The mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II has been a “difficult and painful reminder of the impact of colonisation” for many First Nations people, says the minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney.
“The Queen’s relationship with Indigenous Australians reflects both how far we have come and how far we still have to go,” Burney said in a condolence motion in the House of Representatives, adding that it showed the need to progress towards a referendum on the voice to parliament.
Federal politicians returned to Canberra for a rare Friday sitting of parliament, with both chambers devoting the entire day to condolence messages following the death of the monarch. Friday marks the end of the official “plans of observance” by the federal government, after Thursday’s national day of mourning and memorial service.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese again praised the late Queen as “a rare and reassuring constant amidst rapid change” and his successor, King Charles, for his “passion and his commitment to the natural environment and sustainability”.
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, said he hoped her legacy would “inspire the very best in Australians for generations to come”.
Burney was given a prominent speaking spot on the list of more than 100 politicians in the House of Representatives who had been nominated to give a short address. Speaking directly after leaders of the major political parties, the Wiradjuri woman said the “remarkable” outpouring of grief after the Queen’s death “clearly reflects the love and respect she has inspired”.
But Burney also spoke of mistreatment and discrimination against Indigenous Australians over her lifetime.
“In Aboriginal culture, sorry business is deeply important,” she said. “Just this week, I have been to two funerals of women of Elizabeth II’s generation; Aunty Esther Carol in Sydney on Monday and Aunty Nita Scott in Narromine on Tuesday.
“Two extraordinary women, born at a time in this country where they were subject to the horrors of the New South Wales Welfare Board, which rendered every Aboriginal person a ward of the state. It had total control. Both women grew up on Aboriginal reserves and experienced the yoke of the welfare board. But they were women of great determination and courage and, like the Queen, full of grace and dedicated to service.”
Burney spoke of the Queen’s 1954 visit to the regional Victorian town of Shepparton, where people were “hidden away” to not be seen by the monarch.
“This week has seen many wrestling with the swirling emotions … but equally there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have respect for the Queen, especially as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother,” she said.
Mentioning the changes over the Queen’s lifetime, including the Mabo decision and the 1967 referendum, Burney said Australia had “much more work to do”.
“It is my great hope that the years ahead will bring us closer to fulfilling Australia’s greatest promise,” she said.
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said some First Nations people had “mixed feelings” after the Queen’s death, saying Indigenous Australians were reflecting on “the pain at the frontier wars”.
McCarthy, assistant minister for Indigenous Australians, spoke in her speech about how her family members had shared different thoughts about the monarchy and “the world of colonialism”.
“Now deeply, still, the pain at the frontier wars and the conflicts that came with that,” she said.
“We know that these are the mixed feelings and emotions of so many across the globe in Commonwealth lands for First Nations people.”
McCarthy said the British system of Westminster democracy had been a “wonderful” thing, but emphasized the feelings of Indigenous people about what the Queen represented as a symbol.
At Thursday’s memorial service, the governor general, David Hurley, acknowledged the Queen’s death had sparked “different reactions for some” including Indigenous Australians, and said reconciliation was “a journey we as a nation must complete”.
Albanese had shrugged off questions about what the Queen’s death may mean for Australia’s republican movement, but said in his memorial speech that “in all things, including our advance to reconciliation, the Queen always wanted the best for our country”.
Greens senator Dorinda Cox said Australia should be “a mature nation capable of conversations that commemorate the life of a public figure, while calling out the problematic legacy of the British Empire”.
“These are tough conversations to hear and share, and it’s even harder to live through the oppressive systems that continue to perpetuate them,” the Yamatji-Noongar woman said. “As a nation, we have to tell all sides of the story.”
Country Liberal senator Jacinta Price spoke warmly of the Queen’s legacy, saying Australia “would not be the nation we are today if it were not for the support, devotedness and guidance of the monarchy”.
“History cannot be undone, and the inevitable inquiring explorations of mankind have meant all corners of the earth have been settled,” Price said. “This landmass we call home was never going to be left untouched by anyone other than our First Peoples. We can be grateful that it was in fact the British who settled here before the many other possible colonists.”