Read Thomas Mayors Speech to the Diversity Council of Australia, 22 February 2018
Thomas Mayor is the NT Branch Secretary
I Acknowledge the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, their elders past and present, and I thank Donna for welcoming me to country.
I acknowledge fellow panel members, Professor Mick Dodson and Tanya Hosch.
And I thank Lisa and the Diversity Council of Australia for organising this event and providing me with an opportunity to speak.
I’m a Torres Strait Islander. I was born on Larrakia Country, Darwin. I have always lived there. My father was born on Waiben, Thursday Island. Our roots go to Badugal and Kalkalgal. I’m also descended from Poland, Borneo, Barbados, England and the Philipines.
Talk about diversity yeah!
A little on my background first. I became a port worker at 17yo. Not long after starting at the port, I decided to join the Maritime Union of Australia. I was there when we survived the 1998 Patricks Dispute.
We won the dispute, but there was a job to do, defending the conditions that the old guard had won. I became the delegate at 21. I was a reluctant leader, but I stepped up to protect the conditions that had been won for us through struggle. I negotiated the regional Agreements, then in 2010 I became an organiser and then the elected official.
Its on the docks and as a union official that I learnt the value of unity.
But more than that, I learnt that unity must be worked on, I learnt that unity means little without structure and legitimate accountable leadership, compromise and discipline, toward collective goals.
One of the reasons that I am a proud union member, is our history in social justice struggles. As an official, I continued that tradition applying what I had learnt as a delegate and organiser to mobilising the community in Darwin.
Through my activism, I was asked to be one of 5 facilitators at a Darwin Dialogue on Constitutional Recognition.
It was good timing for me because having organised a number of actions around the WA Community Closures and the Don Dale disgrace, I was realising that something was missing from this movement.
The unions National Council was to fall on the same date as the Darwin Dialogue, so I pulled out of being a facilitator. I continued to help out though. With the local co-chairs and facilitators we worked on the invites to the Dialogue, applying a formula aiming for 60% Traditional Owners connected to country in the region, 20% First Nations Peoples from local organisations, and 20% First Nations Peoples that are active in the community.
The National Council dates moved, so I was able to attend the dialogue.
The dialogues were held over three days. Workshops were based on recommendations of the past that, as with many aspirations of our people, had never been adopted and implemented by Parliament. From my perspective, I saw the Dialogues and the culmination of those dialogues at Uluru as a great opportunity to empower us to achieve change.
I asked the elders in the room, “has there ever been an opportunity like this? 13 three day regional dialogues. Informed discussion. Accurate records of meeting. With elected delegates from each meeting, coming together at a place like Uluru? The answer was no.
I thought, WOW. This is an opportunity. This is a chance for my people to build power. If we reach a consensus we’ll have something specific to campaign for nationally. At the dialogues and convention there was high tension. Hot debate. Seven delegates walked on the second day of Uluru. We knew they would. That was their right.
But around 250 remained and completed that days discussions.
On the morning of the third day, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was read for the first time by Professor Megan Davis. She read the last words, “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”
What happened next, I will never forget. The entire room stood as one, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was endorsed by standing acclamation.
There were no amendments. One reading, Endorsed with standing acclamation by around 250 First Nations People elected in 13 regions.
As I stood with my comrades during the long applause, I watched people who had been in passionate debate against each other, embracing. Embracing with tears pouring from their eyes. It was a moment of overwhelming hope.
I have since travelled the country with the Uluru Statement. I went from Garma, to Gurindji Country for the Wave Hill Walk Off Anniversary, the Pilbara Yule River Bush Meeting, Lombodina, Cape York, K’Gari, major cities and towns in between.
In all these places the support for a Voice to Parliament and a Makarrata Commission has grown, While the support of the Turnbull Government has disappeared.
I hope you will agree with me, I say we should not take no for an answer.
How can we possibly take no for an answer!
The dialogues and the Uluru Convention involved more than 1300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from around this vast continent. Despite the dashed hopes of many a petition, statement, expert and royal commission recommendation, these people afforded this process their heart and souls.
And the result is compelling, achievable, and powerful. It spells out clearly what is next for recognition. A Constitutionally Enshrined First Nations Voice, and a Makarrata Commission to support Treaty making and Truth Telling.
I’ll touch on why this must be next for recognition.
The Dialogues identified what I felt missing from the struggle on the streets.
That is, First Nations need a political voice that is accountable to their First Nations people, a voice, not chosen by a Prime Minister or the media.
A political Voice that is unapologetic in its representation, not sensitive to the axe that a Government can wield over funding.
This Constitutional Recognition considers our past. It considers that symbolism alone only achieves so much. It considers what happened to ATSIC. It picks up on our obligation, our responsibility to the next generations to avoid detrimental repetition. If we build it, it must last.
I conclude by asking you to note that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is written to you, the Australian People. We cannot let this Statement be another trophy on the walls of Parliament. A reminder of Indigenous aspiration again dashed on the jagged rocks of political expediency.
A Peoples Movement is needed now. This must go beyond black and white. Beyond Left and Right.
When the nation walks with us to enshrine our rightful place in the Nation, we will be on the path to closing the gap. The Uluru Statement is a once in a generation opportunity. If you want to help, speak out in public. Do it regularly. Condemn those in parliament who have rejected the reasonable, but powerful step toward Makarrata. Congratulate those in parliament who have committed to the Voice and Makarrata Commission. Join and support in any way you are able. Join the people’s movement for the Uluru Statement from the Heart.