like to imagine Ben Chifley, the gun locomotive driver, riding the rails of the Great Western Line, maybe reflecting on the names of the stations he rattled through.
I wonder if he recognised stations such as Brewongle and Wambool as Wiradjuri place names that survive today. They were, they are, they remain Wiradjuri country names that are testament to the Wiradjuri nation.
Thanks you for allowing me to speak with you this evening.

Stay up to date by subscribing to my newsletter.