Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (16:22):
I would like to share the words of Ms Joni Wilson, Yanyuwa Garawa woman from Borroloola:
Country is important to me because it's my life; it is a part of my body, my soul and my spirit. It provides food, medicine, water and healing. It's important for my cultural connection to the land and my language, and the identity of who I am through my skin name. My skin determines how I fit into my clan. Country is important because I live off the land, like my ancestors did. It's my responsibility as a jungai, protector for country, as a traditional owner, to protect it with my people for the next generation to come. I want my kids to be able to practise, teach and learn on country, like I did and like my people did before me. Without our land and water, we are nothing and we are nobody.
Ms Joni Wilson is a strong Yanyuwa Garawa woman from Borroloola. She said this in her evidence to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee inquiry into oil and gas exploration and production in the Beetaloo basin, an inquiry that would not be happening without the support of Labor. And I do recall, as we do, all of us, that it is because of Labor that we're having this Senate inquiry at all.
It is traditional owners like Ms Wilson and many others who are able to tell their story, voices that have not been heard for way too long—for many, many years. They are traditional owners who have not had that opportunity to speak directly to the Senate, to the Australian parliament, to talk about the importance of protecting country and culture, that this is just as valuable and important as protecting industry interests.
Labor will continue to advocate for ongoing and meaningful consultation with traditional owners by both government and industry and for the cultural heritage that is so critical to our people as First Nations people, across the Northern Territory and Australia, and for the environment as well. It's because of the support of Labor that we are uncovering the story of how these grants are being made. It is enormously difficult, as any politician can tell, and it certainly is for me, a Yanyuwa Garawa woman in the Australian parliament trying to pursue, as best I can, through the many ways of navigating your Westminster system—to find the voices of our people. I do that as a Labor senator for the Northern Territory, as difficult as often that may be, in terms of its complex and oftentimes contradictory nature. But I firmly believe we are in this position due to the support of my colleagues in this inquiry.
We have a way to go and I will not give up ensuring that we persevere, most genuinely, to find out what is going on in the Beetaloo. I look forward to working diligently over the coming months, as a member of this Senate committee inquiry, to examine the grants process further. I am pleased that Labor has referred the grants process to the Auditor-General to examine the potential conflicts of interest, and I certainly will be pursuing that most vigorously as well. I am aware that Labor will be using every strategy at its disposal to continue to prosecute this work, to shine a light on the probity of this grants process and the conduct of particular ministers in handing out public money to their mates.
This message I give now is to the First Nations people of the Beetaloo region: I will not give up fighting for the rights of country. I will not give up. I will not walk away from what is so critical to all people of the Northern Territory. We must have a fair and just process in going forward, in understanding how it is that millions and millions of dollars can be so easily granted.