In this excerpt from her first speech this month, Senator Cox reflects on the journey that brought her to Parliament and the work that lies ahead.
By Senator Dorinda Cox
Ngany kwel Dorinda Cox, ngany moorditj Noongar Bibbulmen Yamatji yorga wer ngany koora boodiya yorga moort yey nitja yaak.
Ngany moort Kaneyang, Yued, Amangu wer Wajarri – South West wer Midwest Gascoyne, Western Australia boodja, ngany maya-maya Whadjuk boodja, Boorloo.
Ngany kaaditj nitja boodja, nyitiyung barang. Ni, ngany karnarn, kalyakoorl Ngunnawal wer Nambrey boodja wer ngany waangk -kaya ngany moort, koora boodiya moort, yey boodiya moort wer yirra koorliny boodiya moort. Benang, boorda boodiya moort ngalak kalyakoorl doyntj-doyntj yaak.
Nitja boodja, ngany moorn moort boodja, kedalak, yey yoowart bibool nyitiyung wer ngany moort.
My name is Dorinda Cox and I am a strong Noongar Bibbulmen Yamajti woman and come from a long line of powerful matriarchs. I belong to the clans of the Kaneyang, Yued, Amangu and Wajarri peoples from the South West and Mid North West regions of Western Australia.
I acknowledge and pay my respects to the stolen lands on which we meet today that belong to the Ngunnawal and Nambrey peoples of this area and pay my respects to their Elders past and present and their emerging leaders who we nurture, love and support for the future generations who will continue our legacies.
Sovereignty of this country remains as there are no treaties with the First Peoples of this country.
I start this speech in the Noongar language, the ancient mother tongue of my Noongar Bibbulemen people where I live, work and raise my children. I call Boorloo (Perth) my home, and the two dingo dreaming tracks are where I grew up as a child in Walyalup (Fremantle).
I want to acknowledge my mother Margaret, my brother Michael and my daughters Ailish and Ciara and the rest of my family and friends who are not joining us here in the chamber today due to the COVID restrictions of quarantine, but instead watching online.
Firstly, it’s not the same as providing this important and momentous first speech without having you all here with me. But I can feel the love, support and energy you are sending from afar today and I am comforted by knowing that you are all with me in spirit. I am well aware that the sacrifices I will make starting today and in the future serving as a senator for WA – will and do matter to you personally and that through my work we will be able to see the impact it will have on the lives of so many others. Thank you for generously allowing me to do that with your blessing and, more than ever, I want you to know this is possible because of you and that this is your legacy too.
I’ve travelled from my home state, the fifth strong Greens woman from the west and I thank those that have welcomed me to country Billie, Leah, Paul, Tjanara and Jason at the Tent Embassy this morning and extend that also to those here in this place.
I would also like to acknowledge my First Nations colleagues in this chamber and the house – my sister and Greens colleague Lidia Thorpe, Senators McCarthy, Dodson and Lambie and MPs Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney.
It is a humble privilege to join an esteemed group of First Nations political leaders past and present who have paved the way for us to represent the First peoples of this country and their issues in these political forums.
It was the year 1994 that I first travelled here to Canberra, as a 17-year-old fresh faced young girl just out of school visiting my mum who was working for the Commonwealth at the time. While visiting the public gallery I read the Redfern speech of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. It was in this moment that I felt he understood the impact of mine and my family’s story, one which is shared across so many families and communities etched in our past, but also in our present.
In particular when he said that “we removed the babies and we smashed the traditional way of life” and, as I reflected recently, this was a significant moment that sparked my interest in politics. But as I sat on the chair outside posing for a photo I knew there were no Blak politicians here in the Parliament since Neville Bonner, a Queensland senator in 1983, and it would be another five years til Aden Ridgeway came here as a NSW senator.
It is my dream to re-create this moment and others like it for many more First Nations and Australian girls and boys to spark their passion for participation in our political systems – rather than the sorrow or discontent I hear in their voices when they talk about our current system and representation. One I constantly hear doesn’t represent them or their future, particularly on issues like climate action.
I want every young person in this country to believe that regardless of your background – one day you could be standing here providing your first speech too, and that you have the right to belong in this system that should represent you and your issues.
I pay my heartfelt gratitude to my party, the WA Greens, who took the step of making me the first First Nations woman from WA in the Senate. I thank the members for your confidence in me and your investment in our grassroots movement. Together our vision to continue this work of fighting for a future that prioritises people and our planet.
I join the Senate to follow the important and unforgettable legacy of my predecessor Rachel Siewert. Rachel’s work, as many of you know and commented recently, over 16 years her amazing drive, tenacity and leadership, working across all sides of this place is what we commit ourselves to do as part of our responsibilities. It is not my intention to replace her in this place but to continue with her same admirable dedication, passion and commitment in our work for the Australian people.
My message to the people of my wonderful home state of WA – it is my honour to be your senator and to represent the voices and issues of our diverse people, place and circumstance which is our footprint, which is sometimes forgotten here in the federal Parliament.
When I think about the sheer geographical size of our state it’s easy to see why we are one of the most isolated places in the world. When you travel the breadth of the state which I have in my life from Mirrawong country near Kununurra, to Wongutha country in the Goldfields, across to Malgana country of Shark Bay to Minang country near Albany and everywhere in between, we share some amazing and spectacular places.
My job will be to fight for our interests and issues to be heard and considered and to make sure our diverseness and uniqueness is recognised and respected for its valuable contribution to our nation’s political, cultural, economic and social priorities.
Coupled with my vast lived experience, I come to this place through a journey shaped by opportunities, hard work and challenges. I come to this place, not as a career politician but as a First Nations woman who has worked in the area of social policy for two decades at state and federal government levels of this country. I have worked on the international stage as a delegate on behalf of this and successive governments.
I bring those learnings into this place, coupled with my knowledge of my people, country and our history to make a difference in all of our lives.
A shameful past
As a recognised leader in the international community, Australia has been heavily criticised for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and domestically we continue to see the ever increasing erosion of Indigenous rights including the rights to country and culture – which impact on our daily living.
Under the cloak of economic and social development, we make laws and enact decisions in this country that destroy the fabric of social and cultural rights of our First Peoples, while at the same time asking them to extend a hand to reconcile a past – one they are unable to escape in modern day Australia.
This degree of marginalisation continues to perpetuate despair and hopelessness. This is not a new thing and in fact my Noongar grandparents had to apply for citizenship – not because they were not from here, but because they needed to access rations to feed their children in the 1950s. All because this was government policy and they were classified and treated differently because of their race.
The serious lack of political will by our successive governments to prioritise the implementation of its obligations as a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must change, we need action to go further than a debate or conversation in this place. Remodelling and reshaping this important process to create models for governance must include the voices of our First Nations people from our recognised political and community leaders to our grassroots people.
The time to do this is now and requires nothing more than courage and leadership from all of us here – bipartisanship to ensure the next generation are able to participate and enjoy the shared future that recognises, respects and elevates the sovereignty of our First peoples of Australia.
The only way I see to do this is to join other Commonwealth countries in creating our own National Treaty. We need truth telling processes that pickup where the apology stopped and bring together the sovereign nations, complimenting and enhancing state based processes that enable us to drive localised change and to hear the important stories that clearly articulate the experiences of First peoples in the conversation.
Co-producing a national framework for our national Treaty to speak directly to the Parliament – understanding two way law and cultural practices that decolonizes a system for the true benefit of the people.
A true national identity shaped and celebrated by every single Australian – one that we can all be proud of.
It’s time for us in this place to create a shared vision, one that is grounded in humility and justice for our future generations and ratified through the internationally recognised treaty processes set by the global community. This work can and will bring reparative and restorative processes to our collective shared history and provide peace, healing and hope for our future Australian generations.
My experience and knowledge has shaped my approach and pivots on the way I see and participate in the community. I have lived and worked in regional WA and I can personally relate to the challenges we need to meet for our families and communities that have different geographic and accessibility challenges.
My home town is Kojonup in the Great Southern of WA and my family worked as shearers and farm hands over many generations – my yearn to be back on country includes reconnecting across the relationships and friendships forged by my ancestors when pastoral living shaped our economic survival and for many still does.
My Great Grandfather was an Irish cattle station owner at Dalgety Downs in the Gascoyne region, this is my Yamatji connection, before my grandfather’s removal to New Norcia Mission in Yued country. My family has survived 5 generations of the Stolen Generations regime in this country. I come from the first generation of children to be raised by their parents – one of the lucky ones.
On a recent regional trip to Yinggarda country to Carnarvon I visited the statue of the Lock Hospital at the 3 mile jetty. This story like so many others of intergenerational trauma still verberates across the families and communities affected by these policies.
WA is the leading state (not for good reason) for the highest rate of child removal in this country. It is this reason I came to be interested and heavily invested in the legislation that governed my peoples lives – as these are things we CAN change and that need better tailored and community led responses. These new approaches should NOT continue to perpetuate an institutionalised approach – the collective blood memory of our convict built nation where some of biggest investments in our country are the police and prison.
Like many others I continue through my resilience and resistance to a system which fails to see the intersectional issues needed for me not just to survive but thrive. One by one, I have overcome them – but for some of my fellow Australians this is not the case, evident through the unacceptable deaths across the Justice system that sees First Nations people, in particular women, dying in preventable circumstances. There should be a full coronial inquest into these deaths. I know multiple families have called for this inquest.
As a former police officer, my approach is couched as a reformist – following the implementation of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody I know the script has been written, but the performance has been stopped.
These recommendations were framed and written for ATSIC as the self determining framework – one that should have enabled a cohesive blueprint to self manage and evaluate the outcomes of an effective national implementation. But this is not the reality, it’s now just a watered down version of these national and state based commitments to improve the social determinants of health and wellbeing.
Under the guise of Closing the Gap we are prevented from the dismantling of the school to prison pipeline.
Governments continue business as usual until there is a new front page story of a death in police custody, this should raise eyebrows but these days I’m not even sure if it even makes a mention in the media summary to the relevant Minister. But in First Nations communities across the country it’s a constant triggering and cold reminder that there is no political will at all levels and sides of the political divide to stop these preventable deaths occurring.
In my home city Boorloo (Perth) 56 homeless people died in 2020, 44 to August this year and one third of those are First Nations. In this place WE know better and therefore WE should do better to interrogate and improve these systems now.
I am a staunch Blak feminist, a single mother of two daughters, someone who has experienced poverty and lived in social housing during my lifetime and as a business owner who was dispropertionality effected particularly over the course of this global pandemic and I am survivor and campaigner against family violence and discrimination.
In my two decades of work as an activist, consultant to successive governments and an advocate working in the Gender equality sector – we have to stop thinking that this is a women’s issue, but a societal issue that disproportionately affects women and children.
We have been tackling this issue all wrong and in a vacuum – constantly expecting women to be fixing the issues. Most of all we have NOT made it safe for women to call out harassment and violence. In this place it is our job to provide that safety as the first part of the solution. Identifying strategies and committing funding to address the drivers of violence to prevent this from happening to our children and grandchildren, what we know is that social disadvantage increases the prevalence of violence against women including state sanctioned violence. Disproportionately affecting First Nations women and girls. We are 35 times more likely to experience violence and 10 times more likely to be killed.
This is why I will campaign for a national inquiry into the Missing and Murdered First Nations Australian women. Similar to the one our First Nations Canadian brothers and sisters across the Pacific into our unacceptable rates of deaths of women. The red hand print symbol on my mask I wore into the chamber yesterday and today is the symbol of a bloodied hand silencing the voices of those stories. This work must be a priority to inform the already committed separate National Plan on Violence against First Nations women.
We must work to prioritise and expedite the range of responses that can transform societal and cultural norms that are at the heart of primary prevention work. A larger investment is required in primary prevention. Having trauma led, on-country programs diverting away from the justice system will enable healing and recovery to occur. This is the foundation for change.
My work in the United Nations and APEC forums have centred on removing the barriers for women to participate in decision making and solutions.
In many nations across the world, men are not absent from the supporting and elevating women’s voices – in Indigenous communities these are important and effective.
Decolonising platforms from policy development, advocacy work and alliance building relationships particularly in International have been instrumental in building my understanding and to work alongside my colleagues for the sharing of Blak women’s voices to be heard at the decision making tables.
Social and climate Justice are intrinsically linked issues. They define and maintain the social fabric of our societies. This has been the by-product of colonial processes in this nation.
As we move closer to the point of no return on climate change, we need urgent action and leadership from all Australian governments and sides of politics.
The impacts and biodiversity loss are two of the most important challenges and risks for human societies.
Here in this place we have the opportunity to consider the cross-cutting issues, intersectoral policies and regulatory frameworks that have strong synergies to contribute to the transformative societal change that are needed to achieve ambitious goals for biodiversity, climate mitigation and good quality of life.
As a First Nations woman who through my birthright was given the responsibility to protect and care for country – our Mother Earth. This political circumstance I was born into has been passed to me from my ancestors which they have been doing for generations.
Australian Indigenous knowledges are the ancient stories etched as rock art in caves, the songlines which were used to navigate and travel across the trade routes of this land whilst singing in language to vibrate the ancestral connections of people and place linking these to the past, present and future. Indigenous knowledge and connection to country is linked to identity; it’s part of our ancestral ways of knowing and being.
The protections of Cultural Heritage, tangible and intangible, are fundamental parts to the human and cultural rights of First Nations peoples – our live example of this is the Juukan Caves destruction.
First Nations people as the sovereign people are the only ones who can tell you the why, what, when and where this cultural connection and sites are. The cultural protocols of First Nations communities are built on reciprocity and that means it’s time for the Mining and Industry companies to step up and show public support for self determination, leadership and the inherent rights of First Nations people.
I am asking industry partners to publicly reject the current legislative framework that does not afford the human rights of First Nations people. Work in TRUE partnership with the First peoples to build good practice that ensures seamless and mutually beneficial outcomes, one that confirms, respects and honours the goodwill statements of the corporate sector post Juukan.
As the Australian Greens portfolio holder for Mining and Resources, Trade and Science, Research and Innovation – I am well positioned to take these conversations across Regional Australia, Business sector and Communities for us to reimagine a future that will accelerate our collective actions.
I am no stranger to the work of politics from my work in international flora to advising and lobbying governments. In lots of instances I was the lone First Nations voice on some of those delegations and in some instances the first Indigenous woman to break new ground.
If anyone was under the impression I was there as the token, this quickly changed as I always challenged myself to actively participate in all the processes that informed and shaped my worldview differences and shared solutions grounded in my experiences.
Breaking glass ceilings is only the first step and a challenge of going where others have not before. It is a great opportunity to learn and share your knowledge with others that are not operating in your circles.
My passion for breaking new ground across the stereotypical understandings and norms signal that I might be the first – but not the last. My footprint in this place casted in history-making actions should provide motivation and hopefully restore some hope and inspiration for many as we work to fight our future together.
In paving the way I hope the concept of “If you build it they will come” enables others to see themselves here in this place and in future generations we see the Parliaments of Australia transformed to truly represent our communities.