Legislative Council: Tuesday, February 06, 2024


O'Donoghue, Dr Lowitja

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:29): I seek leave to make a ministerial statement myself on the topic of Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE DSG.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I rise today to express the deep sadness many in the Aboriginal community and broadly across South Australia and the nation are feeling with the passing of Aboriginal leader Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue. I extend my heartfelt condolences to her family, her friends and the Aboriginal community that she relentlessly served over many decades.

I have just tabled a statement made in the other place by the Premier about Dr O'Donoghue's remarkable life, but as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs I would like to take a few moments to reflect on the extraordinary achievements that Dr O'Donoghue made for her Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue was a trailblazing force who has left an indelible mark on this nation's fabric that will continue to shape our future. She was a proud Yankunytjatjara person, whose life embodied resilience, fearlessness, tenacity, compassion, generosity and a tireless commitment to advancing the wellbeing and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Born in 1932 near Indulkana (or Iwantja in the Yankunytjatjara language) on Yankunytjatjara country in what is now known as the APY Lands, Dr O'Donoghue overcame the greatest of adversities—including the forced removal as a child from her family, her country and her culture—and in her early life was placed into the hands of Christian missionaries and raised at the Colebrook Children's Home near Quorn.

Famously, the matron of the Colebrook Children's Home told her at an early age that she would not amount to anything. It is hard to believe, knowing that this young woman went on to become one of if not the most influential Aboriginal person this country has ever seen. Amongst Dr O'Donoghue's many groundbreaking achievements, she became the first training nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, served as the inaugural Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, was the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly and played a pivotal role in the drafting of native title legislation that arose from the High Court's 1992 ruling in the landmark case of Mabo v Queensland (No. 2).

A recipient of many accolades, including a NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award, membership of the Order of Australia, Australian of the Year 1984, Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great, Companion of the Order of Australia, Commander of the British Empire, she was named as a national living treasure in 1998. Her legacy is reflected through institutions like the Lowitja Institute and the Lowitja O'Donoghue Foundation.

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Dr O'Donoghue's enduring impact lies not only in inspiring generations of future Aboriginal leaders but paved the way for many who followed in her footsteps. This is the purpose of the Lowitja Foundation and after extensive discussions with the family this week, and in many weeks before, they would encourage and I would encourage people who are looking at ways to honour Dr O'Donoghue's memory to consider donating to the Lowitja Foundation.

Dr O'Donoghue's family have accepted the offer of a state funeral in recognition of her significant contributions. The government intends to move a condolence motion after the funeral of Dr O'Donoghue to enable all members in both chambers who wish to provide reflections on her astonishing legacy. There is much more to say but for now it is fitting that we take a moment to reflect on the extraordinary life and legacy of a remarkable woman.

While I am on my feet, I would seek the leave of the council for the Leader of the Opposition to respond to my ministerial statement.

Leave granted.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (14:32): I rise on indulgence to echo the words of the Leader of the Government in this place and to acknowledge the passing of Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE DSG and the imperative role that she played in advocating for and extending Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights across Australia. On behalf of the Liberal opposition in this chamber, I would like to place on the record our deepest sympathy towards Dr O'Donoghue's family, friends and community.

I understand she passed away surrounded by her family and that she is being rightfully afforded a state funeral, a true testament to her incredible service and the absolute respect she commanded across the state. I note that the government will put forward a full condolence motion when appropriate and in line with the guidance of Dr O'Donoghue's family.

We the Liberal opposition will welcome that opportunity to make a more fulsome contribution to the life and achievements of Dr O'Donoghue, but in the meantime we call on all South Australians and indeed Australians to remember Dr O'Donoghue's legacy, not just in mourning but as a beacon of inspiration for continued advocacy for Indigenous rights and reconciliation.