In delivering his valedictory address, Senator Patrick Dodson announced to the Senate that he would resign on January 26, 2024.
Dodson, a Labor senator from Western Australia, entered the Senate on May 2, 2016, filling the casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Joe Bullock. He was elected in his own right at the 2016 and 2022 federal elections.
Known as the “Father of Reconciliation”, a cause he has championed all his life, Dodson was appointed as the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart on June 1, 2022, following the election of the Albanese government.
Dodson has been absent from parliament for most of the year, following a cancer diagnosis.
Senators from all sides of the chamber gave Dodson a standing ovation when he finished his speech and again when he left the chamber.
Watch Dodson’s valedictory speech (25m):
Listen to Dodson’s speech (25m)
Hansard transcript of Senator Patrick Dodson’s valedictory speech on November 29, 2023.
Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (12:15): Thank you, Madam President, and thanks to the Senate for your indulgence. I came to this place more than seven years ago as an opportunity pick by the then leader of the Labor Party, Mr Bill Shorten, when a Senate vacancy occurred in Western Australia. Colin Barnett, the then Premier of Western Australia, had to recall the Western Australian parliament to endorse my appointment, which was very generous of him. I want to thank both of those people for their part in giving me the privilege of serving in the wonderful state of Western Australia. And I want to thank the people of Western Australia for supporting me in subsequent elections.
To the Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, I extend my gratitude for his response to the request by the First Nations peoples to have a voice enshrined in the Constitution. I pay tribute to his leadership and to his ongoing commitment to work with First Nations peoples.
I will formally leave the Senate on 26 January next year, saddened that my health no longer enables me to discharge my duties as a senator. I chose that date because it’s three days before my 76th birthday, which I am looking forward to.
I have seen a few presidents come and go in my time in this chamber, along with a couple of Prime Ministers. Madam President, I want to thank you for the management of this chamber, and may you reign as long as we can be in power.
To all in this chamber, it has been a very special honour to have been amongst you. I have experienced being in both opposition and government; late night sittings; a double dissolution; re-elections; the consequence of section 44 of the Constitution on some politicians; and a failed referendum to recognise First Peoples, of whom I am one, in the Constitution and for them to have a voice to give advice to the parliament and the executive on matters that affect them.
As senators, we are indeed privileged to serve in parliament and on committees of the parliament. Committee service has also allowed me to get a better insight into some of those on the other side. In that regard, one of the most significant committees that I served on was the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s Juukan Gorge inquiry. I recognise Mr Entsch and those people on it. I also recognise Senator Smith, who helped me get my passport back off a plane when I’d left it in an international airport. I thank Senator McDonald for her father’s great help to me at the time when we were dealing with Mabo, and Senator Canavan who sent me some really good well wishes when I was sick. Thank you.
I had the privilege of co-chairing a committee with Mr Leeser—I see him over there—and I want to thank him for the time we spent on the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. We both gained a lot out of that exercise, and I thank him for that. Both inquiries demonstrated how we can, regardless of which party we belong to, work together in a collegiate and constructive manner—not only to illuminate issues but also to make recommendations on ways that these matters may be taken forward towards resolution. That’s always subject to the parliament, of course, and that onus is on all of us in here.
I want to thank my colleagues in the parliamentary Labor Party for their friendship and support. Many of them are here today and I thank them for that. I know that many are at the late Mr Hand’s funeral in Melbourne and couldn’t be here. I acknowledge Gerry Hand as well for the part he played in Aboriginal affairs.
My illness has meant that I was unable to travel in the lead-up to the recent referendum. I express gratitude to my colleagues for stepping up to carry some of the campaign burden in my absence. I acknowledge my fellow First Nations colleagues here today: Senator McCarthy and Senator Stewart. I’m not sure whether Marion is here, but I acknowledge her. I acknowledge Gordon Reid and, of course, the minister, Linda Burney, who is across the aisle today. I especially acknowledge the former member for Lingiari Mr Snowdon, for his friendship and for the generous way his family made my time in Canberra less lonely.
I want to thank my family and friends—some of them are in the gallery and some are not—for their understanding, their arguments and their patience, not only during my time in the parliament but throughout my whole life. I’m also very grateful to my partner, Carol, who is here, for her love, care and sacrifices in her ongoing support as I battle to get back more of my own physical independence.
To all those who sent me get well and support messages during my treatment and challenges with this illness, I thank you for your best wishes. That has meant a great deal to me; people who I haven’t known have sent me messages, and that’s a great compliment to this great nation. That’s not because of me but because of the generosity of spirit that can be extended.
I also want to thank the many health professionals who have looked after me for the past eight months or so. I’ll begin with Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services here in Canberra. Julie and Beth are here, with Dr Eric—they were very critical in getting me off to the people who I needed to see when I was pretty crook! I thank you for that work and for your ongoing support, and all the staff there who looked after me with great care and concern over the years that I have spent here in Canberra.
I have also been looked after in the public hospital system over these past few months, at Canberra Hospital, Broome Hospital and by the dedicated team at Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth. Without them—without all of those professional nurses and doctors—I may not have been here today.
Throughout my absence from this place, I have been kept up to date on matters daily by my excellent staff. I want to thank them for their diligence, loyalty and good cheer, and for the professionalism with which they carried out their many duties. Brooke, Bronte, Jeremiah, Noah, Kaupa and Murray: you’ve all done me proud.
I also acknowledge the work of my staff over the years, and I extend my regards to all the staff in the parliament, in this Parliament House, who keep this place running and attend to our every need: water, lecterns or whatever it is. And to the COMCAR drivers out there: I’ve often seen them in the cold, standing with their cars. They ferry us safely to and fro with courtesy, patience and good humour. And to all of you in the gallery today, I thank you for coming and being present, and for your support—not only for me but for the issues that you know are critical to the first peoples of this country.
I leave here at a time when, in my view, the nation is at a crossroad on how to proceed on issues that affect Australia’s First Peoples. But I cannot leave here without reflecting on the outcome of the Voice referendum on 14 October. I accept without demur the referendum result. The people have spoken. But that cannot be the end of the matter. It pains me that the result is said by some to have repudiated much more than an additional chapter in the Constitution. That sort of talk closes the door on recognising the uniqueness of the nation’s First Peoples, the legacies of terra nullius and the policies of assimilation. Rather, I see the result as giving the nation a fresh opportunity to discuss substantive matters of reconciliation and, hopefully, to agree on resolution.
Social policies to address the disadvantage are one thing. But, more importantly, we must proceed from here under a human rights framework agenda. We can begin that journey by implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNDRIP. Yesterday I tabled the report of the inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs into the application of UNDRIP in Australia, which I hope this parliament will agree to progress further. Importantly, First Peoples want control and management of their own affairs. They want to have constructive input into finding solutions to the chronic poverty, disadvantage and dependency that many of our people live with. The application of UNDRIP will help facilitate that goal, but we also need for First Nations peoples to be able to achieve and enjoy economic independence. Sadly, we are not seen as contributors or achievers, despite the many achievements our people have made in these significant areas.
First Peoples need to create their own economic independence by leveraging up their significant asset bases. Government and industry have important roles in facilitating such objectives. I don’t mean just those physical asset bases they own or hold but also those assets that have been alienated from them. The physical assets and the alienated assets both need to be contemplated in the process of creating independent economic opportunities for First Peoples. If you create wealth in the First Nations environment, we have the opportunity to reduce the need for the social and public sector outlays. Such approaches have to be constructive, however, and not punitive. We need to work on the positives and help people to participate in wealth creation and enhance what they are doing in the economic space far better than we’ve been doing to date. We need to be innovative and responsive to the initiatives promoted by First Peoples.
If these three things—social reform, human rights and the adoption of UNDRIP, and an economic program for independence for First Peoples—can be achieved, or at least embarked upon, then we will be able to contribute to a more substantive way of dealing with the reconciliation process and its challenges. It’ll be far more meaningful for all of us, because everyone benefits. It’s not just the First Peoples who would benefit. And it’ll be far better than what we’ve had to date.
Being at a crossroads, any new path must lead us towards the substantive reconciliation that can contemplate and address the lingering legacies, the lack of equality and the need to resolve the substantive equality matters that continue. Truth-telling and agreement-making will be necessary and essential to that process. Ultimately, reconciliation must be meaningful and mutually beneficial for both parties: the First Peoples of this country and the complexity of those that constitute and make up the Australian nation.
In the wake of the referendum, it seems to me that we must again find, with renewed purpose, common ground on what this might look like and the form it might take into the future. The 60-40 split in the referendum vote demonstrates to me that we are a divided nation. We need to heal through honest and open dialogue, without the rancour and discord that infected too much of what passed for debate in the communication and chatter around the referendum.
We have the opportunity now to approach reconciliation on a basis of justice that will strengthen our integrity as a nation. Australians have become aware of these issues, far more than they were before the referendum process. They may not agree on everything. How unusual! Like the First Nations—they don’t agree on everything either—Australians don’t agree on everything, so don’t single us out. But dialogue and honest appraisals are needed. We need a national process in order to facilitate us going forward in this area. This is an exercise I leave to the next generation—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth—of this country to pursue. Those with vision, those with ambition, those with hope, those who love this nation—I leave it to them.
My people, the Yawuru people, have a formula about reconciliation—without having known what reconciliation was, but a formula to that end—in words that I delivered in my first speech on 1 September 2016, words which I wish to impose upon you yet again for your reflection and contemplation: mabu ngarrungunil, a strong community where people matter and are valued; mabu buru, a strong place, a good country where use of resources is balanced, and sacredness is embedded in the landscape; and, finally, mabu liyan, a healthy spirit, a good state of being for individuals, families and community, whose essence arises from our encounter with the land and people.
And in those words, Madam President, I say guliya to you, and I will see you when I see you. Thank you.