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Parliament honours black land

Extract from the Sydeny Morning Herald , on September 9th 2001.
Story by: Fia Cumming, Political Correspondent

Aboriginal ownership of Australia is likely to be acknowledged in an indigenous opening ceremony for the new Federal Parliament. The ceremony in the open air forecourt of Parliament House would recognise that Canberra was built on land originally occupied by the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. The Howard Government is considering adopting the ceremony, if re-elected, as a major step towards Aboriginal reconciliation.

The Labor Party has already promised to make the gesture a part of Parliament's traditions if it wins the poll, expected to be in late November or early December.

"Parliament should have incorporated indigenous elements in its opening 100 years ago," Labor reconciliation spokesman Bob McMullan said. "The sooner it happens, the better."

Reconciliation Minister Philip Ruddock signalled his support for the ceremony, calling it a "constructive and inclusive" gesture.

But a spokesman for Mr Ruddock said a decision on the ceremony would be left for the incoming government, whether Labor or Coalition.

Reconciliation Australia co-chair Shelley Reys said the acknowledgment would make a real contribution to reconciliation.

"It not only acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of the land, it is also a symbolic gesture of respect and of pride in the land we all now share," she said.

She said she hoped State and territory governments would consider similar proposals.

The idea of a ceremony was originally raised by the Council for Reconciliation in the mid-1990s, but has now been embraced by a Liberal-dominated parliamentary committee.

The House of Representatives procedures committee, chaired by Liberal MP Gary Nairn, said in a recent report that the traditional opening for each new parliament should be reconsidered for the Centenary of Federation.

The current ceremony, which has remained virtually the same since 1901, is modelled on the practices of the British Parliament.

The committee said it was important to recognise the role of Australian people in the purpose of the Parliament, and that included the nation's first people.

"As Australia works to achieve reconciliation, the Parliament can take a lead in reinforcing a message of inclusiveness and unity," it said.

The committee also proposed as part of the forecourt ceremony a "message from the Australian people" spoken by the incumbent Australian of the Year.

It also suggested dropping the archaic ritual of the Usher of the Black Rod banging on the door of the House of Representatives three times to summon members.



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