Supporting Adam Goodes

07 August 2015

It was moving to see how strongly the AFL and much of the broader community rallied behind him over the weekend and let’s all hope that this episode of racist behaviour is now over.

But even with that being so, this conversation has come so far as to expose some of the darker feelings and some of the fears which run through parts of the Australian community.

It has, very sadly, shown some of the limits of our understanding and our empathy.

It has questioned our self-confidence – our willingness to truly open ourselves up to strong and equal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia today – and therefore to true reconciliation.

Perhaps most of all, it has reminded us non-Indigenous people how we fail to grasp the magnitude of the intergenerational pain which affects so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

It is not confined to the old, the poor or the remote. The legacy of discrimination and dispossession lives on among all ages and classes and it will do so among children yet to be born.

Speaker, recent history is paved with governments wanting to reduce the inequality and injustice which persists for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and of making too little progress time after time.

Where gains have been made they have often rested on the leadership of prominent Aboriginal people – using their standing to reach out to others in the community, to offer support or mentorship, and to inspire pride and confidence.

Last year Adam Goodes was honoured as Australian of the Year because of his exceptional record in doing these things.

Yet somehow we recently got to a point where he has been booed and jeered on the football field in a systematic way.

This has been amplified through some media commentators eager to pass judgement and, of course, the open slather of social media.

People have been at pains to argue that far from being racial, the booing is personal, as if this is somehow more defensible.

Speaker, I’d like to make some comments on the national debate that has emerged around the treatment of Adam Goodes.

Obviously, the news that he is back training with the Swans and likely to take the field this weekend was great to read.

I was one of probably thousands of people who sent a supporting message to Adam last week and no doubt the groundswell of public support has helped him make this decision.

As if to attack someone for the way they express their cultural identity can be separated from the culture they are expressing.

Whatever the motivations, the impact of this behaviour is clear – not just on Adam Goodes himself but on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country who still feel the sting of racist attitudes in Australia today.

I’ll endeavour not to speak on anyone else’s behalf or tell people how they should feel or claim to understand what I cannot, as so many non-Indigenous people have presumed to do.

Instead I have looked to the comments of those who can understand: Warren Mundine, Nova Peris, Michael O’Loughlin, Stan Grant, Michael Long and others.

Their experiences point to the fact that history is repeating.

A section of the footballing community has put been put out of its comfort zone by a proud Aboriginal man willing to be outspoken about his culture, and has reacted against it.

For the media commentators so keen to write this off as trivial, I suggest they are the most threatened by this kind of statement.

Speaker, it’s ok for us to be put out of our comfort zones sometimes.

It’s inevitable.

There are so many uncomfortable truths in the history of black and white Australia.

But we have to learn to acknowledge this reality if reconciliation stands a chance, not react against it.

Especially not through boos while standing faceless in a crowd.

And as we try to progress a national conversation towards an agreed way to recognise the first Australians in the Constitution, we’ve got to do a whole lot better.

Real social progress tends not to be made unless its advocates are willing to risk making others uncomfortable.

I pay tribute to Adam Goodes and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are prepared to do so.

It is leaders like him who are some of this country’s greatest assets in the cause of reconciliation, if only we’re willing to embrace them.


Yvette Berry MLA

My adjournment speech to the Legislative Assembly - Tuesday 4 August 2015