Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee: Aboriginal Languages In South Australia

18 Feb 2021

The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:41): I rise also to support this report. The Aboriginal lands committee does very important work across our state. There are some members who have been on it for a very long time and others who have come and gone. I think that is a very positive thing because you get a tranche of experience that continues through but also some new and different ideas.

I remember very well in 2010, when I was first elected to this place, at the same time as the then member for Norwood and now Premier of our state, we were looking at different committees we would be interested in being on. He said straight away, 'I want to be on the Aboriginal lands committee.' He has had a very strong, deep and genuine interest in this area of work for a long time, before he got into this place and he was on that committee for quite a few years.

In fact, now as Premier, having full discretion over which members of his government would have which portfolios as ministers, he took it upon himself to be the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation. He was the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs as leader of the opposition and he has retained that quite deliberately.

One of the things that he has been very clear to us in government about is that he is not looking for soft words, he is not looking for statements that sound nice and would make people feel better. He is actually looking for actions and concrete outcomes and he is looking for them in the short, medium and longer term. It is probably fair to say this is my summarising. I am not speaking on his behalf, but he is looking for some smaller outcomes quickly and some medium-sized outcomes in the medium term and some much bigger outcomes in the longer run. I think that is a very sensible way to go.

Looking at this work the committee has done into Aboriginal languages is incredibly important and, of course, I respect the fact that the parliamentary standing committee reports to the parliament, not to the government. It has its own will, its own life, its own choices and its own reports and recommendations to make.

But as it happens, what we are here discussing today is very much complementary with what our government and our Premier, our Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, are doing, and that is multifaceted. It is recognising languages, encouraging language and the use of languages that are alive today, encouraging the study of languages—and it might be a poor choice of words—that are essentially dead today because they are not being used actively, and everything in between. It is incredibly important for the retention of culture, for the respect and recognition of culture, and also, as I mentioned, on the more academic side of things, even just for learning.

It is very sad to say that there are traditional groups of Aboriginal people—whether the right word is clans or tribes or nations, there are half a dozen words that are used regularly—that are not with us today, quite a number of them. They were here in South Australia for tens of thousands of years, but they are not today. It is important to try to understand their culture. As a personal view, I think the living cultures are probably more important, because that is where the people who are with us today can benefit the most, but the others are certainly important as well.

The cabinet meets on a regular basis—I do not say it is frequently; I think it is three times a year—with the South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council that the Premier set up, a group of a dozen or so key Aboriginal leaders. They do not represent any one group or nation individually. They are from one and sometimes two or three groups, depending on their family background, but they are not there to represent their cultural group or their part of the state.

They are there to give advice directly to the Premier, to the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division within the DPC, and also directly to cabinet, face to face to cabinet, on broad, statewide issues affecting Aboriginal people: what the government can do better and what the government is not doing well enough. The government also has the opportunity to ask this group of people how it can help the government. I have to say that we have very respectful, very friendly and very direct engagement with this group of people. The cabinet and this council are together in one room and we talk very openly.

The chair of that group is a very capable and intelligent person and, in my experience, she has always—and I expect will always—come in with a very clear list on behalf of the council overall, saying, 'Look, these are things that are going well, these are the things we appreciate, these are the things we want to encourage you to continue. And here is the other list. Here are the things we think you've dropped the ball on, here are the things we think you may not have considered or the things we would like to influence and ideally adjust how your government is dealing with them.' It is a very collaborative and productive way of working, and I thank them for that.

I am also pleased to say it is the only group that meets with cabinet on a structured, regular basis. As I said, it is not every week or anything like that—I think it is three times a year—but no other group exists with which we have that structured engagement. That speaks incredibly well of the way the Premier wants to give importance to the broader issue of Aboriginal affairs. Of course, that means a thousand things in those few words, but he wants our government to be engaging on country and he wants our government to be engaging in the cabinet room. He wants our government—our state, in fact—to be engaging with ways of making the improvements people deserve in this area at all levels of government, of community, of society, of all walks of life.

One of them is recognising language and another is supporting the recognition of language, supporting the bringing back of language, supporting the greater use of language. I had the great pleasure of being at Wilpena Pound with key leaders of the Adnyamathanha nation about three months ago. It was an absolutely outstanding event for the launch of a book—a book that was about 30 years in the making in regard to research—by Mr Terrence and Mrs Josie Coulthard.

It was a fantastic event. There were young people, there were babies, there were old people, there were those of us beyond halfway but who still like to consider ourselves in the middle. It was just an outstanding event. It was not just a celebration. There was a mini workshop, in fact, that dealt with this issue, where a whiteboard was brought out, and we talked about different pronunciations and different ways of doing things and the complicated task of trying to bring language back not only verbally and orally but also in the written form.

It was a tremendous, fascinating afternoon. I have a copy of that particular book in my ministerial office on the coffee table as an important reminder to me of one of the several Aboriginal groups that have traditional custodianship over parts of the electorate of Stuart, which I represent. I also had one of those books signed that day by Josie and Terry and gave it to the Premier as a gift, and he has it in his office.

We are incredibly respectful of the work that Aboriginal people and the parliamentary committee and a range of others are doing in this space. It is important. I will say this as a person who clearly does not have the capacity to do this myself, but you can learn as much as you like about culture, you can learn all the stories and do all the different things that are all very important, but there is nothing you can do better to support, to enjoy and to share your culture than to speak in your culture's language. When your speak in your culture's language with other people who can do the same, you are living it, you are expressing it, you are sharing it and you are honouring it. Aboriginal language is incredibly important.