2019 Pilbara Aboriginal Women's Conference

15 October 2019

I rise tonight to report on an amazing experience that I shared with Linda Burney, the member for Barton, and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy a couple of weeks ago up in the Pilbara. We had the absolute privilege and honour to meet with 100 women from right across the Pilbara. We met on the lands of the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi peoples in Roebourne. We met at the cultural centre. We met with women to talk about and listen to the issues of concern to them.

I really want to pay tribute tonight to the amazing women in the Pilbara who assisted us and participated on the day. Thank you to Aunty Elaine Clifton, who welcomed us so warmly to country. Thank you also to Josie Alec and Jolleen Hicks, who worked with us before the event and during the event. Watching them as potential leaders and emerging leaders working with the other women and seeing the respect that they received across the room was absolutely amazing. They are true leaders. Josie led us at the end of the day in a song in language. She's quite an accomplished country singer. Look her up. She's definitely worth listening to.

We had Aboriginal women scribing on the day. I would like to thank Aunty Joyce Drummond, Esther Montgomery, Val Ross, Julie Walker, Natasha Walker, Shanine Ryan and Michelle Adams, who so freely gave their time and made sure that the day worked. The women wanted us to record and listen to their issues around health and wellbeing; education and youth; culture, country and language; housing and homelessness. These are topics that, in consultation with the women, we put together on the day. We've just about finished writing the report. The report will go back to those women and we will develop together a roadmap for trying to achieve some change that's so desperately needed by these women. They want to make sure that services they receive from government are culturally safe for the region and that service providers are trained in how to operate in a culturally appropriate manner. They want to create opportunities for local Aboriginal members of the community to be trained and provided with leadership roles in different services rather than just flying someone in and flying someone out who has no rapport with the community. Women told us that the white government cars leave communities on Friday and come back on Monday.

They want their youth to be healthy, they want them to be educated and, most importantly, they want them to have access to their own language. We heard women speak passionately about the need to learn language when what's offered in their school is Japanese or Indonesian. Those are well respected languages, but their own native language is not offered. It's time we stopped doing that. Let's make Indigenous languages available for kids to learn. They want the perpetual funding cycle—having to reapply every two to three years—to stop. They want to see long-term funding for programs so that they can get answers to issues, put real policy decisions in place and know that they can create real change, because they would not be having the funding base forever changed.

During the lunchbreak we had a film presented to us by a local woman called May Byrne—Gunthay to Gunthay, which means 'Grandmother to Grandchild'—and we saw the beautiful relationship that May has with her grandchild as she took the child out on country and taught the child about country. The film was made in May's country at Karijini National Park.

The women eagerly supported the forum. Many of them said it hadn't been done before. We had women from not just Roebourne but Wickham, Port Hedland, South Hedland, Karratha and Yandeyarra. We thank the Aboriginal-led organisations that made sure the women got there. We also thank Yara Pilbara, AAB Australia and the WA Labor Party for so generously sponsoring the events, because, obviously, things don't just happen; they need to be well funded. I look forward to a continued relationship with these women. I'm very excited about going back and presenting our report to them and developing our roadmap.