FEDERAL Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has added his own words of respect to the many tributes that have flowed since the passing of indigenous leader Eric Deeral yesterday morning.
“I knew Mr Deeral for many years and always considered him a real thinker, who was absolutely committed to making change and very firm in his beliefs,” Mr Entsch said today.
“It’s interesting that ten years before he was elected as the first indigenous member in the State Parliament, he had been selected by a group of elders as a future leader.
“When he stood in 1974, he clearly had the strength and commitment to be able to win that election and defeat six other candidates.”
Mr Entsch said the win came at a very controversial time when the Whitlam Government was trying to return Torres Strait Islands back to Papua New Guinea, but Mr Deeral defended the Torres Strait Islanders and argued against the move.
“Things would have been very different if people like Eric Deeral hadn’t stood up and made that commitment,” Mr Entsch said. “He was an indigenous advocate but very balanced in his views.”
Mr Entsch said it was often interesting to look at new member’s maiden speeches to understand why they have stood as parliamentarians.
“In Mr Deeral’s case, he spoke of his dreams for his community, and how he considered himself as an Australian from Queensland and mentioned that his family had lived in Cook for 20,000 years. That was a great point to make.
“He was also one of the first Aboriginal leaders to speak out about passive welfare, saying ‘No man can continually accept hand-outs without losing his initiative and self-respect.’ His comments are as relevant today as they were 37 years ago.”
It was after Mr Deeral’s retirement from politics that Mr Entsch came to know him.
“Mr Deeral played a key role on the Wet Tropics Management Authority and was instrumental in establishing the Cooktown Museum, which is a wonderful legacy,” Mr Entsch said.
“His achievements will not be forgotten, and while the Far North Queensland community is saddened by this loss, we can be comforted by the fact that we live in a better place for his contributions.”