‘Meaningless’: GG draws fire for speech in Aboriginal language

Incoming Governor-General David Hurley during Monday's swearing-in in Canberra.

Incoming Governor-General David Hurley during Monday's swearing-in in Canberra. Photo: AAP

Former Labor leader Mark Latham has attacked the decision of Australia’s new Governor-General David Hurley to speak in the Ngunnawal Aboriginal language at his swearing in as “meaningless”.

The former chief of the Defence Force was sworn in as Australia’s 27th governor-general in a ceremony in Canberra on Monday.

His first words as Governor-General were in the Ngunnawal language, which he used “with permission” to highlight his engagement with Aboriginal Australia.

“We are good people. Well-intentioned. Difficult issues to be faced, but I think with a good heart,” he said.

“It is important that we are reminded of its goodness. In my closing speeches as [NSW] governor, I highlighted the richness of our society, not richness in a material sense, but a richness of spirit.

“I have seen this richness of spirit at work in the people and the organisations assisting our veterans, our rural communities under stress, asylum seekers who we have welcomed into our country and our indigenous brothers and sisters.”

As NSW governor, Mr Hurley trained with indigenous boxers at a Redfern boxing gym, where he became known as “the Governator”.

Also, earlier in the year, Mr Hurley used an Australia Day speech to call for indigenous languages to be taught more widely in schools.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese praised Mr Hurley for tackling the local indigenous language.

“This is a great honour which has been bestowed upon a great Australian and can I say – you have begun extremely well. A very brave decision to begin in the Ngunnawal language,” Mr Albanese said.

But Mr Latham, now a One Nation member of the NSW upper house, said the symbolism didn’t mean much for Aboriginal children living in “shanty towns”.

“Bully for him, but it’s meaningless,” he told Sky News.

“You can speak in 300 languages, it doesn’t help the kids in those shanty towns. I would rather he made a long speech about Aboriginal literacy.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Governor-General’s role was also about bringing Australians together.

“The Governor-General finds the good in this country and shines a light on it. In a global age of fragmentation and tribalism, we have in our system a constitutional office beyond politics that enables us all to come together,” he said.

“Not just on tarmacs or daises such as this or platforms, but in classrooms, hospital wards and on drought-stricken farms, more than any role in public life, the job of Governor-General is to bring Australians together, to remind us all of our social fabric and to uplift the discouraged and to give hope.”

The new Governor-General’s priorities

  • Engage with communities: “Highlight to Australians their inherent strengths, their concern for the common good, their humanity and decency and the desire for a fair go.”
  • Support organisations that help veterans, rural communities and asylum seekers: “There are countless organisations and people demonstrating how rich this country is every day.”
  • Support for indigenous Australians – including making Aurukun in Queensland his first official trip: “Helping young indigenous men and women develop skills in their community, to go on to broader commitments to our country, is such an important thing.”
  • Protecting democracy: “The strength of this country is our democracy which brings stability, peace and certainty to all of us. That is worth protecting.”

-with AAP

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