Today marks the first anniversary of the introduction of the Aboriginal Languages Bill 2017 into the NSW Parliament. The bill was unanimously supported and became law on 24 October 2017.
This landmark bill is the first legislation in any Australian State to recognise the importance of Aboriginal languages. It acknowledges that Aboriginal languages are part of the culture and identity of Aboriginal people and establishes a Trust governed by Aboriginal people, to facilitate and support activities to reawaken, nurture and grow Aboriginal languages.
In recognition of its historic significance, the parliament adopted several innovate procedures to ensure that Aboriginal people were an integral part of the event, including permitting ‘strangers’ (non-members) to enter the Chamber and speak during debate and allowing a language other than English to be spoken in the Chamber.
The President of the Legislative Council, the Hon John Ajaka, worked closely with the Hon Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to ensure that the event was culturally appropriate. Prior to the bill’s introduction a welcome to country and a smoking ceremony took place in the Parliament House forecourt and message stick ceremony was held in the Chamber.
The President recently published an article in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s journal The Parliamentarian about this historic day. The article discusses the significance of the legislation, the innovative practices adopted and member reflections on these practices.
The Parliamentarian journal has a readership of over 17,000 parliamentarians from every national and provincial parliament in the Commonwealth. The article was based on a paper that the President presented earlier in the year at the Presiding officers and Clerk Conference in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Clerk of the Legislative Council, Mr David Blunt, also presented a paper at this conference, Orders for Papers and Parliamentary Committees: An Update from the New South Wales Legislative Council. This paper explored recent examples of the Council exercising its role as the House of Review. This year the Council has grappled with the extent of its powers to require documents classed as ‘cabinet information’ by the government. At the same time, two new parliamentary committees designed to enhance legislative scrutiny have been trialled, and two new ‘super committees’ on Public Accountability and Public Works have been established.