As we begin a new year, it is an appropriate time to pause and reflect on our progress towards a just, equitable and reconciled Australia.
Reconciliation Australia co-chair Tom Calma AO highlighted the uniqueness of the history of Australia.
‘‘Here in Australia we’re fortunate enough to have one of the richest and oldest continuing cultures in the world,’’ Dr Calma said.
‘‘This is something we should all be proud of and celebrate.’’
Reconciliation Australia’s Vision of National Reconciliation is based on five critical dimensions: race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity and historical acceptance.
These five dimensions do not exist in isolation; they are inter-related and Australia can only achieve full reconciliation if there is progress in all five.
Race relations: All Australians understand and value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous cultures’, rights and experiences, which results in stronger relationships based on trust and respect and that are free of racism.
Equality and equity: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples participate equally in a range of life opportunities and the unique rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are recognised and upheld.
Unity: An Australian society that values and recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage as a proud part of a shared identity.
Institutional integrity: The active support of reconciliation by the nation’s political, business and community structures.
Historical acceptance: All Australians understand and accept the wrongs of the past and the impact of these wrongs. Australia makes amends for the wrongs of the past and ensures these wrongs are never repeated.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been calling for treaty/ies for many decades.
Negotiation of treaties and agreements by all governments and parliaments were recommendations of the final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 2000.
Given that Australia is the only Commonwealth country that does not have a treaty with its First National Peoples, the progress towards treaty/treaties in Victoria is an important first step towards true reconciliation.
History was made with the passage through the Victorian Parliament of Australia’s first ever treaty legislation in June 2018.
A number of other jurisdictions are progressing their own treaty and agreement-making processes, and are looking to Victoria with interest.
The South Australian Government had started treaty negotiations with Traditional Owners before a change of government paused negotiations.
Discussions are also under way in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
The First Nations National Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017 brought together 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and led to the Statement from the Heart, which included the following: ‘‘We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.’’
The constitutional convention called for a Voice to Parliament — a national indigenous representative body enshrined in the constitution.
The convention also called for a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
The Final Report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was handed down in November 2018.
The key point of this report is that the voice should become a reality and that it will be co-designed with government by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right across the nation.
After the design process is complete the legal form of the voice can then be worked out.
It will be easier to work out the legal form the voice should take once there is clarity on what the voice looks like.
The commitment to a voice, and the commitment to co-design of that voice are significant steps for the parliament to discuss and consider.
They are significant steps towards a bipartisan and agreed approach to advancing the cause of constitutional recognition.
The Joint Select Committee Final Report also stated ‘‘We believe there is a strong desire among all Australians to know more about the history, traditions and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their contact with other Australians both good and bad. A fuller understanding of our history including the relationship between black and white Australia will lead to a more reconciled nation.’’
With the backdrop of this progress, what can you do to work towards a reconciled Australia?
Become informed about the treaty progress in Victoria and get on board to lobby and advocate for justice and self-determination for Victoria’s First Nations Peoples.
Find out more about the Statement from the Heart and add your voice to those of other Australians who have supported the reforms in the Uluru Statement, visit https://www.1voiceuluru.org/
Read the Final Report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples by going to https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary—Business/Committees/Joint/Constitutional—Recognition—2018/ConstRecognition/Final—Report
— Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group convenor Dierdre Robertson