Two Indigenous senators from opposite sides of the chamber have delivered their first speeches, calling for reconciliation in vastly different ways.
Labor senator Jana Stewart, Australia’s youngest Indigenous parliamentarian, will push to increase the opportunities for First Nations children after reflecting on her own childhood.
She says children are not being treated equally with regards to the justice system.
“We stand eager and ready to blame them and their families for our systems failures,” she told the Senate on Wednesday.
“The resources race and class of your family, all of which your child has no control over shouldn’t determine your entry into the justice system. It does.”
The Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba woman spoke of her own childhood experiences as she lauded what education meant for her life trajectory.
Recalling sitting in class listening to the teacher speak about the Closing the Gap statistics, Senator Steward said: “It felt like they were reading out my future as a First Nations person.”
“If I was in a home that had family violence, which I was, my odds of being in a violent relationship sat at 50 per cent,” she said.
“There was no malice in this teacher’s lesson. For me, it felt personal.
“I’m grateful to my 18-year-old self for making the decision to complete year 12 and get straight into the workforce. Because to me, that was absolutely the right one.”
The senator also pushed for greater representation of First Nations people in public life and called for reconciliation.
“Black women and women of colour are often left out of the national conversation,” Senator Stewart said.
“Even when doing my research for today it was incredibly challenging to find the data to give visibility and voice to the problem.
“What I want to say to black women and women of colour is that I see you. I hear you. And I stand with you.”
Senator Stewart also advocated for lowering the age of criminal responsibility, which currently sits at 14.
The Victorian senator also paid tribute to the late Kimberley Kitching, who’s Senate spot she took after the 52-year-old died of a heart attack in March.
Northern Territory senator Nampijinpa Price also used her first speech to shine a light on the disadvantage Indigenous people face, including being over-represented in the justice system.
“The same standard of law and order must be upheld for all Australians regardless of background. We must not allow the racism of low expectations to prevail,” the Country Liberal Party said.
“We must uphold the rights of all Australian children by maintaining the same high standards of quality of care for every child and never lower the standards based on racial identity.”
Senator Price also took aim at the Albanese government’s promise to enshrine a voice to parliament in the constitution, saying she didn’t need a “paternalistic government to bestow my own empowerment upon me”.
“We must always remember that it’s not simply black and white. My elders taught me that any child who was conceived in our country holds within them the baby spirit of the creator ancestor from the land,” she said.
“In other words, Australian children of all backgrounds belong to this land. They too have dreaming and they too are connected spiritually to this country.
“This is what I know true reconciliation to be. These teachings cannot be delivered through legislation. These teachings are about what it means to be a modern human and ancient land.”