NACCHO Aboriginal Health : #NTIntervention: Ten years on and what has been achieved?

 

” The intervention was a “debacle” and a new attempt with Indigenous involvement “couldn’t do any worse .

I suggest a “mark two of what was attempted under the intervention”: a 10-year “Marshall plan” between federal and territory governments but with Aboriginal people as expert advisers on a planning, oversight and implementation committee.

It’s not enough to pay us the cursory privilege of being consulted, where our voices are not listened to and where we have no role in decision-making,” she said. “We couldn’t do any worse than what’s being done today, surely.”

Olga Havnen, the chief executive of the Danila Dilba Aboriginal health service see Part 2 story below

 “I  describe the intervention as “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

The legacy is that Aboriginal people were completely disempowered.

They had the Army going into communities in their uniforms. They had no idea why the Army was there. People were terrified that they’d come to take the kids away.”

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive Pat Turner see story part 3 NT Intervention: Australia’s most costly ‘political stunt’

As the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples calls for a fundamental reset of government and community relations with us, beginning with the implementation of the Uluru Statement resolutions for constitutional reform. Congress stands ready to fill the role of the advisory body to parliament.”

“We also call for the immediate implementation of the Redfern Statement, which provides a roadmap for how governments can work collaboratively with us to develop efficient and effective programs”

Congress press release Part 1 Below

Part 1 The Northern Territory Intervention: Ten years on and what has been achieved?

As a federal election loomed a decade ago, facing disappointing polls the government of the day was scandalized by sexual abuse in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities and proposed an intervention to improve the life chances of Aboriginal children.

The program won bipartisan support and continued under a new name, Stronger Futures, when the government changed. Closing the Gap targets were announced and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to improve the health, education, housing and employment status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country, and especially those living in remote communities.

A decade on, it is timely to consider results:

  • The annual Closing the Gap report shows that six of the seven targets are not on track.
  •  We understand that there has not been a single prosecution for child sexual abuse as a result of these programs.
  •  Aboriginal men have been stigmatized as drunken, irresponsible pedophiles.
  •  Provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act have been ignored to allow the Intervention to proceed.
  •  Communities have been weakened by the downgrading of local self-government. Those who presume to know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had their way.
  •  Tax payers are askance at the shocking waste of public monies on ineffective programs, for which many blame Aboriginal people.
  •  Most notably in the Northern Territory, but in the states as well, shocking abuses of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juveniles have been uncovered.
  •  Incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children have sky rocketed.
  •  United Nations representatives have issued reports critical of the Intervention and of government relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • The 97 recommendations of the 2007 Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle (Little Children are Sacred) report have been ignored.

A longer list would add to the inevitable conclusion that there is a crisis in Indigenous Affairs.

“The rationale for the Intervention was to protect Aboriginal children and to provide them with a better future. Health, education and well-being statistics demonstrate failure of the Intervention. There have been very few positive outcomes to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on the Intervention and related programs,” he said.

Part 2 NT intervention a ‘debacle’ and second attempt should be made, commission told

from Helen Davidson The Guardian

A 10-year Northern Territory intervention “mark two” could address the failings of the first one, which has seen most of the money “squandered”, the Northern Territory royal commission has heard.

Olga Havnen, the chief executive of the Danila Dilba Aboriginal health service, said the intervention was a “debacle” and a new attempt with Indigenous involvement “couldn’t do any worse”.

Havnen, who is also a former coordinator general for remote services in the NT, made the comments before the royal commission into the protection and detention of children on Thursday.

The hearing has coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the federal government’s emergency intervention into the region, which has been criticised as draconian and removing self-determination from Indigenous communities while failing to address Indigenous inequality.

Havnen told the hearing the NT was still reliant on federal funds and still failing to involve Indigenous people and organisations properly.

This week the commission heard the rates of child protection cases and notifications has more than doubled in the 10 years since the intervention. Separately, NT budget estimates revealed the number of children in out of home care had tripled, while the proportion in had dropped 20%.

Havnen said many government contracts were still procured without proper assessment of whether the organisation had the capability to work with Indigenous communities.

“These arrangements are absolutely stunning and I think are largely a legacy of the intervention supposedly committed to improving Aboriginal communities,” she said.

“By any measure the vast majority of that money has been squandered, and the people who made those decisions need to be held to account in my view.

“Just on the very cursory amount of information we have access to, you have to go: what the hell is actually really going on here and why does this continue to happen?”

Earlier this week the commission heard evidence a private business, Safe Pathways, had charged the Northern Territory government $85,000 a month to run a residential home for a maximum of four children.

A former Safe Pathways manager, Tracey Hancock, told the commission the amount would include staff wages but she didn’t have any further information on what the money was for.

Safe Pathways reportedly told the ABC the charges had been approved and accepted by the NT government.

“We get held up to be accountable as Aboriginal service providers and our level of accountability and transparency – every dollar we spend and commit, including performance outcomes, is well and truly documented,” Havnen said on Thursday.

“But you go and look at these websites for a lot of these NGOs running out-of-home services, there’s no detail about their governance arrangement, there’s no annual report, there’s no financial transparency or accountability. How is this good for anybody?”

Havnen earlier told the commission governments treated large non-Indigenous organisations as equal partners more than they did Indigenous organisations. She also said there were Indigenous organisations across the NT that were “well placed” to provide services currently contracted to non-Indigenous NGOs.

Aboriginal health services across the NT would be asked by the department to provide client medical records when there was an investigation “and yet we seem to be completely invisible to them as a capable partner and potential resource” to assist the department and vulnerable families, she said.

She said it seemed ironic and suggested the commission look at where remote Aboriginal health services were located. “Many of them are in those communities where we know large numbers of Aboriginal children are being removed from.”

Story 3 NT Intervention: Australia’s most costly ‘political stunt’

THE Federal Government’s radical plan to forcibly intervene in Aboriginal communities and impose restrictions on individuals was a billion dollar “political stunt”, a former political head has said.

WATCH SKYNEWS COVERAGE

The Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as “the Intervention”, was launched unilaterally by the Howard Government 10 years ago today.

It saw widespread alcohol bans and other restrictions imposed on 73 remote indigenous communities, as well as forced land leases, and changes to welfare under the Northern Territory Response Act 2007. The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended by the Commonwealth so thousands of indigenous people could have their welfare payments put onto “basics cards” for essential items. The Army, federal police and medical professionals were deployed to the communities for logistical support and health checks. The community development employment projects (CDEP) scheme was disbanded which limited job prospects for locals and an already limited support of bilingual education was cut off.

Communities that boasted distinctive ways of life as the oldest living culture in the world were suddenly referred to as “prescribed areas”, then “towns”, with individuals in need of reform.

Mr Howard said the Commonwealth had “responded” because the NT government of the day had failed to take action as recommended by the Little Children are Sacred report on child sexual abuse in NT indigenous communities.

The Intervention has cost Australian taxpayers more than one billion dollars but has largely proved ineffective in making a positive impact on the lives of those it denigrated.

NT’s first Labor chief minister Clare Martin said it was nothing more than a “political stunt” that was rolled out without her consultation when she was in power.

“(Then Prime Minister John Howard) didn’t ring me to say ‘can we talk about a possible intervention’, he rang me and said ‘there is an intervention taking place, I’m not going to talk to you about it, and it’s a done deal’,’ she told Sky News earlier today.

“I was stunned. I had no idea it was going to happen. I don’t think most people in the Territory — Aboriginal people who were the subject of it — they didn’t know it was going to happen, and very quickly you worked out it was mostly a political stunt.”

Ms Martin told the program she offered to fly to Canberra to discuss the plan but Mr Howard told her he was ‘too busy’ to meet.

“I thought for six years I had worked reasonably well with John Howard,” she said.

“I wasn’t in the same party as John Howard, but we always seemed to manage to sort things out, and then to be used as a political strategy like it obviously was, I just felt really deflated.

“My first thought when Howard rang me was to say expletives and resign and then I thought ‘well that’s just not mature’, but I did after that plan when I would leave.”

Ms Martin kept her position in the 2007 federal election then resigned as chief minister in November of the same year.

But she wasn’t the only one critical of the Intervention with the full scale of the blunder quickly revealing itself. It has widely been criticised for not directly involving Aboriginal people and instead giving rise to a remarkable spurt of government-funded activity that went on around them.

Twenty thousand Territorians are now on income management, despite the scheme not meeting its aims, according to a report.

Earlier this week, royal commissioners were told child protection notifications, substantiations and out-of-home placements had all more than doubled since 2007.

About 50 per cent of indigenous children in the NT now come to the attention of the child protection system by the age of 10, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory heard on Monday.

Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention. Picture: Chris Graham.

Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention. Picture: Chris Graham.Source:Supplied

Signs — like this one outside Alice Springs — were erected in many Aboriginal communities following the rollout of the NT Intervention.

Signs — like this one outside Alice Springs — were erected in many Aboriginal communities following the rollout of the NT Intervention.Source:News Limited

New figures by the Menzies School of Health research that were presented to the Royal Commission indicated the intervention has not made a difference.

“The data that we have shows that since the intervention rates of child protection notifications, substantiations and out of home care have all doubled and so if that’s an outcome we’re looking at, the intervention has really failed to make a difference for that particular outcome,” school spokesperson Sven Silburn said.

Professor Silburn said the lack of proper community engagement, which he said might have given the Intervention a better chance of success, was a “great mistake”.

Footage of children detained at Don Dale recently sparked a royal commission into the maltreatment of youths in detention. It came as the Territory’s incarceration rate hit a 15-year high — the highest per capita rate in Australia — with one per cent of the population behind bars and more than 85 per cent of inmates indigenous.

Federal indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion recently said the Intervention was flawed.

“I think it would have been far better to do some of the same things with the full compliance of the community rather than the community having the sense that it was imposed on us, so yes of course we could have done it better,” Mr Scullion said during a recent visit to the central Australian community of Mutitjulu, which was at the front line of the Intervention.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, community, families have to be at the centre of the decisions, if we’re going to make substantive and sustainable change.”

Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price has been vocal about the high level of violence in central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory intervention.

Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price has been vocal about the high level of violence in central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory intervention.Source:Supplied

 

Some high profile indigenous politicians and community members have expressed support for the Intervention.

Former Chair of the Northern Territory’s indigenous Affairs Advisory Council, Bess Price previously said the Intervention has “had an impact on the grog, the alcohol, and it’s made life a bit better for the children”.

“It’s gonna take years to fix not everything, but right now, it’s done a huge amount of, you know, change in the way people have thought about children as well in regards to their health and wellbeing,” Ms Price told the ABC in 2011.

Ms Price later came under attack for her comments from indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt who used her Twitter account to describe watching bestiality on TV as “less offensive than Bess Price”.

News.com.au has contacted Ms Price for comment.

megan.palin@news.com.au

NACCHO Aboriginal Health : The #NTIntervention 10 years on – history and evaluations

 ” And when the government announced the Intervention and commenced it, they sent in what they called ‘government business managers’ who were, in effect, the old, you know, ‘protectors’ of Aboriginals, the, you know, the old superintendents, the mission managers.

I mean, this is 10 years ago, this is not a hundred years ago, and Aboriginal people were being treated like this. It was almost a violation of every possible human right you could think of.”

Pat Turner AM CEO NACCHO speaking to Nick Grimm ABC (see full Interview Below

 

 Picture above : Powerhouse panel at UTS Sydney last night talking about the 10th anniversary of the #NTIntervention: @KylieSambo @Bunbajee Pat Turner & @LarissaBehrendt #IndigenousX

  ” In August 2007 the Howard Liberal Government enacted the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act, or, “the Intervention”. Liberal politicians marketed it as a solution to problems within Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

These problems include health, housing, employment and justice.  When Labor was in power it continued the Intervention’s major initiatives.

See 10 Years history of the NT Intervention Below Part 2 after the Interview

 Major General David Chalmers, of the Inter-Agency Northern Territory Emergency Response Task Force, and Mal Brough, indigenous affairs minister, are greeted by David Wongway, a member of the Imanpa Local Community Council

 ” In 2008, following the change of government after the 2007 Federal Election, the Rudd Labor Government re-framed the intervention through a new national policy focus on “Closing the Gap”. Rudds’ intention to re-work the Intervention to focus more closely on reforming the welfare system linked closely with the already existing targets of the Close the Gap Campaign.

The aims of the campaign are set out in the 2012 National Indigenous Reform Agreement ”

 The Intervention and the Closing the Gap Campaign see part 3

 ” Evaluating the Intervention is not an easy task. Impartial data is difficult to find and there is a mass of complex and conflicting information. However, by looking at the Closing the Gap targets that were set by the Government and considering human rights concerns, we have provided our assessment. Below we give major features of the Intervention a score out of 10.  We also score it for compliance with human rights.”

Issues with Evaluating the Interventionhow did we work out our grades? Part 4

NT Intervention – nothing has changed for the better: Pat Turner

Hear Interview HERE

NICK GRIMM: Ten years ago this week, one of the defining moments in Australian national life began unfolding in remote communities in the outback.

The Northern Territory intervention was launched by the then Howard government in response to reports of social dysfunction and allegations of endemic abuse of women and children in remote communities.

Since then, the policy has continued under governments of both persuasions.

But 10 years on critics of the Intervention say it’s fixed nothing.

Pat Turner is currently CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

She was previously a CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, ATSIC, and had a long career as a senior Commonwealth public servant.

I spoke to Pat Turner a little earlier.

Pat Turner, can I start by asking you this: Ten years on, what’s the best thing you have to say about the Northern Territory Intervention?

PAT TURNER: (Laughs) Nothing, really, I’m afraid.

It was a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

It came out of the blue, following the Commonwealth Government’s reading and response to The Little Children Are Sacred report.

NICK GRIMM: So how would you describe the legacy of the process that began 10 years ago?

PAT TURNER: Well, I think it’s still a shambles.

You know, both sides of politics were responsible.

While it was introduced by the Liberal government, the Coalition under John Howard and Mal Brough, it was carried on also by Jenny Macklin and Kevin Rudd and Gillard and so on.

So the legacy is that Aboriginal people were completely disempowered.

They had the Army going into communities in their uniforms. They had no idea why the Army was there.

You know, to send the Army in at a time like that was just totally confusing. People were terrified that they’d come to take the kids away. There would be no explanation as to why they were going in.

And it wasn’t their fault; it was the way the Government handled it.

The government also, at the time, insisted that every child under 16 have a full medical check. Now, actually what they were looking for, I think, was whether a child had been sexually abused.

And we said, at the time, those of us who were opposed to the way the Government was handling this, “You cannot do that without parental permission. You must have parental permission. You would not do a medical check on any other child in Australia and you should not do that with our children without their parents’ say-so”.

And what’s more, fine, go ahead, do a full medical check, but what are you going to do when you find the otitis media, when you find the trachoma, when you find the upper respiratory diseases, when you find rheumatic heart disease? Where…

NICK GRIMM: All those common medical conditions in those areas.

PAT TURNER: Absolutely, absolutely. And what are you going to do to treat these people?

Because you don’t have the health services that Aboriginal people should have. You don’t have those in place.

And they were paying doctors a phenomenal salary.

They also, of course, introduced the infamous cashless welfare card, called it ‘income management’, where 60 per cent of the income was quarantined for food and clothes and so on.

People weren’t allowed to get access to video, so that was a… and that was fine for X-rated videos and adult videos, but certainly not for entertainment, which a lot of families relied on in outlying communities.

And it had ramifications. I mean, there was a young Aboriginal businesswoman in Tennant Creek whose business went bust because she couldn’t hire out videos.

NICK GRIMM: Well, in your view, can we say that anything has changed for the better in those remote communities?

PAT TURNER: No.

Look, the other thing that happened at the time, Nick, was there was a reform in local government.

So, from the hundreds of Aboriginal community councils that were in place, they all became part of these super shires, nine super shires, so all the decision making at the local community level had evaporated.

And when the government announced the Intervention and commenced it, they sent in what they called ‘government business managers’ who were, in effect, the old, you know, ‘protectors’ of Aboriginals, the, you know, the old superintendents, the mission managers.

I mean, this is 10 years ago, this is not a hundred years ago, and Aboriginal people were being treated like this. It was almost a violation of every possible human right you could think of.

And what’s more, I called it at the time the Trojan Horse to get the land that our people have under freehold inalienable title in the Northern Territory.

And I thought it was a land grab, and I still believe that, you know, the Commonwealth certainly wanted to have a greater say over Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory – as did the Northern Territory Government, by the way.

NICK GRIMM: Yeah, well we’ve talked about the situation on the ground there in the Northern Territory.

What then would you say have been the national implications of the Intervention?

PAT TURNER: Well, I think without the evidence they’ve adopted – you know, Alan Tudge is very keen on the cashless welfare card, as is Twiggy Forrest, who promoted it.

While I see that, you know, there may be, you know, some opportunity for women to buy more food, it’s fine if you have access to fresh produce at a reasonable price that you could expect to pay in a major regional centre like Alice Springs.

You go out to the communities, the prices are at least double if not tripled, and they’re stale, rotten, old vegetables and meats and so on.

So, you know, that’s where government services need to step up through their outback stores and make sure that people are getting really fresh produce all the time, and healthy produce.

NICK GRIMM: Alright, Pat Turner, thanks very much for talking to us.

PAT TURNER: You’re most welcome. Thank you.

NICK GRIMM: Pat Turner is CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

Part 2

” In August 2007 the Howard Liberal Government enacted the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act, or, “the Intervention”. Liberal politicians marketed it as a solution to problems within Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

These problems include health, housing, employment and justice.  When Labor was in power it continued the Intervention’s major initiatives. “

See 10 Years history of the NT Intervention

Intervention was directed at addressing the disproportionate levels of violence in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, as well as the endemic disadvantage suffered in terms of health, housing, employment and justice.

It was also a direct response to the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle Report (‘Little Children are Sacred Report’) into sexual abuse of Indigenous children. This report was commissioned by the then Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin following an interview on the ABC’s Lateline program, in which Alice Springs Senior Crown Prosecutor Dr Nanette Rogers SC commented that the violence and sexual abuse of children that was entrenched in Indigenous society was ‘beyond most people’s comprehension and range of human experience’. The then Commonwealth Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, indicated in his second reading speech introducing the NTNERA that “[t]his bill… and the other bills introduced in the same package are all about the safety and wellbeing of children.”

The Little Children are Sacred Report was the result of in-depth research, investigation and community consultation over a period of over eight months by members of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry. The focus of their inquiry was instances of sexual abuse, especially of children, in Northern Territory Indigenous communities. The findings were presented to Chief Minister Martin in April 2007 and released to the public in June. The striking facts, graphic imagery and ardent plea for action contained in this report saw this issue gain widespread attention both in the media and in the political agenda, inciting divisive debate and discussion.

The NTNERA was enacted by the Howard Government just two months after the report was released to the public, allowing little time for consultation with Indigenous communities. It was framed as a ‘national emergency’ with army troops being deployed to Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. This took place in the lead up to the 2007 Federal Election, in which the Labor Party under Kevin Rudd defeated the Howard Government after four terms of Liberal government.

The Intervention in 2007

The Intervention was a $587 million package of legislation that made a number of changes affecting specified Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. It included restrictions on alcohol, changes to welfare payments, acquisition of parcels of land, education, employment and health initiatives, restrictions on pornography and other measures.

The package of legislation introduced included:

  • NorthernTerritory National Emergency Response Act 2007.
  • Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007.
  • Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment. (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007.
  • Appropriation (NorthernTerritory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008.
  • Appropriation (NorthernTerritory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 2) 2007-2008.

In order to enact this package of legislation, several existing laws were affected or partially suspended, including:

  •  Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
  •  Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
  • Native Title Act 1993(Cth).
  • Northern Territory Self-Government Act and related legislation.
  • Social Security Act 1991.
  • IncomeTax Assessment Act 1993.

A raft of reforms and regulations were introduced by this package of legislation, including:

  • Restricting the sale, consumption and purchase of alcohol in prescribed areas. This included the prohibition of alcohol in certain areas prescribed by the legislation, making collection of information compulsory for purchases over a certain amount and the introduction of new penalty provisions.
  • ‘Quarantining’ 50% of welfare payments from individuals living in designated communities and from beneficiaries who were judged to have neglected their children.
  • Compulsorily acquiring townships held under title provisions of the Native Title Act 1993 with the introduction of five year leases in order to give the government unconditional access. Sixty-five Aboriginal communities were compulsorily acquired.
  • Linking income support payments to school attendance for all people living on Aboriginal land, and providing mandatory meals for children at school at parents’ cost.
  • Introducing compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children.
  • Introducing pornography filters on publicly funded computers, and bans on pornography in designated areas.
  • Abolishing the permit system under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 for common areas, road corridors and airstrips for prescribed communities,.
  • Increasing policing levels in prescribed communities. Secondments were requested from other jurisdictions to supplement NT resources.
  • Marshalling local workforces through the work-for-the-dole program to clean-up and repair communities.
  • Reforming living arrangements in prescribed communities through introducing market based rents and normal tenancy arrangements.
  • Commonwealth funding for the provision of community services.
  • Removing customary law and cultural practice considerations from bail applications and sentencing in criminal trials.
  • Abolishing the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP).

Changes under successive governments

After an initial focus on preventing child sexual abuse, successive federal governments re-designed and re-framed the Intervention. This involved linking the Intervention with the broader ‘Closing the Gap’ campaign, introducing new measures such as the BasicsCard and tougher penalties for the possession of alcohol and pornography. Changes were also made to the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act (see section on Human Rights). The current package of legislation retains the support of the Liberal Government and is due to expire in 2022.

2008 Changes

The Intervention was introduced in 2007 by the Howard Government, but a change of government in September of that year saw the Labor Government under Kevin Rudd gain power. After some consultation and minor changes, the NTNERA and associated legislation were initially maintained.

In 2008 Rudd apologised to the members of the Stolen Generations on behalf of the nation. In 2009, Rudd also declared support for the most substantive framework for the rights of Indigenous peoples, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The previous Howard government had voted against the ratification of this treaty. Article 3 of the Declaration states that:

‘Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’.

The failure to recognise this right to self-determination would become one of the major points of criticism for the Intervention.

In 2009 Rudd implemented the BasicsCard.  The card is used to manage income in certain areas of the Northern Territory. It cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, tobacco-products, pornography, gambling products or services, home-brew kits or home-brew concentrate.

During the period 2009-2010 the Rudd Government committed itself to a re-design of the Intervention, with a focus on reinstating the suspended provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act) Act 2010 (Cth) repealed the ‘special measures’ that had been created under the original Intervention to suspend the operation of the RDA. However, this new legislation still did not comply with the RDA as it continued to discriminate against Indigenous Australians through land acquisition and compulsory income management.These measures overwhelmingly  affect Indigenous people.

The focus of the government then shifted slightly, concentrating more closely on the need to ‘tackle the destructive, intergenerational cycle of passive welfare’ (see then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin’s second reading speech). The Rudd government explicitly linked the Intervention to the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets, changing the focus of the Intervention from the protection of children from sexual abuse to the reform of the welfare system.

2012 changes

The legislative basis for the Intervention was due to expire in 2012.  Decisions regarding its future had to be made. Under the Gillard Government, the StrongerFuturesin the Northern Territory Act 2012 (Stronger Futures) replaced the NTNERA and extended the Intervention for a further ten years to 2022.  The StrongerFutureslegislation comprises three principal Acts (the Stronger Futures package), plus associated delegated legislation. The three Acts are:

  • Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012;
  • Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Act 2012; and
  • Social Security Legislation Amendment Act 2012.

In 2013, the  Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights examined Stronger Futures and the related legislation in their 11th Report. They noted that although the StrongerFutureslegislative package repealed the Northern Territory Emergency Response (‘NTER’) legislation, it retained three key policy elements:

  • The tackling alcohol abuse measure: the purpose of this measure was ‘to enable special measures to be taken to reduce alcohol-related harm to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
  • The land reform measure: the land reform measure enabled the Commonwealth to amend Northern Territory legislation relating to community living areas and town
  • camps to enable opportunities for private home ownership in town camps and more flexible long-term leases.
  • The food security measure: the purpose of this measure was ‘to enable special measures to be taken for the purpose of promoting food security for Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory’; modifying the legislation involves a 10 year timeframe with most provisions other than the alcohol measures being reviewed after 7 years.

The key changes imposed under the 2012 Stronger Futures legislation package consist of:

  • Expansion of income management through the BasicsCard and the increase of ‘quarantined’ payments to 70%.
  • Increased penalties related to alcohol and pornography, with as much as 6-months jail time for a single can of beer.
  • Expansion of policy that links school attendance with continued welfare payments.
  • Introduction of licences for ‘community stores’ to ensure the provisions of healthy, quality food.
  • Commonwealth given power to make regulations regarding the use of town camps.

{Sources: SBS Factbox, Stronger Futures in the NT, Listening but not Hearing Report}

Although consultation with Indigenous communities did take place, there was much criticism of the nature of the consultative process and the extent to which it was acted upon. The ‘Listening butnot Hearing’ report by the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning concluded that “the Government’s consultation process has fallen short of Australia’s obligation to consult with Indigenous peoples in relation to initiatives that affect them”.

The Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies has also stated that it was ‘invasive and limiting of individual freedoms and human rights, and require[s] rigorous monitoring’. Amnesty International commented that the new package of legislation was the same as the original ‘Intervention, but with the pretence of being non-discriminatory.’

2014 changes

The current Intervention legislation is not due to expire until 2022. During his time as Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott supported extending the intervention into the future.

In a speech in February of 2014, then Prime Minister Abbott identified the importance of closing the gap through investment in indigenous programs, with a specific focus on school attendance. However, this speech was followed by massive budget cuts to Aboriginal legal and health services, early childhood education and childcare, and the consolidation of 150 Indigenous programs into 5 core programs. While the 2015 Budget reinstated funding to Family Violence legal services, these ongoing cuts are expected to detrimentally affect attempts to Close the Gap of Indigenous disadvantage.

The 2015 Budget modified the  Stronger Futures NPA, redirecting $988.2 million in funds to the new National Partnership Agreement on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment  (NPA) over eight years. This new NPA prioritises schooling, community safety and employment. This funding also aims to help the Northern Territory Government take full responsibility for the delivery of services in remote Indigenous communities. Additional funding will also be made available to extend the income management scheme until 2017. However, the new NPA has halved the spending allocated to health measures, and means that the Federal Government will have less control over target outcomes.

Government administered funding of $1.4 billion, previously available under Stronger Futures, will not be transferred to the new NPA, but will be delivered by the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Social Services, outside the NPA framework. The new NPA will be complemented by a Remote Indigenous Housing Strategy that will receive $1.1 billion nationally.

Part 3 The Intervention and the Closing the Gap Campaign

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) had identified six areas of Indigenous disadvantage to target as the basis for the Closing the Gap Campaign. These were:

  1. Early childhood;
  2. Schooling;
  3. Health;
  4. Economic Participation;
  5. Safe Communities; and
  6. Governance and Leadership (see Right to Self Determination below).

The Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement (2009) ceased on the 30 June 2012. The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory package which started on 1 July 2012 continued to support the Closing the Gap reforms.

The 6th Annual Progress Report on Closing the Gap was tabled in Parliament by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott on 12 February 2014. It outlined the commitments made by the Coalition government, including:

  • Consolidating the administration of Indigenous programs from eight government departments into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • Establishing the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.
  • Increasing indigenous school  attendance  through  providing  $28.4 million funding for a remote school attendance program.
  • Improving indigenous  access to employment by commissioning a review and funding employment initiatives.
  • Supporting a referendum for the recognition of the First Australians in the Australian Constitution.

However, in the seventh annual progress report of 11 February 2015, then PM Tony Abbott labelled progress as ‘profoundly disappointing‘. The report concluded that 4 out of 7 targets were not on track to be met by their deadlines, with little progress in literacy and numeracy standards and a decline in employment outcomes since 2008.

Link to 2012 National Indigenous Reform agreement here.

Part 4 Issues with Evaluating the Intervention – how did we work out our grades? Part 4

Quantity of Evaluation:

The controversial nature of the Intervention and the need for expenditure to be accounted for has meant that there have been a large number of evaluations undertaken regarding various aspects of the Intervention. Within five years of the establishment of the Intervention, by December 2012, 98 reports, seven parliamentary inquiries and hundreds of submissions had been completed. However, the sheer quantity of these reports actually hinders the evaluation process, as it obstructs proper evaluation of effectiveness.

Impartiality of Evaluation:

The majority of evaluations of the Intervention have been undertaken by government departments and paid consultants. Australian National University researchers Jon Altman and Susie Russell suggest that the evaluation of the Intervention, instead of being an independent objective process, has been merged into the policy process and, in many cases, is performed by the policy-makers themselves. This means there is a real risk of evidence being ignored or hidden to suit an agenda.

Independent reports and government commissioned reports have often contradicted each other, with the government seeking to discredit independent reports rather than gathering additional data. This includes independent reports by researchers at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney, Concerned Australians and the Equality Rights Alliance, all of which have often come to different conclusions than government reports.

Quality and Consistency of Evaluation:

The ‘final evaluation’ of the Intervention under the NTNER occurred in November 2011 with the publication of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Evaluation ReportHowever, the Stronger Futures legislation did not come into effect until August 2012. This left eight months unaccounted for.

Closingthe Gap in the Northern Territory Monitoring Reports are conducted every six months. A significant criticism is that they focus on bureaucratic ‘outputs’ rather than outcomes. Income management studies, for example, have reported on ‘outputs’ such as the number of recipients of the Basics Card or the total amount of income quarantined, rather than focusing on the card’s effectiveness for health and child protection outcomes.

Much of the data collected has also relied on self-assessment in the form of surveys, such as asking individuals to rate their own health rather than collecting and analysing data on disease. Another issue is the ad hoc nature of some reports. For example, the review of the Alcohol Management Plan in Tennant Creek was only conducted once. This makes it difficult to make comparisons over the life of the policy and evaluate the effectiveness of particular measures.

Independent statistical data can be hard to find, since information compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics is national in scope and cannot be translated directly into the context of the individual Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Indigenous Australians also have a lower median age than other Australians, meaning data on employment rates or incarceration rates can be statistically skewed.

Benchmarks for Evaluation:

ANU researchers Jon Altman and Susie Russell have noted that the “absence of an overarching evaluation strategy has resulted in a fragmented and confused approach”. They found that the 2007 Intervention did not have any documentation articulating the basis of the policy, nor how it should be evaluated. The first document to address this was the unpublished Program Logic Options Report which was developed in 2010; three years after the Intervention began. This means that there are no original benchmarks for evaluation, and that the decision to extend the program in 2012 was made without clear evidence as to its effectiveness. Furthermore, there is a limited connection between the benchmarks proposed in the 2010 Report and those used in later evaluations.

From #Mabo25 to #UluruStatement and #Treaty : Mabo Commemoration Oration : Senator Patrick Dodson

 ” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to call for a treaty and a strong Indigenous voice if nothing is done.

These calls only highlight the need for constitutional reform.

Australia cannot move forward while our founding document, our birth certificate, embodies our racist past. The stubborn stains in our racist Constitution must be erased.

  • Eddie Koiki Mabo would expect nothing less.
  • Eddie Koiki Mabo was a great Australian.

We can find the Mabo spirit within each of us, and work together to build a great Australia, free from racism, honorable and just.”

Part 2

 “Last month at Uluru, in the spirit of constitutional conventions from which we had previously been excluded, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gathered.

Their one page document, Uluru Statement from the Heart, issues a series of challenges to the Parliament and the people of Australia.

  • It calls for constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.
  • It calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
  • It calls for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

A treaty or agreement, whether one or many, would be an acknowledgment flowing from the Mabo decision that terra nullius is a discredited, outmoded legal fiction and that this land was taken from Aboriginal people.”

Senator Patrick Dodson on June 16 delivered  this year’s 2017 ANU Mabo Commemoration Oration at University House. The Mabo Commemoration Oration was held to recognise the 25th anniversary of the Mabo ruling.

In June 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised that a group of Torres Strait Islanders, led by Eddie Mabo, held ownership of Mer (Murray Island). In acknowledging the traditional rights of the Meriam people to their land, the Court also held that native title existed for all Indigenous people. This landmark decision gave rise to important native title legislation the following year and rendered terra nullius a legal fiction.

Senator Patrick Dodson is a Yawuru man from Broome in Western Australia. He has dedicated his life work to being an advocate for constructive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples based on mutual respect, understanding and dialogue. He is a recipient of the Sydney International Peace prize

Image above : On display at Parliament House Canberra in a careful hand with coloured pencils, Eddie Mabo drew this map in the shape of the Island of Mer, noting the family names associated with tracts of the Island, including his own family name.

Full Oration

Thank you very much Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt and thank you for the Welcome to Country. I too join in the appreciation of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people for their welcome to their lands.

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Australian National University tonight to deliver a speech in honour of the late Eddie Koiki Mabo.

  • Mr Mabo was a man of history.
  • He celebrated his Mer and Torres Strait Islander history.
  • He made Australian history.

So it is to history that I will turn to start my remarks.

On 26 January 1788, the British flag was raised at Botany Bay.

The land, now part of the City of Sydney, was the territorial property of the Gadigal and Bidigal people of the Eora nation. It was held and looked after by them, for countless generations.

With a cheer and a tot of rum, to the sounds of fife and drums, the colony of New South Wales was proclaimed.

Over time, other colonies were established in other parts of Australia or by separation of their territory from New South Wales.

• Queensland was one of those.

Over time, the boundaries of the Queensland colony were stretched to include offshore northern islands around 1859.

The lines on the map between Papua New Guinea and Australia included the Murray Islands, the largest of which is Murray Island or Mer.

  • In 1912, the Island of Mer was declared a Reserve under the Land Act 1910 (Qld).
  • In 1936, Eddie Mabo was born in Mer.
  • In 1982, Eddie Koiki Mabo and four other Murray Islanders commenced proceedings against the State of Queensland.

They claimed ownership of parcels of land on Mer as the holders of native title under their customary law.

This litigation, bearing the name of the man we commemorate tonight, transformed the modern Australian common law.

• The case changed our History.

• For the good. On the first floor of our Parliament, I walk past a display of foundation documents of  Australia’s law and society.

This week I watched a group of school children walk through the area on their tours of Parliament House, under a banner that reads, “Parliament is the law-making body which determines the rules of the society by which people live.”

A couple of young boys were looking at a case where a page out of an old-school notebook was on display.

In a careful hand with coloured pencils, Eddie Mabo had drawn the shape of the Island of Mer, noting the family names associated with tracts of the Island, including his own family name.

On the same floor, there are other important documents and paintings on display: The Yirrkala bark petition, the Barunga petition, the Kevin Rudd apology.

Each of these artefacts talks to our most significant national historical challenge.

How can we recognise and acknowledge the fact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prior ownership of this land we now call Australia?

Mr Mabo’s map and the petitions call for all of us to recognise and acknowledge the fact  of occupation.

• to re-think the received colonial settler narrative. They remind us of the exertion of force by and on behalf of the British authorities.

  • The fact is: the British did not ask permission to settle.
  • The fact is: no-one consented, no-one ceded.
  • The fact is: the judiciary and the legislature have become less generous since The Mabo ruling.
  • The fact is: we need an agreement or treaty to settle not only the ongoing legacy of terra nullius but also the legacy of its existence.

The first peoples were in this land as owners and governors of their respective countries before and when the colonists ‘arrived’ and began to gradually occupy their territories and rule over them. Today those native title holders under the Native Title Act are evidence of their descent from their ancestors and are the living testimony of their prior occupation of their lands and waters.

They and their people proclaim continuing occupation. This land was not, and is not, terra nullius.

The only thing that threatens this is the application of extinguishment written into the Native Title Act. It is more sinister than its existence as a legal mechanism, because in most cases it requires the consent of the very people that hold the Native Title.

This is neither honourable, nor generous.

This is treachery and brings shame to the Mabo name. It belittles the vision and motives of Mr Mabo and the other families who fought and won a seminal victory in the High Court.

The Chief Justice of Australia who heard the Mabo case, Justice Sir Gerard Brennan made this determination on 3rd June 1992 :

  • The common law of Australia rejects the notion that, when the Crown acquired sovereignty over territory which is now part of Australia it thereby acquired the absolute beneficial ownership of the land therein, and
  • accepts that the antecedent rights and interests in land possessed by the indigenous inhabitants of the territory survived the change in sovereignty.
  • Those antecedent rights and interests thus constitute a burden on the radical title of the Crown.

His decision in the Mabo case ruled that:

• the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the island of Mer.

Rejecting the notion of “terra nullius”, native title was found to have survived the acquisition of sovereignty.

Of course the High Court as an instrument of our Constitution cannot rule on the issue of sovereignty.

It took ten long years to resolve the Mabo claim. It is a poignant tragedy that Koiki Mabo did not live long enough to hear the decision of the High Court.

  • To celebrate the recognition of what he knew in his heart and mind to be the truth
  • His country was in Mer.

From our viewpoint in history, we see the Case that bears his name as a major landmark, a signpost for our future. But the road is long and at times the travelling is hard going.

The Mabo decision led to an eruption of controversy and alarm, in much of mainstream Australia.

Mabo was an affront to the security provided by the lie of terra nullius.

The Commonwealth Parliament, in 1993, under the Labor Government of Paul Keating, enacted the Native Title Act.

The Act sought to build on the common law as defined in the Mabo case.The integrity around this today raises serious questions.

In my own State of Western Australia, in which more than half of the land was legally unalienated and mineral rich, the Government objected. The State Parliament in Perth passed a law to extinguish native title from the moment of colonisation and challenged the Commonwealth Act.

The High Court upheld the validity of the Native Title Act and found the Western Australian law to be invalid.

On a personal note, that decision enabled the Yawuru people to pursue our own native title interests and reclaim our country. My brother Mick and I have good reason to be forever grateful to Koiki Mabo and his pioneering vision and courage.

Another major milestone took place in 1996. The High Court in the Wik case found that Native Title and pastoral leases could co-exist.

The pastoral leases were a feature of the colonial period, trying to reign in the peacocking of the best lands by squatters.

  • There was at least some consideration by the Colonial authorities of the rights of Aboriginal people to travel over the leases.
  • Such rights themselves became caveats on the pastoral lease until gradually modified.

The Wik case was a simple matter of concurrent and co-existing rights but with the Native Title rights yielding to the leaseholder if there is a conflict. The public reaction by some sectors was ill informed and disgraceful.

So the generosity of the Court already had begun to harden somewhat in the qualification they put on the notion of “concurrent and coexistent” rights.

The Government of Prime Minister John Howard, could have used this decision as a positive step, as an opportunity for advancing reconciliation.

The Howard “Ten Point Plan” led to the 1996 amendments to the Native Title Act, and in the words of his Deputy Tim Fischer, delivered ‘bucket-loads of extinguishment’.

That legislation was in my view intended to reinstate terra nullius or to remove what Justice Brennan called the ‘burden on the radical title of the Crown’.

As a sweetener they also delivered opportunity previously denied except under a statutory land rights Act.

They opened the opportunity for Agreement Making, which unfortunately is too often structurally tied to extinguishment. Indigenous Land Use Agreements could be negotiated under the Act whereby Native Title Holders and other parties could agree on the use of Native Title lands, for mutual benefit and economic development.

Far too often, the price of that opportunity has been too high, in my view, leading to the extinguishment of Native Title, forever and a day, leaving a lingering burden on the shoulders of the native title holders.

Nevertheless, hundreds of agreements have been negotiated and signed across the nation, especially in Queensland, but also in my state of Western Australia, where an ILUA Agreement for the Noongar people, had been hailed as a major landmark, a Treaty in all but name for the people of the South West.

In the Senate this week, the validation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements has been under debate. There is a tension between law-making in the Parliament, the decisions of the Courts and the aspirations of Aboriginal people to negotiate agreements that retain their rights.

The concept of separation of powers is not always empathetic to the sense of justice held by Aboriginal people.

The Noongar agreement came unstuck with the McGlade decision. With the recent amendments in the Parliament this Agreement will go back to the process of registration, for the Noongars to settle.

At every step, the Labor Party has pushed for consultation on these Bills, through a Senate Committee, through submissions and through consultations with representatives of the Native Title Representative bodies.

At every step, we have remembered the legacy of Koiki Mabo and understand the fact that Native Title rights, now recognised in the common law, should not be changed, extinguished or modified at the whim of Government.

They do not exist as a gift of the Parliament, or an act of largesse by the Government of the day.

Native Title rights are ongoing rights, with deep roots into our common law held exclusively by Native Title holders. Amending legislation should always require the ‘free, prior and informed consent of Native Title holders.

The Native Title Act, much amended over time, has evolved in complexity and function. Koiki Mabo would probably have some difficulty understanding how his vision has become brutalised by Parliament.

The Australian Law Reform Commission, in its 2015 review, Connection to Country, has identified key areas of reform that are yet to be implemented by the Government. Indeed, we still await a formal response from the Government to its recommendations.

From my own perspective, as a native title holder, and now as a legislator, I see five key areas where the functioning of the Act requires rework, not least to better align it to the vision of Eddie Koiki Mabo. These are, in summary:

  • The need to rethink the presumption that an Agreement for alternative uses of native title land requires extinguishment of native title rights;
  • The need to rethink the decision-making process required under the Act;
  • The need to improve the fungibility for native title land without needing extinguishment or loss of communal title;
  • The need to address the rights of compensation for the loss of enjoyment, access and use of Native Title lands.
  • The need to change the onus of proof burden from native title applicants to the Crown
  • The Native Title Act can be refashioned to shift the point of balance towards the ongoing rights, interest, needs and concerns of Indigenous Australians. Doing so would restore the Act to its fundamental purpose: to recognise and protect native title, in the interests of Indigenous Australians, and our shared national future.

Last month at Uluru, in the spirit of constitutional conventions from which we had previously been excluded, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gathered.

They set out to deliberate and report back to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, through the Referendum Council, on Constitutional recognition.

Their one page document, Uluru Statement from the Heart, issues a series of challenges to the Parliament and the people of Australia.

  • It calls for constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.
  • It calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
  • It calls for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

From a Parliamentary perspective, we look forward to the report on those consultations from the Referendum Council at the end of the month. Hopefully working through these issues in the Parliament, in the time ahead, will take place in the spirit of constructive optimism.

To formulate a successful referendum outcome, especially in the next year a bipartisan, indeed, cross party consensus will need to be carefully shaped.

In my personal view, Constitutional reform, a treaty and a strong Indigenous voice have never been mutually exclusive—one does not come at the expense of the others.

• Of course I support an Agreement making process

A treaty or agreement, whether one or many, would be an acknowledgment flowing from the Mabo decision that terra nullius is a discredited, outmoded legal fiction and that this land was taken from Aboriginal people.

It would also pick up the opportunity that was lost when the Native Title negotiations focused solely upon land tenure.

I have never held the view that Mabo was only about land tenure. In fact when my views clashed with the then negotiators I was asked to discontinue any involvement in the process and dutifully left it to those who settled the issues with Prime Minister Keating.

There was no treaty when this land was colonized. In the future a treaty will be a strong step for a mature and harmonious nation. The work of Labor Governments in our States of Victoria and South Australia show it can be done.

Of course we need a strong Indigenous voice.

For too long Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been denied a voice, excluded from decision making processes about their own lives.

Indigenous people want to reset our relationship with government.

  • We want to be heard.
  • We have been calling for this for a long time.

Working to make a Voice effective within the processes of Parliament and capable of support from the whole Australian population in a referendum is a key challenge. A challenge Labor will consider carefully.

We look forward to more information on how the idea of an entrenched Voice can become a systemic, secure and successful legislative reality.

• We need to address the systemic racism that exists in our nation’s founding document, Australia’s Constitution.

We want our past to be acknowledged and we want to be involved in decisions about our future.

The Uluru Statement called for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First nations and truth-telling about our history.

Many rejected the  idea of any ‘symbolic’ acknowledgement in what they saw as a racist document, the  Constitution.

This may well have been a statement from the heart.

It is time we acknowledged that Indigenous people were not included in the Constitutional Conventions that were held all over Australia in the lead up to Federation.

The Australian Constitution was written by people who thought Indigenous people were lesser beings; a dying race with no sense of land use and development.

  • The dynamic of racism in Australia is institutional and it is structural.
  • The foundations of racism are entrenched, persistent, in this nation’s founding  document.

The question we need to work through is not about choosing between a treaty, a voice or constitutional recognition.

The question is whether Australia is able to move forward towards reconciliation —be that in the form of a Treaty, or an Indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution —while the nation’s foundation document remains, in its DNA, a flawed and racist document.

I understand this because I was a member of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians, which was tasked to report to the Government on possible options for constitutional change to give effect to indigenous constitutional recognition and to assess any legal consequence that might flow.

In 2012, the Expert Panel delivered our report , which made a series of recommendations including:

  • a statement of acknowledgment in the Constitution, relevant to the lawmaking power in indigenous affairs (new Section 51 A);
  • a modification to the wording of the Commonwealth’s lawmaking power in

Indigenous affairs (s 51 (26);

  • a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination (new S 116A); and
  • the removal of a provision that contemplates states disqualifying people from voting based on their race (s 25).

These recommendations recognise that the Government has the power to make laws about Indigenous people, but the laws must be beneficial and give the Parliament guidance.

It would be a mistake to consider this constitutional reform as merely ‘symbolic’.

Nothing about our Constitution is symbolic. There is not even a preamble that could point us to something symbolic.

The words in the Constitution reference powers that the Parliament uses to make laws.

They are words with real power. They are words that guide the Parliament in making laws and the Courts when they judge the validity of those laws.

Changing powers in the Constitution and giving clarification around how such powers can be used is not mere symbolism, “pretty words”.

Having an Indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution, without amending the Constitution to remove racially entrenched ideologies, is puzzling.

It seems to assume that an Indigenous voice in the Constitution could be strong enough to challenge the entrenched structural racism which shapes the policies and laws that affect the lives of Aboriginal people without removing the racist elements of the Constitution.

We know these policies and laws. They are the policies of assimilation, of forced social and cultural change. These are the policies that continue to remove Aboriginal people from their families, country and culture.

These are the policies that have caused Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to  make up approximately one quarter of Australia’s prison population, despite making up  just 3 per cent of the total population.

These are the policies which have led to Indigenous Australians dying a decade earlier than non-Indigenous Australians.

  • Policies that repeatedly fail Aboriginal people.
  • Policies that Koiki Mabo challenged with his life and would do so today if he were alive.

It is no coincidence that these policies exist alongside a constitution that is the legacy of a colonial settler narrative, a narrative that saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people as lesser beings and Australia as a land belonging to nobody. If we are going to clean up the mess that racism has made in Australia, in the hope that we might one day achieve reconciliation, we have to do it properly and honorably.

The report of the Referendum Council at the end of this month deserves and requires weighty consideration. If the Referendum Council’s recommendations do not get broad parliamentary support it will fail and there will be no referendum.

If there is broad support then, it requires careful consideration of a Bill and Explanatory Memorandum that can pass through this challenging and complicated parliament.

It requires a question that can be put to the Australian people that will pass the high bar of a referendum.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to call for a treaty and a strong Indigenous voice if nothing is done.

These calls only highlight the need for constitutional reform.

Australia cannot move forward while our founding document, our birth certificate, embodies our racist past. The stubborn stains in our racist Constitution must be erased.

  • Eddie Koiki Mabo would expect nothing less.
  • Eddie Koiki Mabo was a great Australian.

We can find the Mabo spirit within each of us, and work together to build a great Australia, free from racism, honorable and just.

Kaliya. Thank you.

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #NRW2017 #Mabo25 : Mabo’s legacy lives on 25 years after landmark High Court decision

” Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice … Mabo is an historic decision – we can make it an historic turning point, the basis of a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Aboriginal Australians. 

I believe that Mabo gives Australia the opportunity to mature as a nation. Just as there is no economy without environment, development must include justice and human rights.

I am not supposing a utopian dream where in all parties are completely happy and negotiate the perfect solution, but a way ahead toward fair and just solutions which all parties can live with and which do not sacrifice the interest of one over the other.

Most important of all, in the Federal Constitution, it is necessary that there be a recognition of Sovereignty as by that recognition and resulting compensation so that Aboriginal people can regain our dignity and be treated as equal partners in any future development of our land.

Charles Perkins AO 1993 Alice Springs ” Creating an economic template for our  healthy futures.” see full extract part 1 below

He (Eddie) was a fighter for the underdogs, anyone who was deemed to be treated unkindly – he would step up and support them.

“He also became a voice for people who had language difficulties.

To me, he was like a hero of the people.

I was sitting at a hospital in the carpark and I heard on the radio that my dad had won and I went ‘Oh my God he’s won’

And then I just started crying and I looked at my boy and I thought, he did it, he finally did it.”

ON THE morning of June 3, 1992, Gail Mabo was feeding her five-month-old son in her car, when her father’s landmark achievement was broadcast around Australia. Part 2 Below Interview Townsville Bulletin

 ” The High Court’s Mabo decision, 25 years ago on Saturday, triggered widespread celebrations and fresh hope among Indigenous Australians and their supporters, and exaggerated, even vitriolic outrage from some politicians, business leaders, journalists and academics.

These critics foreshadowed various economic and social disasters, including Jeff Kennett’s grossly irresponsible scaremongering that “backyards were at risk”. That was never the case. Little, if any, of this predicted chaos eventuated. Quite the reverse.”

Reforms are urgently needed to the native tile scheme

Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen, AM, QC, was junior counsel to Ron Castan, AM, QC, throughout the Mabo litigation, 1982-1992 Canberra Times 1 June See Part 3 Below

 ” In 1992 the High Court decided in Mabo No 2 that customary native title could be recognised at common law, reversing the longstanding doctrine of terra nullius—that the land of Australia had belonged to no one when the British arrived.

In some quarters the decision was condemned for its activism, and the fear of judicial activism currently haunts debates about Indigenous constitutional recognition.

Many benefits have flowed from the Mabo judgment and the recognition of native title to land—these benefits have been both practical and symbolic.

I can answer the question posed in the title of my lecture in the affirmative.

The Mabo judgment was an agent for change and recognition, though many issues of Indigenous recognition and rights remain unresolved.”

The Mabo High Court judgment:

Was it the agent for change and recognition?

The 2015 Mabo Oration was delivered by Dr Dawn Casey PSM FAHA, (now NACCHO COO ) at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, on 15 August 2015.

To View Website HERE or Download Speech

2015-Mabo-Oration-V 2

Part 1 :  ” Creating an economic template for our  healthy futures.” Dr Charles Perkins speech to NIBEC Business Conference in Alice Springs 1993 see full here

Pictured above Charles Perkins on the 3 June 1992 just after the Mabo judgement announced with then PR Colin Cowell ( Copyright Koori Mail first anniversary Conference )

As we are all aware this is The International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples which was launched in December 1992 in New York at the United Nations. It is a significant beginning to this decade of the 90o. the time is right, the scene is set, our people are ready and willing – this is or could be the decade for the renaissance of the Indigenous people in this country we now call Australia. History is  a guide but still a memory.

The future is ours to create. Today is our tomorrow. All societies have it seem to have one or two opportunities to fulfil their dreams and ours has arrived. We are on the threshold of our great national dream. The just, the good, the compassionate, the prosperous society.

The catalyst to move our people collectively towards this greater future has been granted to us the High Court in the recent Mabo decision. It could not come at a more opportune time, It is our once in a lifetime chance to recreate the society that we all desire.

As the Prime Minister stated in Sydney in December 1992, “We need these practical building blocks of change.

The Mabo judgement should be seen as one of these. By doing away with the bizarre conceit that this continent had no owners prior to settlement of Europeans. Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice … Mabo is an historic decision – we can make it an historic turning point, the basis of a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Aboriginal Australians. The message should be that there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, of the extension of social justice, or the deepening of Australian social democracy to include Indigenous Australians”.

Within this context the federal government must pursue, as they promised some years ago, the concept of a treaty.

This government must keep its promise to enter into a Treaty with the Indigenous people, particularly in this U.N. Year of the Indigenous People. This would demonstrate to the world that Australians – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, can exist in cultural harmony and celebrate our common humanity.

History must not be a cross we should carry as a nation, into the future. Our children must inherit a society better than the one we inherited. A treaty is not so much a matter of dollars and cents, it is more spiritual and symbolic. It can be a catalyst which binds us together as a nation, respecting our past but building for the future. Australians must never forget that Australia was Aboriginal land and still is Aboriginal land. A Treaty is the appropriate mechanism for such negotiations. Naturally, such a Treaty can be one of the basic principles for discussions and conclusion with the framework of the recent and further Mabo High Court decision.

As is public knowledge, on 3 June 1992, the High Court made the great leap forward in recognising that Australia and the Torres Strait Islands were not empty “terra Nullius” before the British invasion of 1788, but were peopled by hundreds of Aboriginal nations, each with a distinct, rich and complex culture. The Mabo decision thus take recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture at its starting point, and establishes that Aboriginal and TSI peoples have rights which have their source in traditional customary law rather than the British common law imposed on us in 1788. In this respect, the decision is empowering, as Aboriginal people are not starting with nothing and waiting for rights to be handed out piecemeal at the political him of the government of the day.

The Mabo decision represents an opportunity for some measure of justice to be gained for Aboriginal Peoples who are the most dispossessed of Indigenous peoples of all former British colonies, who are the most jailed race in the world and who have suffered and continue to suffer cultural genocide. However, Mabo is very limited in its “context”, it only addresses the narrow concept of native title and thus is defined in traditional areas.

It is also important to recognise the limitations of the case. Firstly, Aboriginal and TSI Sovereignty is a demand by Aboriginal people that the courts and Parliament of Australia recognise and acknowledge that the “acquisition” of sovereignty by the British in 1788 was illegal under English law at the time and also international law.

And that the acquiring of the land was by dispossession, genocide, ethnocide and it was consequently unlawful, illegal and immoral. Plus the demand that the government of Australia as the inheritors of the British Crown, compensate Aboriginal people for the loss and the damage done to our land and our culture. It is not a demand upon Australian individuals to surrender their land but rather a demand for recognition and compensation by the community as a whole. Sovereignity was not argued by the plaintiffs in Mabo, and therefore Commonwealth and State governments, according to the decision, have ultimate power to extinguish native title at will, subject to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

Given these limitations, the hysteria and scare mongering currently seen in the media is put into perspective. Australians will not lose their homes and backyards. One of the most basic principles of Mabo is that once a State Government grants freehold title to a third party (ie. A person or company) , and native title to that area is automatically extinguished. In lay language, once any person buys a bit of land, native title is completely wiped out.

You can see that far from Australia being on the brink of a black coup d’etat, native title is actually quite limited and vulnerable.

The question then arises, where do we go from here ?. The notion of native title coinciding with other interests in land points us toward the answer.

Mabo is about working together, about balance and recognition of Aboriginal and TSI culture as a source of strength and wisdom from which all Australians can learn.

Mabo is also about self-determination – giving Aboriginal and TSI peoples the space and resources to enjoy our culture, work out our own solutions and control our own lives. The imposition of successive waves of government policy has not solved anything for us, but only created more problems.

Some of the most difficult aspects of post-Mabo relations will stem from competing land use in the form of resource development and native title. I do not believe that Aboriginal And TSI peoples are anti-development, if it is done in a way which respects them.

The history of conflict between mining companies and Aboriginal people has largely resulted form the formers deceit, lack of proper consultation and negociation, marginalisation of Aboriginal people from benefits flowing from projects undertaken on their land and disrespect for the wishes of Aboriginal people, for example; in relation to the protection of sacred sites.

Today, Aboriginal people must be equal partners at the negotiating table, we must have our say and governments and resource developers must listen and work out with us proper solutions to these vexed problems in a faire, reasoned and balanced way. I believe that Mabo gives Australia the opportunity to mature as a nation. Just as there is no economy without environment, development must include justice and human rights.

I am not supposing a utopian dream where in all parties are completely happy and negotiate the perfect solution, but a way ahead toward fair and just solutions which all parties can live with and which do not sacrifice the interest of one over the other.

Most important of all, in the Federal Constitution, it is necessary that there be a recognition of Sovereignty as by that recognition and resulting compensation so that Aboriginal people can regain our dignity and be treated as equal partners in any future development of our land.

Part 2 : My father has opened the doorway.

His legacy is not just ours, it’s for everybody

“I was sitting at a hospital in the carpark and I heard on the radio that my dad had won and I went ‘Oh my God he’s won’,” she said.

“And then I just started crying and I looked at my boy and I thought, he did it, he finally did it.”

An overwhelming sense of pride enveloped Ms Mabo who was 28 at the time.

And 25 years later, her father, Eddie Mabo, continues to make a huge impact on her family’s life and the Australian community.

Saturday, June 3, will mark 25 years since the High Court abolished terra nullius – meaning land belonging to no one.

Eddie Mabo, who died five months before the High Court ruling, championed the historic court case to establish the traditional ownership of Australian land.

Ms Mabo said she and her siblings had grown up listening to the significance of land rights.

“He (Eddie) was a fighter for the underdogs, anyone who was deemed to be treated unkindly – he would step up and support them,” she said.

“He also became a voice for people who had language difficulties.

“To me, he was like a hero of the people.”

However in what Ms Mabo called a “knee-jerk reaction from the Government”, a 10-point plan was put in place following the High Court ruling.

Ms Mabo said government conditions regulated land rights so that indigenous people had to “jump through more hoops”.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about how people approach that and how they fight,” she said.

“It’s a longer battle but it’s a battle worth fighting.

“My father has opened the doorway.

“His legacy is not just ours, it’s for everyone.”

Palm Island Mayor Alf Lacey said the 25-year anniversary was a reminder that the ruling had “done what it needed to do”.

“The only thing I’d like to see is that it doesn’t stop progress for our future generations, particularly for our kids,” he said.

“We want to share some of the wealth and employment opportunities.

“It’s really important it gives us recognition.”

Mr Lacey said Native Title agreements, once resolved, enabled jobs to be created.

“Adani is going to be a good opportunity for indigenous North Queenslanders,” he said.

“Everyone needs to take a breath of fresh air because at the end of the day we have to provide a future for future generations.

“We need jobs. We need to reassess where we are.

“The only way we’ll close the gap is to give our mob an opportunity, rather than meddling in the social issues – they’re not getting us anywhere.”

Townsville is invited to attend the region’s commemoration of the 25-year Mabo Decision on June 3 at Jezzine Barracks.

The free event will include a performance by the John Butler Trio.

Part 3 :Reforms are urgently needed to the native tile scheme

The High Court’s Mabo decision, 25 years ago on Saturday, triggered widespread celebrations and fresh hope among Indigenous Australians and their supporters, and exaggerated, even vitriolic outrage from some politicians, business leaders, journalists and academics.

These critics foreshadowed various economic and social disasters, including Jeff Kennett’s grossly irresponsible scaremongering that “backyards were at risk”. That was never the case. Little, if any, of this predicted chaos eventuated. Quite the reverse.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson Illustration: Andrew Dyson

The court’s decision – that Indigenous Australians, subject to proof, enjoyed traditional rights and interests in their ancestral land pursuant to their customs and traditions, and that British colonisation had not extinguished these rights – opened up a wide range of possible responses by governments, state and federal.

After 18 months of intensive negotiations, the Keating federal government delivered a three-part response. These were the Native Title Act 1993; an Indigenous Land Corporation and associated Land Fund; and a social justice package.

The social justice package disappeared without trace. The ILC continues to operate, purchasing properties around the nation, transferring title to Indigenous corporations and assisting with their management. As at June 30, 2016, the ILC had purchased 252 properties, totalling around 5.86 million hectares, and granted 191 to Indigenous corporations.

The Native Title Act has delivered valuable results, but it remains a limited, excessively legalistic and inadequate scheme. As many have stated, the act – a heavily negotiated compromise deal championed by Paul Keating – represents a clear failure by the Federal Parliament to exploit anything like the full potential of the Mabo decision.

Following the Wik decision of 1998, the Howard government’s amendments to the act, including then deputy prime minister Tim Fischer’s “bucket loads of extinguishment”, further entrenched these defects.

The scheme’s greatest failing – and a prime area for urgent reform – is that the extensive extinguishment regime, plus legal technicalities built into the claims process, means that Indigenous communities who have lost their traditional connection to their country due to colonisation, and who thus are most worthy of some land-related redress – those located along the eastern seaboard – are cut out of the scheme’s benefits.

Nevertheless, much has been achieved. As of March 2017, 388 determinations whether native title exists have been made by the Federal Court – 308 of those succeeded, in whole or in part. These successful claims cover about 32 per cent of the Australian land mass.

Following strident opposition during the first 10 years by respondents, including by governments of all persuasions, today, native title is a more accepted part of the political and business landscape: much of the 1992-93 fear and trepidation has abated. Thus, over the past decade, many more claims have been negotiated, not forced to trial, delivering savings in cost and effort (but not always time), and many more “consent” determinations of native title. This more co-operative engagement provides a firmer basis for co-existence on the same land between traditional owners and crown grantees into the future.

A second stream of achievement is the negotiation and execution of Indigenous Land Use Agreements between traditional owners and respondents as part of the claims process. Currently, 1172 ILUAs have been concluded under the NTA’s “right to negotiate” regime. These deliver a range of outcomes for all sides: to the (for example, a mining company) respondents, secure access to land and utilisation of its resources.

Recent noteworthy developments include the emergence of regional claims where several claimant groups join together, as one “cultural block” to make one claim to one large, consolidated area. Examples include the Akiba claim, finalised in the High Court in 2013. Here, 13 Islander communities joined together and successfully claimed a large area of seas in the Torres Strait. Akiba also decided, for the first time since 1992, that native title rights can include rights to commercially exploit the land, seas and resources.

A second regional claim concerns the Noongar people in south-west of Western Australia. There, six groups joined together and negotiated a resolution with many respondents by way of six ILUAs and a legislated settlement with the WA government. Significant financial and other benefits were involved.

These regional claims also provide an obvious and potentially fruitful land-base for pursuing domestic “treaties” or “agreements”, which might deliver a measure of self-government to the relevant native title owners. In this sense, 1172 “domestic treaties” are already in place. Further, such “treaty” discussions are now under way with the Victorian and SA governments.

Many problems remain with the native title scheme and reforms are urgently needed. The most glaring failure, to my mind, is the excessively onerous burden of proof imposed upon Indigenous claimants.

Among many suggestions for reform, including reversing the current onus of proof, are recommendations contained in a substantial report of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Connection to Country (April 2015). These are sensible reforms fully consistent with the spirit of Mabo and the NTAct: to recognise, protect, and facilitate the claiming of, native title.

The ALRC’s report was tabled in the Federal Parliament in June 2015. To date, the Turnbull government through the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis QC, has failed to offer any response, let alone adopt these much-needed reforms. This rejection by silence is simply unacceptable, and is another example of elected politicians refusing to confront political “hot potatoes” – one major factor that triggered the commencement of the Mabo case in 1982.

As we celebrate 25 years on, this disinterest must be replaced by action. Otherwise, grand words about “closing the gap” become yet more cant and hollow hypocrisy.

Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen, AM, QC, was junior counsel to Ron Castan, AM, QC, throughout the Mabo litigation, 1982-1992.

 

 

 

 

 

Prime Minister @TurnbullMalcolm and @BillShortenMP opening #NRW2017 #1967Referendum #Mabo25 by taking a @TheLongWalkOZ to #dreamtimeattheG

 

” But to describe ‘67 as a sudden awakening of our nation to these injustices, minimizes the sacrifices of those families who had survived since European arrival and then contributed year upon year into seeking equality of opportunity.

This is a story of resilience. It is a story of survival. It is a story of persistence and courage.

Every step of the journey to 1967 was built on the last.

It was a campaign that took decades of relentless agitation and advocacy, setbacks and sacrifice, courage and resilience.

So in 2017 we stand on the shoulders of those giants. ‘

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opening #NRW2017 Melbourne

Download Speech PDF or read in full below

Prime Minister Speech 1967 Ref

 ” But even though we make this progress none of us can really pretend for one minute can we ?.

That racism has vanished from the game – or indeed from the country that we love. Years of legalised and institutionalised prejudice still cast a long shadow, paternalism and neglect are difficult habits hard to break.

So much of our historical narrative needs revisiting and discussion in order to reform and we see that shadow of inequality and diminished opportunity even now in housing, in education, in health, in family violence.

Think about in health, we still have too many of our First Australian Mothers losing babies, or dying in childbirth, we have even as we sit here looking at our progress, First Australians going blind because of a third-world disease We see it in our justice system – where young Aboriginal men are more likely, at the age of 18 to go to jail than to go to university.

As moving as this week of milestones has been, as magnificent as tonight’s game will surely be – I believe the best way our generation can honour the previous generation is by living up to the example that we’ve heard about today.

That means tackling the nitty-gritty of practical disadvantage, it means finding common ground.

Bill Shorten opening #NRW2017 Melbourne

Download Speech PDF or read in full below

Bill Shorten Speech 1967 Referendum

Watch Opening Ceremony #Dreamtime at the G

Or HERE online

VAHS and Gippsland ACCHO Healthy Lifestyle Teams at Long Walk Launch

SEE LINK to Album

Part 1 Prime Minister

I acknowledge that we are here on the land of the Wurundjeri people whose country extends to the north of the Birrarung, and the Boonwurrung people whose country extends to the south.

I pay my deepest respects to them, and their elders past and present.

And I acknowledge the campaigners of the 1967 Referendum, including here today Uncle Syd Jackson and Mr Jason Oakley, and the plaintiffs in the great Mabo litigation, whose 25th anniversary we are commemorating this week as well.

View new Reconciliation Week TV AD HERE

I’m joined by my Parliamentary colleagues Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Ken Wyatt MP, the Minister for Indigenous Health. Ken has actually just left us and said he’s got to go and meet with the AMA – but I think it’d be more entertaining here.

It is good to be joined by Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition.

And of course, the AFL – thank you for the extraordinary leadership you show. 700 AFL players, Richard, I was told a moment ago, Richard and Gill – 82 Indigenous players out of 700. What a great achievement.

Or Download this graphic as a PDF for sharing

AFLPA-Indigenous-Player-Map-2017

Tanya, thank you for your great speech and your great leadership. Justin Mohamed – CEO, Reconciliation Australia and Tom Calma – Co Chair. And so many dear friends and distinguished guests.

I want to thank for the Welcome to Country – Aunty Zeta and Aunty Carolyne. Thank you so much for welcoming us to your country.

And Aunty Pam – great speech and deadly shoes. Fantastic! So good.

NACCHO/ VAHS ACCHO file photo

And what an amazing performance from the Torres Strait, from the Eip Karem Beizam group, and of course the dancers and the singers, Shellie Morris and Dhapanbal Yunupingu. This is a great occasion.

Thank you all for joining us here today to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision, and the start of National Reconciliation Week 2017.

On this day exactly fifty years ago, millions of Australians had their names marked off on the electoral roll, stepped into a polling booth, just minutes later walked out, and united made history.

Their overwhelming support at the Referendum expanded Commonwealth powers to make laws relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and enabled all First Australians, who had always been here, as Chicka Dixon just reminded us to be counted as part of the official population.

1967 was a crucial point in Australia’s reconciliation journey, where we consciously moved from exclusion to inclusion, from injustice and pain, towards healing, and where we recognised we were greater united than divided.

For our First Australians had not been treated with the respect they deserved, with the respect you deserved, with laws and regulations controlling, limiting and diminishing your lives.

Generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, a number of whom are here today, who were removed from their families and communities because of the colour of their skin. We acknowledge that this removal separated children from their families, their lands, languages and cultures – cared for by their ancestors for more than 50,000 years.

Indigenous Diggers, returning from war having defended our freedoms, democracy and the rule of law, were denied the full rights of citizenship for which they had so bravely fought.

For our nation’s birth certificate, the Constitution, had declared a Federation from six separate colonies, but had excluded our First Australians – the very people who have cared for this land from time out of mind.

But to describe ‘67 as a sudden awakening of our nation to these injustices, minimizes the sacrifices of those families who had survived since European arrival and then contributed year upon year into seeking equality of opportunity.

This is a story of resilience. It is a story of survival. It is a story of persistence and courage.

Every step of the journey to 1967 was built on the last.

It was a campaign that took decades of relentless agitation and advocacy, setbacks and sacrifice, courage and resilience.

So in 2017 we stand on the shoulders of those giants.

And we are honoured to be joined here by some of the ‘67 campaigners and Mabo plaintiffs and their amilies.

They too stood on the shoulders of the giants that came before them.

In 1925 Worimi Fred Maynard established the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association with the logan “One God, One People, One Destiny”.

In 1938, Yorta Yorta man William Cooper, Bill Ferguson and Jack Patten organised the ‘Day of Mourning’ n Australia Day, as well as the indefatigable Margaret Tucker.

There were giants like Bill Onus, and Ngemba woman Pearl Gibbs.

With each step building on the last, Pastor Doug Nicholls succeeded Cooper as head of the Australian Aboriginals League

After a great career of football and politics Doug was the first Aboriginal person to be knighted, despite been excluded from the change rooms by his team mates simply because of his Aboriginality.

It is fitting the Sir Doug Nicholls Round will be played at the ‘G’ today, to recognise, as we do every year,his contribution to football and the spirit of reconciliation which he embodied.

Here in Victoria, the roots of the referendum movement trace right back to the early 19th century, when William Barak and Simon Wonga, led the Kulin nation in their struggle for their land and their culture

So many champions over so many years – each stream building into the river wide enough to embrace a nation and change its constitution.

Jessie Street, Bert Groves, Joyce Clague, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Chicka Dixon, Dulcie Flower, ShirleyPeisley, Pastor Frank Roberts, Laurie Moffatt, Joe McGuiness.

The Freedom Riders, led by the young Charles Perkins.

Too many to name, these are just a few – but we honour them all today.

On a Monday night in May 1957, thousands of Sydneysiders converged on the Town Hall to watch a documentary that laid bare the harsh reality of life for remote Indigenous communities. It revealed a nation divided.

This was the night Faith Bandler and Pearl Gibbs launched their petition to demand a better deal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Their campaign began with a couple of thousand signatures and ended just over 10 years later with 90.77 per cent of the population voting ‘yes’ for change.

The campaigners had an unswerving belief that every step would move us closer together as Australians.

So to everyone who, over decades, worked with and for the groups that built and grew the case for the referendum, today we say again thank you.

For the many hundreds of thousands of First Australians who felt the ground beneath them shift thatday, who felt their horizons open up and their status as citizens at long last enshrine the rights it should -the 27th of May 1967 remains the turning point.

And it’s why this week I announced a $138 million education package to further enable the economic and social inclusion for which the ’67 campaigners fought and for which our government is committed to continue and develop and grow.

Every element of our policy is focused on that economic empowerment, the foundation of which as we know, and Syd and I were just discussing this a momentago, is education.

‘67 saw Australians come together in a moment of national unity to properly acknowledge the identity, the culture, the history, the citizenship of our First Australians.

This week we also celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the High Court’s decision to uphold native title rights in the hard-won Mabo case.

The five plaintiffs were fighters for their spiritual and cultural survival – Eddie Mabo, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Salee.

Each step was built on the last, and importantly, because of the ‘67 change, the Commonwealth could create, could enact the Native Title Act.

Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and interests in the land have been formally recognised in over 40 per cent of Australia’s land mass.

The number of determinations under the Native Title Act now outweighs the number of claims currently registered.

Now, this week has seen us look towards another step, with the Referendum Council’s National Convention at Uluru.

As I know better than most, changing the Australian Constitution is not easy. 44 referendums, only 8 successes.

The last remotely controversial amendment to be approved was in 1946.

Indeed, history would indicate that to succeed not only must there be overwhelming support, but minimal, or at least tepid, opposition.

Fundamental to our Constitution is the supremacy of Parliament underneath the Constitution.

Our laws are made by the House of Representatives and the Senate – each democratically elected, with each member and senator representing both their constituency and above all their nation.

The campaigners of 67’s success inspired Neville Bonner to join the Liberal Party and run for Parliament.

He brought his voice to the Senate in 1971 and now there are five First Australians in our Parliament

including the first Aboriginal Minister – Ken Wyatt who was the first Aboriginal man to serve in the

House of Representatives and across the aisle Linda Burney the first Aboriginal woman so to serve in the House of Representatives. And of course in the Senate Pat Dodson, Malarndirri McCarthy and Jacqie Lambie

We thank the delegates at Uluru for their work which will now be considered by the Referendum Council which will in turn advise the Opposition Leader and myself and through us the Parliament.

See NACCHO Friday Post #Ulurustatement

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #treaty : #Uluru Summit calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution

It is the Parliament’s duty, and its alone, to propose changes to the Constitution.

But the Constitution cannot be changed by Parliament – only the Australian people can do that.

No political deal, no cross party compromise, no leaders’ handshake can deliver constitutional change.

To do that a constitutionally conservative nation must be persuaded that the proposed amendments respect the fundamental values of the Constitution and will deliver precise changes, clearly understood, that benefit all Australians.

A Referendum will demand politicians to lead, and we will, but a successful campaign for Constitutional

Recognition must ask Australians to acknowledge the humanity of their neighbour – their fellow Australian – and harness support for the proposal with as much resolute solidarity and unity as the campaigners of ’67 did 50 years ago.

Today I believe all Australians acknowledge what we know is true – that prior to European settlement our First Australians spoke hundreds of languages, cared for this country, your song lines crossed the entire nation, your languages carried sacred knowledge, your stories of creation were passed on from generation to generation, and when Aboriginal people lost those songs, those languages, that knowledge, we all lost. We all lost.

But we also acknowledge that despite so much loss, much was saved and you are, we are restoring and recovering languages and cultures, and in doing so, reuniting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all Australians, with the most ancient human cultures on earth.

Your contribution is not static or frozen in time and we’ve been reminded of that today. It is sewn into the fabric of our modern society and our modern economy, and as Prime Minister I will continue to acknowledge and do all I can to ensure that being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander means to be successful, to achieve, to have big dreams and high hopes, and to draw strength from your identity as an Indigenous person in this great country.

Charles Perkins said that ‘If he wouldn’t have done it, others would have.’

Perhaps he was right. But to those who have championed rights and equality for First Australians over our history, and those who continue that work today, you have never taken progress for granted and for that we thank you.

Your culture, our culture, is old and new, as dynamic as it is connected – on the highest tree top the new flower of the morning draws its being from deep and ancient roots.

Now it is up to us, together and united, to draw from the wisdom and the example of those we honour today and so inspired bring new heights and brighter blooms to that tree of reconciliation which protects and enriches us all.

Thank you very much.

Part 2

THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo Decision.

Good afternoon everybody.

I too, would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land upon which we meet,

I pay my respects to the traditional owners and indeed all elders past, present and future.

The Prime Minister very graciously acknowledged a lot of the guests here so I won’t go through the same list but simply echo the Prime Ministers words but I do want to say that as we celebrate anniversaries of half a century ago and a quarter of a century ago, we should also always acknowledge that for over 500 centuries – this is, was and always will be, Aboriginal land.

It would be remiss of me and perhaps even fool-hardy not to acknowledge, not only Auntie Carol and Auntie Zeta but Auntie Pam and perhaps not prominent on her CV but she and I would work together in a law firm — and if you could guess, for anyone who knows Pam she was in charge of nearly everything.

But I have to say Pam, when you spoke about your father, you gave us all a gift, one of the great sadnesses when a parent passes is that you can’t always reconstruct every conversation but what you did Pam, is when you described the folded chairs and the card table and the thermos and the sandwiches and the campaigning, what you did Pam, is you gave us the gift of an inkling of what it must have been like to have him as your father and what a strong man he was so thank you very much Pam.

I also should of course acknowledge the great campaigners of 67, the plaintiffs in Mabo and their proud families, although not all live with us, we are the beneficiaries of their legacy.

We are, I believe, more open and a more open and diverse country than we were 50 years ago.

More honest about our past, more confident about our future.

But this is not just because of the passage of time or mere good luck. It’s because of the people that we’re acknowledging today, there is inspiration in someone’s victory…there are lessons and one thing which I take from what we’ve heard today is that there’s no such thing as passive progress.

Progress is always a struggle.

No-one gave the 67 campaigners anything – it was earned, it was fought for. No-one gave Eddie Mabo and his fellow plaintiffs anything before he started and it wasn’t just contesting the law, the fact that these Plaintiffs believe the Australian justice system which, to be fair and accurate, hadn’t initially been the best friend of First Australians in the previous two hundred years, the fact that they contested it took a great strength of character.

No-one gave the Stolen Generations anything and this week is the twentieth anniversary of the Bringing them Home report indeed, for the Stolen Generations their very existence was arrogantly dismissed.

The inquiry described the stolen generations as tantamount to genocide but you and the stolen generation faced Australia, to make us look at the reality of children taken away from their mothers, from their country, from their families and their culture.

It is very difficult to bring the hard truth of history home and – at long last – we did say

Sorry.

And friends, as we celebrate I’m always conscious of that tension in politics and in life, how much do you talk about the good news and how much do you acknowledge the bad news, how much do you say and admire our progress and how much do we look at the journey we still have to go, it is that truth telling which I still think confronts us now.

We salute the outstanding accomplishments of our fellow Australians who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Australians.

I think of artists and authors and film-makers, I think of fashion-designers, I think of scientists and lawyers and school-teachers, I think of sports men and women.

But we also know, as we admire the progress that real reconciliation demands of us all especially those of us privileged to be in positions of leadership, it demands truth-telling.

Acknowledging that we have further to go, I believe, does not diminish what has been achieved, in fact it honours it and enhances previous struggle. Tonight, a packed crowd will be at the Sir Doug Nicholls Round watching two great teams and like Shaun Burgoyne last night and Buddy Franklin, Shane Edwards will proudly wear the 67 number tonight.

It is isn’t it a long way from when Doug Nicholls was driven from Carlton because of the colour of his skin, when All Australian Polly Farmer was the target of on field abuse each week.

When, my great friend Pat Dodson was playing for the Monivae Firsts in 1965 and 66, he describes himself as a Collingwood six-footer, he wasn’t counted as an Australian, although he captained that team.

And just like Rugby League – AFL is different and I think better, because of generations of Aboriginal stars who have won their admirers with their brilliance and changed minds with their courage.

Nicky Winmar lifting up his jumper and showing the Victoria Park crowd where I once worked, that he was black and proud.

Michael Long who made his stand on Anzac Day 1995. Adam Goodes – unshakeable in his dignity, unmoving in his strength… such a contrast to the cowards who booed him, hiding their prejudice in the crowd and so many other champions.

It’s ironic now, I don’t think anyone could imagine AFL without our Indigenous stars and I congratulate the leadership of successive leaders of the AFL including today Gillon McLachlan and Richard Goyder.

But even though we make this progress none of us can really pretend for one minute can we ?.

That racism has vanished from the game – or indeed from the country that we love. Years of legalised and institutionalised prejudice still cast a long shadow, paternalism and neglect are difficult habits hard to break.

So much of our historical narrative needs revisiting and discussion in order to reform and we see that shadow of inequality and diminished opportunity even now in housing, in education, in health, in family violence.

Think about in health, we still have too many of our First Australian Mothers losing babies, or dying in childbirth, we have even as we sit here looking at our progress, First Australians going blind because of a third-world disease We see it in our justice system – where young Aboriginal men are more likely, at the age of 18 to go to jail than to go to university.

We see it right now in the unacceptable record numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders growing-up in out-of-home care: struggling at school during the day, battling trauma and disconnection at night.

As moving as this week of milestones has been, as magnificent as tonight’s game will surely be – I believe the best way our generation can honour the previous generation is by living up to the example that we’ve heard about today.

That means tackling the nitty-gritty of practical disadvantage, it means finding common ground. Yesterday, delegates from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations said:

“In 67 we were counted, in 2017, we seek to be heard”. It is a powerful message about unfinished business in our country.

On behalf of all Australians, I want to thank the attendees who gathered at Uluru, the hundreds of Aboriginal people who have taken part in 12 dialogues around the nation.

And the thousands of people who have provided written submissions to the Referendum Council. The Referendum Council now has the task of drawing on all of these contributions – and providing a set of recommendations to the Prime Minister, myself and indeed the whole parliament, at the end of June.

It is complex and important work: we owe the members time and those who participated the time and the space to finish their work.

And we owe them an open mind on the big questions – the form recognition takes, on treaties, on changes required to the constitution and on the best way to fulfil the legitimate and long-held aspiration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for a meaningful, equal place in our democratic system.

I’ve had a number of constructive conversations with our Prime Minister including indicating, as far as I am concerned a sincere desire for bipartisanship and a sincere desire to make progress on this issue.

It is important that we combine Government and Opposition to try to work cooperatively, I’m sure we will have further dialogue, both of us will need to think hard, talk to colleagues and the Referendum Council and broadly with the community.

I do not doubt the size of the mountain that we have to climb.

But for any Australian looking for inspiration, I would say ‘look to our history’.

Look at the spirit of ‘67 or the legend of Eddie Mabo.

Look to the strength and the story of the Gurindji at Wave Hill.

Look to the brilliance of Doug Nicholls.

The lesson of Charlie Perkins and the Freedom Riders.

Look to the legacy of those Aboriginal service men and women who have served, fought and died for a country that up to that point didn’t even count them in its census.

Look at: Faith Bandler or Pearl Gibbs or Chicka Dixon, Joe McGinnis or Charlie Perkins and Jessie Street and many others.

And all those other heroes famous and perhaps not so famous who went door-to-door, shopping centre to shopping centre, signature by signature. I said earlier that no one gave these warriors of change, anything. Whatever they have won, they had earned but in fact they gave Australia a gift, 50 years ago.

They gave Australia a gift 25 years ago. They gave us the gift of hope – they gave us the gift of imagination. And it’s now it is our test to measure up.

I am a student of history, I look back and I wonder, what were people thinking, what were the arguments and the tensions and the means, what was going through their minds and what was going through their hearts.

It is incredibly, I think, encouraging that back in 1967 the parliament was full of white men, many born at the turn of the 20th Century, they found common ground to support a Yes vote.

The government didn’t fund a ‘No’ case in 1967.

If those men then, of a certain background and disposition could find the humility to admit that they were wrong, if they could find that wisdom within themselves to challenge their preconceptions and decide what was right…

If they could imagine then, in their circumstances a more equal time for Australia. Then are we in this generation up to it now?

Surely we can imagine a reconciled Australia?

Surely we can imagine an Australia where the gap is actually closed, where justice is colour-blind?.

Surely we can imagine an Australia where every Aboriginal child can grow up healthy, can get the best possible education, equal to every other child and to not have to be separated from their families.

Surely we can imagine now – and deliver now – a future:

Where Aboriginal mothers no longer live with the anxiety that their child could be taken from them.

Where the last stubborn stains of persistent racism are removed, forever – from our not only our hearts and our language but from our laws.

Surely we can deal honestly and decently with issues of reparations, recovery and reconnection where we are capable of having the important conversation about meaningful recognition, about treaties about post-constitutional settlement.

Surely we can imagine a set of circumstances just as there are Aboriginal AFL Champions that will one day have a Aboriginal Prime Minister or an Aboriginal President of our Republic.

But what is the most important, and I think the challenge for us is, for us in particular privilege who have some say in the debate of the day, is the road will be hard and it’s going to require the best thought and the best cooperation.

What it’s going to recognise is this, are we capable of imagining an Australia, where our first Australians are equal to all other Australians because I can already imagine that when our first Australians are equal to all other Australians then we are all better Australians.

Thank you very much.

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #treaty : #Uluru Summit calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution

“We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart.

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.

This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning  of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’ and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.”

Download PDF Referendum Council

Uluru Statement Referendum Council Pat Anderson

To resounding applause, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across the country have agreed to a landmark Uluru Statement calling for the establishment of a First Nations’ voice enshrined in the constitution.

“We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart.

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.

“This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning  of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’ and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

“This sovereignty  is a spiritual notion … it has never been ceded or extinguished , and co-exists with the sovereignity of the Crown.

“With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.

“When we have power over our own destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

“We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

“We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history…,” the statement says and “… we invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

The historic Uluru Convention was the last in a series of dialogues organised by the Referendum Council, bringing together hundreds of Indigenous people from communities around Australia to discuss constitutional reform.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar was present at the three-day event and she provided the Convention’s opening remarks.

The Commissioner endorsed the Uluru Statement and said having a First Nations’ voice in the constitution will enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples greater power over their lives, ensuring future generations of Indigenous Australians can flourish.

Commissioner Oscar said the dialogues were enriched by the experience, skills and talents shared by delegates and participants.

“The dialogues have brought together people of all ages, some of whom were engaged in the initial 1967 Referendum process 50 years ago.

“In so many ways, we have benefited from the energy, dedication and generosity of established and emerging leaders from regional Australia, from community organisations and from national organisations.

“Delegates have expressed diverse views throughout these discussions. Nevertheless, we have overwhelming support for substantive change.”

Commissioner Oscar described the Uluru Statement as a significant milestone for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, saying constitutional reform will enable real change in the lives our Australia’s First Peoples.

Commissioner Oscar also acknowledged the significant work of Referendum Council Co-Chair Pat Anderson and her colleagues in achieving a broad consensus on the proposal for change.

“This is just the beginning,” Commissioner Oscar said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have devoted a significant amount of time to these discussions over many years, in fact, over generations.

“This movement for change has been a long conversation for our peoples. We hope that the nation will recognise this and acknowledge constitutional change needs to occur.”

Delegates will now work through options to take the reform proposal to Government and the Australian people.

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDERS PEOPLES FROM ACROSS AUSTRALIA MAKE HISTORIC STATEMENT

Coming from all points of the southern sky, over 250 Delegates gathered at the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention and today made a historic statement from the heart in hopes of improving the lives of future generations.

The conversation at Uluru built on six months of discussions held around the country where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples considered five options presented in the Referendum Council’s discussion paper.

When asked what constitutional recognition means to them, First Nations peoples told the Council they don’t want recognition if it means a simple acknowledgement, but rather constitutional reform that makes a real difference in their communities.

At the Regional Dialogues consistent themes emerged and these reflected decades of calls for change. These were used to develop Guiding Principles (see below). A ruler was run across all options raised over the course of the Dialogues and three emerged as meeting all the Principles – these were truth-telling, treaty and a voice to Parliament. These became the focus of discussion at Uluru.

Building on years of work and activism, this process gave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the chance to have their say on constitutional reform and the model they would support moving forward.

Established by both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the Referendum Council were charged with seeking out the views of First Nations people from across the country and reporting back.

Today in Uluru, the spiritual heart of Australia, Delegates – a cross section of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from around Australia – adopted the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ with a standing ovation.

Delegates agreed that sovereignty has never been ceded or extinguished.

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, Delegates believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through, while giving Fist Nations people more control over their destiny.

Throughout the Convention and preceding Dialogues, Delegates have spoken passionately about the challenges and structural problems communities face including health, housing, high rates of suicide, community closures, Indigenous Advancement Strategy, education, community development program, youth detention and adult incarceration.

“These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness,” the Statement says.

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 Statement calls for establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations that includes truth-telling about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s history.

Delegations have nominated a working group to build on the momentum created by the Convention, to take up the roadmap laid down by the Uluru Statement and ensure its implementation following the Referendum Council’s report to Government at the end of June.

“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

The full Statement will now inform and be issued through the Council’s report to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, which will be delivered on 30 June.

The Referendum Council would like to thank the Aṉangu people for allowing us to meet on their land.

Guiding Principles

1. Does not diminish Aboriginal sovereignty and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty.

2. Involves substantive, structural reform.

3. Advances self-determination and the standards established under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

4. Recognises the status and rights of First Nations.

5. Tells the truth of history.

6. Does not foreclose on future advancement.

7. Does not waste the opportunity of reform.

8. Provides a mechanism for First Nations agreement-making.

9. Has the support of First Nations.

10. Does not interfere with current and future legal arrangements.

About the Referendum Council

The Referendum Council was jointly appointed by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten on 7 December 2015.

The Referendum Council’s job is to advise the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on progress and next steps towards constitutional reform.

A discussion paper has been released that outlines the main questions for Australians to consider.

All submissions and comments are welcome and can be provided through http://www.referendumcouncil.org.au

 

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #Sorryday #BTH20 @IndigenousX White Australia stole Indigenous children. And then stole their victimhood too

 ” As we commemorate Sorry Day on 26 May, it is vital to also recognise that 20 years has passed since the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Bringing Them Home report.

The report documented the culmination of a national enquiry into the history of the forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from family and community.

Although those who provided testimony to the enquiry are sometimes referred to as the “stolen generation”, they are, tragically, members of many generations of Indigenous children who experienced lives denied the experience of family and culture.

 Twenty years on from the release of the Bringing Them Home report it is long overdue that the burden of memory and the scales of justice shift to represent and speak on behalf of the victims of a national crime.”

Professor Tony Birch is a senior research fellow in the Moondani Balluk Academic Centre at Victoria University in Melbourne.

First published @IndigenousX / The Guardian

Download the report here

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #BTH20 Report released :

Bringing Them Home 20 Years on : An action plan for healing

The first thefts of Indigenous children occurred in the late 18th century, and continue to this day, with both the removal and incarceration of our children occurring at alarming levels and subject to extreme levels of violence.

Little has been achieved to ease the suffering of the stolen generations in the last two decades, with the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report largely ignored by governments, at both a commonwealth and state level.

In recent days, claims for a just compensation fund to be established has again been raised. The same call was made 20 years ago. At the time it was a gross act of hypocrisy to witness the tears of politicians reading from the Bringing Them Home report in the parliament while at the same time ignoring its recommendations, including that of monetary compensation being forwarded as a means of alleviating the levels of harm experienced by children and teenagers. In fact, raising the issue of monetary compensation was ridiculed by some politicians who regarded it as not only unnecessary and irresponsible, but potentially dangerous. Such a view was as unjust as it was paternalistic.

A legacy of the inquiry and the release of the report is the issue of suffering and the incapacity of the wider Australian community to express level of emotional maturity to take responsibility for this history. The wider community has also failed to act with genuine dignity towards the victims of the removal policies.

In the years following the inquiry, a critique of victimhood has grown in both popularity and scholarship. Too often Indigenous people are told not to suffer “a culture of victimhood”. Or that “playing the victim” is a poor strategy in calling for social and economic change. Those who ascribe to this critique are also thieves. They have stolen a word, victim, and tarnished it as a strategy for refusing responsibility or recognition – another word currently under the threat of theft.

Those with a fetish for labelling Indigenous people as suffering victimhood should read the report in detail. The women and men who spend their childhood and teenage years removed from community and country suffered gross psychological and physical abuse. They continued to suffer in the years after their release from institutions, church homes and foster care.

And they suffer today. They are victims; the victims of crimes committed nominally in the name of assimilation, which were in fact policies of extermination. Not only did generations of children suffer. The families left behind, the mothers who fought the state for many years to have their children returned, also suffered. It was the mothers and grandmothers, the fathers, and brothers and sisters of stolen children who spent the remainder of their own lives struck by a depth of grief that would never leave them. It was the communities who searched for the traces of children’s lives that also suffered; the memories found in a faded black and white photograph, a child’s toy or item of clothing, each a memory of love.

As we contemplate the word sorry and question to what extent it has become little more than a symbolic gesture – at best – we must also pause and give due thought to the word responsibility.

The history of stealing Indigenous children by white Australia is the responsibility of the nation. Full recognition of this history is also the responsibility of the nation. The brave women and men who told their stories to the inquiry were forced to relive harrowing and life-scarring experiences.

Members of the stolen generations have occasionally commented that they would sometimes like to forget their suffering, that they would prefer not to have to yet again recount experiences that exacerbate the trauma they carry. But they also know that they cannot forget, not while white Australia enjoys the privilege of feigned amnesia and a totally inadequate sense of true and lasting justice.

Twenty years on from the release of the Bringing Them Home report it is long overdue that the burden of memory and the scales of justice shift to represent and speak on behalf of the victims of a national crime.

Professor Tony Birch is a senior research fellow in the Moondani Balluk Academic Centre at Victoria University in Melbourne.

NACCHO Alert : Statements to Parliament #1967referendum #Mabo25 speeches from PM @TurnbullMalcolm and @BillShortenMP

 ” I want to thank the ‘67 Referendum campaigners and thank the Mabo campaigners for the gift they gave our nation through their perseverance and dedication to their peoples and cultures.

And I thank all First Australians who preserve their ancient culture, work so hard to maintain and recover ancient languages.

Your culture defines who you are, it speaks to your country, your identity, your belonging.

For time out of mind, for more than 50,000 years your people and your culture have shaped and been shaped, cared for and been cared by, defined and been defined by this land, our land, Australia.

Your culture, our culture, is old and new, as dynamic as it is connected – on the highest tree top the new flower of the morning draws its being from deep and ancient roots.

Now it is up to us, together and united, to draw from the wisdom and the example of those we honour today and so inspired, bring new heights and brighter blooms to that tree of reconciliation which protects and enriches us all

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speech : Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo Decision

Download full PM Speech here PDF

Prime Minister 1967 Referendum specch to house

Image above designed by Kristina McKinlay from NCIE Event

On Sunday 28 May from 12-5pm the NCIE 180 George St Redfern is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the successful 1967 Referendum at a community event.

NCIE CEO, Kirstie Parker said, “We’re proud to host stories and memories from the referendum campaign at the NCIE. We hope many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and wider communities will be able to attend to share stories, memories, film, images and food with us.”

 “And finally to a referendum, the highest hurdle in Australian politics, asking Australians to vote Yes for Aboriginal people.

I want to say, as we acknowledge the champions and heroes here, I want to acknowledge the 90.8 per cent of Australian, perhaps some of us here, our parents and grandparents – they too deserve credit for righting a long-overdue wrong.

That overwhelming verdict speaks for a country that came late to the need for institutional change – but our families did get there in the end.

And it speaks for people who refused to take ‘No’ for an answer.

As the celebrated poet Oodgeroo put it:

“The real victory was the spirit of hope and optimism…

We had won something… We were visible, hopeful and vocal.

Fringe-dwellers, no more”

Mabo was an historic decision – and the Keating Government made it an historic turning point. Without regard for politics or polls, Paul Keating took the opportunity to ensure justice was done.

He brought Indigenous leaders to the Cabinet table itself to negotiate the Native Title Act – including our friend, now-Senator Patrick Dodson.”

Bill Shorten Opposition Leader : Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo Decision see full Speech Part 2

Download full Bill Shorten Speech here PDF

Bill Shorten 1967 Referendum Speech to house

View speech here

Or Here

Mr Speaker.

Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny bulan bugarabang.

I acknowledge we are on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Australians come from nearly 200 countries, of all faiths, all cultures and all backgrounds.

And yet in a world where conflict and intolerance seem more intractable than ever, we live together in peace and harmony in the midst of extraordinary diversity.

Our nation has a bright future and much to celebrate.

However, Mr Speaker, we know that we have not always treated our First Australians with the respect that they deserve.

Truth is the first step towards healing.

And this week we honour those milestones that helped our nation chart a course towards reconciliation and healing – the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, 25 years since the Mabo High Court decision, and 20 years since the Bringing Them Home report.

Fifty years ago, laws and regulations controlled where our First Australians could and couldn’t move and what they could and couldn’t do – lives limited, lives demeaned, lives diminished.

Generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families and communities. We acknowledge that this removal separated children from their mothers and fathers, their families, their lands, their languages and cultures – cared for by their ancestors for over 50,000 years.

Indigenous Diggers, returned from war having defended our freedoms, our democracy and the rule of law, were denied the rights of citizenship for which they had so fiercely fought.

Fifty years ago our nation was given the opportunity to vote for change.

And, Mr Speaker, our nation did.

No member of this place authorised a ‘no’ case.

The Parliament and the community were united.

The Constitutional amendment was substantial, as it needed to be.

And the result defined our nation.

The 1967 Referendum had the highest ‘Yes’ vote of any Referendum before or since.

By working together as one, we voted as a nation to enable the Commonwealth to make laws relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for our First Australians, who had always been here, to finally be counted in the official population.

As the Indigenous rights campaigner, the late Chicka Dixon told his daughter Rhonda, who is here today, ‘The government counted everything. They counted the cattle, the cars, the TVs, but they didn’t count us. It’s like we were invisible’.

A campaign badge said ‘Vote Yes for Aborigines’ and the Referendum was known as ‘the Aboriginal question’. But this was a question about our Australian values, and the nation voted yes for Aborigines and for Australians.

And so the campaign was fought on the platform of rights and freedoms. Indigenous people wanted and demanded to enjoy the full and equal rights of the citizenship they had been granted years earlier.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in many parts of the country could still not freely attend public swimming pools, sit in the classroom at a public school without fear of exclusion, or have a drink with their mates at the local pub. And fundamentally our First Australians could not shape their own identity.

And that discrimination and exclusion diminished us all as Australians.

It did not reflect the sacrifices and the contribution our First Australians made to our nation, or indeed the humanity of all of us, all our fellow Australians.

90.77 per cent of people recognised this injustice and voted for change.

This renewed confidence inspired our first Indigenous Parliamentarian to join the Liberal Party—Neville Bonner who entered the Senate in 1971.

Pat Dodson, Malarndirri McCarthy and Jacqui Lambie serve in the Senate today as Neville Bonner did.

And Ken Wyatt was the first Aboriginal man to be elected to this House, and Linda Burney the first woman.

Ken, the Minister for Ageing and Indigenous Health is the first Indigenous Minister in a Commonwealth Government.

The 1967 Referendum provided the constitutional basis for our native title legislation and heritage protection.

And in response to the historic Mabo High Court case, which overturned the doctrine of terra nullius, the Parliament passed the Native Title Act in 1993.

Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and interests in the land have been formally recognised in over 40 per cent of Australia’s land mass.

The number of determinations under the Native Title Act now outweigh the number of claims currently registered.

The ownership and custodianship of the land has led to greater economic empowerment of communities across the country, the preservation of culture, and a network of Indigenous rangers who maintain our lands for our children and grandchildren.

And just as we could not foreshadow all the positive implications of these changes, great things can flow from amending the Constitution again.

We must not forget, Mr Speaker, that the road to the 1967 Referendum was neither short nor easy.

For more than 50 years before, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had fought to stop discrimination by governments.

There were many compromises along the way.

Building on the success of the ’67 campaign, 50 years on, we now have the chance to take another step in our journey.

An important Indigenous designed and led discussion is occurring at Uluru today, as our nation considers further changes to the Constitution.

It is vitally important our First Australians consider and debate the models of recognition, free of political interference, and that the diversity of views and opinions within the Indigenous communities are discussed.

The next step in Constitutional recognition needs to be embraced by all Australians, but it needs first to be embraced by our First Australians if it is to be proposed at all.

I know I speak for the Leader of the Opposition when I say we both look forward to receiving the report from the Referendum Council.

The early campaigners who stood up for what was right, who fought to stop discrimination and whose contribution to the nation has been so remarkable should be recognised, remembered, well known.

As I was saying to some of you earlier this morning – you have written great bold chapters in our nation’s history.

Campaigners like Worimi man Fred Maynard, who established Australia’s first all-Aboriginal political organisation, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association in New South Wales in the early 1920s. Fred wanted the right for Aboriginal people to determine their own lives, control their own land, and for the New South Wales Government to close the Aborigines Protection Board.

Campaigners like William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta man from Victoria, who tried to petition King George V seeking Aboriginal representation in the Australian Parliament. The then Government said ‘no good purpose’ would come of sending the petition, and they didn’t – a glimpse of the political powerlessness experienced by Aboriginal people in those days. I acknowledge the presence in the House today of William Cooper’s great-grandson Kevin Russell.

Jessie Street had an unwavering belief that the time was right to launch the campaign for the 1967 Referendum. Jessie said: “You can’t get anywhere without a change in the Constitution and you can’t get that without a referendum. You’ll need a petition with 100,000 signatures. We’d better start on it at once”. And together they did. We welcome Jessie’s grandson, Andrew Mackay, and great grandson, Will Mackay, who are here today.

Joe McGinness brought state representative bodies together to speak with one respected voice to Government and the people of Australia. Joe is one of the great unsung leaders of our nation. Senator Pat Dodson has said that Joe was: “The inspiration to many…who have joined in the battle for justice. He has provided wisdom and advice, guidance and correction, humour and hope.” We welcome his daughter Sandra McGinness, who is here with us today.

Sir Doug Nicholls was a founding member of the renamed Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, a coalition of church leaders, unionists and Indigenous activists.

Sir Doug’s daughter Aunty Pam Pedersen and granddaughter Diana Travis—who were both in the campaign, Diana as a teenager—are also here today.

These are just some of the many people who brought wisdom and leadership to ‘67’s cause.

So too did Jack and Jean Horner, Stan Davey, Shirley Andrews, Pearl Gibbs, Hannah and Emil Witton, whose daughter Heidi and granddaughter Keren Cox-Witton are with us today.

And, of course there was Faith Bandler who campaigned so hard—for 10 years—and who would help bring the Referendum home.

Faith’s vision was clear—to see Aboriginal people as ‘one people’ with all Australians.

Hers was a message, not of assimilation, but of unity – of black people and white people working together, equally valued. Faith did not want to be singled out – in her view the Referendum outcome was the result of good teamwork

We honour all those who stood together including those in the house with us today—Aunty Dulcie Flower, Aunty Shirley Peisley, Aunty Ruth Wallace, Uncle Bob Anderson, Uncle Gordon Briscoe, Dr Barrie Pittock and Uncle Alf Neal.

The Freedom Riders led by the young Charlie Perkins in 1965, brought racial discrimination into the minds of Australian households and appealed to a great Australian value – a fair go. Welcome Eileen Perkins, Charlie’s wife, his son Adam and three grandsons.

And on the 3rd of June we will acknowledge a critical milestone in Indigenous land rights—the 25th anniversary of the historic Mabo High Court decision.

It was Eddie Mabo and the other plaintiffs, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Salee who’s perseverance brought about the High Court of Australia’s decision to recognise the native title rights of the Meriam people of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait.

And they are all represented here today. I want to especially acknowledge the presence of Eddie Mabo’s wife, Aunty Bonita and their daughter Gail.

Eddie Koiki Mabo was an advocate of the 1967 Referendum, fighting for equal rights including education. But despite the success of the ‘67 campaign, in 1972 Eddie Mabo still had to get permission from the Queensland authorities to visit his dying father on Mer Island. That permission was denied. Six weeks later his father died.

Gail wrote: “My father never forgave the government authorities for this injustice. It fuelled his determination for recognition and equality in society”.

In 1982 the Mabo case began.

It was hard fought and it took its toll.

Eddie Koiki Mabo passed away on the 21st of January 1992, just months before the High Court recognised what he and his fellow plaintiffs had always known – that Mer Island belonged to the Meriam people and that Meriam customs, laws and cultures had existed for tens of thousands of years.

Mr Speaker, we were fortunate to have Eip Karem Beizam from Mer Island who performed a hymn in memory of that momentous time.

Thank you for your beautiful hymn, and for bringing the Meriam language into the parliament today.

Au Esau – thank you.

We have come a long way since the Referendum and the Mabo case, but we have not come far enough.

We have made gains in child health and infant mortality rates and in fighting chronic disease. Native title holders are unlocking their lands for cultural protection and economic empowerment.

More Indigenous students are enrolling in university than ever before, and around two-thirds are women. For Indigenous university graduates, there are no employment gaps with the rest of the Australian population.

But the gains are not enough.

I want to ensure that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are equally educated and equally empowered—that Australians are ‘one people’, as Faith Bandler and her fellow campaigners so desperately hoped and fought for.

That’s why today, in furtherance of our programs and our policies and objectives we are announcing a $138 million education package further to enable the economic and social inclusion for which the ’67 campaigners fought.

As Sir Douglas Nicholls said: “All we want is to be able to think and do the same things as white people while still retaining our identity as a peoples”.

For full inclusion in the economic and social life of the nation, we need our young Indigenous people to have a solid education, while keeping strong their identity.

Mr Speaker, today we reflect on the past and its impact on the present. We look forward with hope and optimism. We are joined today by 50 Indigenous Youth Parliamentarians who stand today on the shoulders of these giants.

I want to thank the ‘67 Referendum campaigners and thank the Mabo campaigners for the gift they gave our nation through their perseverance and dedication to their peoples and cultures.

And I thank all First Australians who preserve their ancient culture, work so hard to maintain and recover ancient languages.

Your culture defines who you are, it speaks to your country, your identity, your belonging.

And as we embrace in reconciliation your culture enriches us all.

For time out of mind, for more than 50,000 years your people and your culture have shaped and been shaped, cared for and been cared by, defined and been defined by this land, our land, Australia.

Your culture, our culture, is old and new, as dynamic as it is connected – on the highest tree top the new flower of the morning draws its being from deep and ancient roots.

Now it is up to us, together and united, to draw from the wisdom and the example of those we honour today and so inspired, bring new heights and brighter blooms to that tree of reconciliation which protects and enriches us

Bill Shorten Opposition Leader : Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo Decision

Thank you Mr Speaker

Firstly, I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to elders past and present.

This parliament stands on what is, what was and what will always be Aboriginal land.

It is important – and right – that more Aboriginal people come to stand here as Members and Senators.

And I want to thank our friends from the Torres Strait for the welcome ceremony. It is always astonishing to see the world’s oldest culture brought to life in front of you.

On behalf of the Opposition, I want to give a special welcome to the original warriors for change – and their proud family members.

Your presence here today enriches this day – it puts a human face on history.

In fighting to be part of the Australian identity, you gifted a larger identity to all Australians.

You and your guests simply make us more proud to be Australian.

Today we commemorate and celebrate two signal moments in our Australian story and we honour the heroes who made it possible.

The 1967 Referendum and the High Court’s Mabo decision were triumphs for truth telling and for decency.

Both were platforms for further progress.

And overwhelmingly, both were victories authored by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

People who for so long had been relegated to silent roles, or written out of the script altogether – took centre stage.

In 1967, they looked non-Indigenous Australia in the eye and said:

Count us together.

Make us one people.

And in 1992, the insulting, discriminatory fiction of terra nullius was overturned.

While he tragically did not live long enough to see justice done, Eddie Mabo kept the promise he made to his darling daughter Gail, who is here today, when he said:

‘One day, my girl, all of Australia is going to know my name’

Our country is bigger and better for the courage and endeavour we remember today.

But we should never forgot that neither of these acts we commemorate today sprang from a spontaneous act of national generosity.

None of these changes happened by accident – nor were they given as gifts from the table. These were earned.

They were battles against ignorance, fought in the face of indifference.

They were the result of struggle, the culmination of years of campaigning, of grassroots advocacy, of rallies and freedom rides.

Of lobbying and legal wrangling, the setbacks and sacrifice.

Like all great acts of progress – they were hard fought, hard work and hard won.

Victory didn’t just change our Constitution, or our laws, it changed our country for the better.

Mr Speaker, fifty years is not so long ago.

It’s not so long ago that fans could cheer the brilliance of the great Polly Farmer – a man who overcame polio to transform the role of ruckman forever.

But at the same time, when selected three times as an All-Australian, his Aboriginality meant he wasn’t counted as an Australian.

Not so long ago that Buddy Lea, a section commander in 10 Platoon at the Battle of Long Tan – could be shot, three times, while trying to carry a comrade to safety, return home a hero to his brothers-in-arms, he had the chance to die for Australia, yet not be counted in the census as an Australian.

Not so long ago that Australian mothers lived with the perpetual chronic anxiety that their child could be taken from them, stolen away from culture, country and connection.

And you only have to talk to members of the Stolen Generations – as the Prime Minister and I did yesterday – to know that shadow has still not even departed.

Mr Speaker

Exclusion from the census was a disgraceful insult – the bitter legacy of the political bickering of Federation and its obsession with ‘race’.

But far more harm was done by the provision which prevented the Commonwealth from making laws with regard to Aboriginal Australians.

This gave successive Federal Commonwealth governments an alibi for failure – it left the First Australians at the mercy of a patchwork of arbitrary state policies.

Struggling against institutionalised prejudice which cemented inequality and denied basic freedoms.

A racist system which broke families and shattered connections with country.

Where men, women and children lived with the fear that on a policeman’s whim or an administrator’s paternalism they could be deported from their communities to hell-holes hundreds of miles away.

We do honour to the people of 1967 and the plaintiffs of Mabo to use today as time to think hard about the cost of institutionalised prejudice – to generations and to our nation.

On the weekend, Michael Gordon wrote movingly of what Indigenous Queenslanders called ‘life under the act’

He spoke with the remarkable Iris Paulson, one of 11 children, sent to Brisbane from Cherbourg mission to work as a servant for ‘pocket money’.

Iris still carries her ‘exemption card’ which allowed her to travel and to marry without permission from the authorities.

She still carries the memory of Auntie Celia’s inspiration.

A proud Aboriginal woman who:

Said what she thought at a time when a lot of people were too scared to speak, for fear of being pushed back onto the reserves.

The Prime Minister has mentioned some of the names but:

· Auntie Celia

· Pearl Gibbs

· Charles Perkins

· Jessie Street

· Faith Bandler

· Pastor Doug Nicholls

· Stan Davey

· Bert Groves

· Joe McGinnis

· Kath Walker

· Chicka Dixon

And many others, some of who we are privileged to have here today, deserve recognition for making the 1967 referendum possible.

All had witnessed – and lived with – inequality.

Faith Bandler used to talk about her time in Young, picking cherries for the Land Army during the Second World War.

Chatting with the Aboriginal people working on the adjoining property.

She learned they were picking the same fruit, at the same pace, for the same purpose – but for far less money.

Doug Nicholls’ speed and skill took him all the way from the Goulburn Valley League, to train with the famous Carlton Football Club.

One night, he went into the rooms for a rub-down.

The trainer refused – point blank – to touch him. He would not put his white hands on Doug’s black skin.

Carlton’s loss became Fitzroy’s success. Doug went on to become a Fitzroy champion – but he never forgot that night.

I welcome his daughter, Pam Pederson here today.

This is the world it is perhaps too easy to forget existed. But this is the world that the people we honour today lived in – these are the attitudes and practices they were up against.

Their task was far bigger than one campaign for one vote. It meant:

· Breaking the ‘great Australian silence’ that cheapened and diminished our history.

· Opening the eyes of this country to inequality and poverty

· And finding new ways to tell a story as old as Australia’s European history.

In May 1957, a full ten years before the vote, Pastor Doug Nicholls screened a film in the Sydney Town Hall showing the hardship experienced by Aboriginal people living in the Warburton Ranges.

It captured hunger and disease – it showed children ‘too weak to brush flies from their face’.

One newspaper reported: “there were cries of disgust and horror – and people openly wept”

The meeting attended by 1500 or so – and supported by the Australian Workers Union – launched the first petition to parliament for Constitutional change, tabled by the Labor

Member for Parkes, Les Haylen.

In the years that followed folding tables and clipboards were set up in church halls and shopping streets, in country towns and big cities.

And by 1963, campaigners for change had collected 103,000 names – before the internet, before social media and before smartphones. This was human commitment: face-to-face meetings and persuasive argument.

Soon, members of the house started referring to the petition as the ‘morning prayer’ – because it was the first item of business every day.

This was all hard graft – eroding resistance, tackling self-interest, refusing to rest until the issue was at the centre of the political debate.

Everything done on a shoestring budget of small coin donations.

And finally to a referendum, the highest hurdle in Australian politics, asking Australians to vote Yes for Aboriginal people.

I want to say, as we acknowledge the champions and heroes here, I want to acknowledge the 90.8 per cent of Australian, perhaps some of us here, our parents and grandparents – they too deserve credit for righting a long-overdue wrong.

That overwhelming verdict speaks for a country that came late to the need for institutional change – but our families did get there in the end.

And it speaks for people who refused to take ‘No’ for an answer.

As the celebrated poet Oodgeroo put it:

“The real victory was the spirit of hope and optimism…

We had won something… We were visible, hopeful and vocal.

Fringe-dwellers, no more”

Mr Speaker

The same spirit lived in Eddie Mabo – he knew who he was and where he belonged.

As he said: ‘sticking a union jack in the sand’ didn’t ‘wipe out 16 generations’.

He took that essential truth all the way to the highest court in land.

And for once, a justice system which had so often failed and disappointed our first Australians, came through.

Native title became part of the inherited common law – not dependent on the largesse of government or second place to business deals.

Eddie Mabo’s victory stretched far beyond the sand and waters of the island he loved.

It reached back two centuries to eliminate the ignorant lie of terra nullius and enshrine in our laws: the bond between the world’s oldest living culture and this ancient continent.

It also proved that one man, with love for his country and his culture in his soul can change the world.

Mr Speaker

Mabo was an historic decision – and the Keating Government made it an historic turning point. Without regard for politics or polls, Paul Keating took the opportunity to ensure justice was done.

He brought Indigenous leaders to the Cabinet table itself to negotiate the Native Title Act – including our friend, now-Senator Patrick Dodson.

In the Senate itself, Gareth Evans spent more than 48 hours of the debate on his feet,

taking questions and fending off an attempted Opposition filibuster.

Today we are all the beneficiaries and witnesses to the legacy of Paul Keating’s

courage.

Mr Speaker

In remembering these historic achievements, we are reminded of the tension, the balance between celebrating success, honouring our past and recognising unfinished business.

Reconciliation has always depended on truth-telling.

We love to say Australia punches above our weight – and it does.

Nowhere is that more true than in the brilliant accomplishments of our Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islander peoples.

– Scientists making breakthroughs

– Authors winning acclaim

– Artists

– Architects

– Rangers on country

– Olympians

– Senators

– Ministers

– Australians of the year

– Champions in every footy code.

This is all true. But what is also true is the inequality that brought tears to the eyes of that crowd in Sydney Town Hall in 1957 – that inequality, in different forms, still lives with us.

Stubbornly, obstinately, not yet eradicated.

In different guises, paternalism and neglect still afflict our policy-making.

Empowerment is said a lot more than it is delivered.

In too many ways, not enough has changed in 50 years.

Too many young Aboriginal men are more likely to go to jail than to university. 40 per cent of Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care. Children growing up away from their country and from kin, away from their culture – struggling at school during the day, battling trauma at night.

Too many mothers still lose their precious babies to preventable disease.

Too many of our first peoples grow up with lesser opportunity – for good jobs, decent housing, a happy family and a long life.

Changing this means tackling the nitty-gritty of practical disadvantage.

Understanding that what works in Yirrkala might not apply in Palm Island, that what succeeds for the Murri might not deliver for the Pitjantjarra.

Recognising that every community, whilst linked by their Australianess, has its own culture and its own particular circumstances.

But regardless of the community, every community of our first Australians has the right to participate in the Australian story – and we should do whatever it takes to give them that chance.

As a parliament and a people we should come to this task with humility as well as hope.

It is why Constitutional Recognition is most hard – but most important.

Securing a place of honour for the first Australians on our national birth certificate isn’t the final word, or the end of the road. We understand that.

But it does say we are serious – serious about justice, both historical and real.

It says we’re prepared to help write a new story with Aboriginal people, our first Australians, a chapter which is a story of belonging.

That’s why Recognition cannot be empty poetry authored by white people.

It has to be as real as Australia can make it, as meaningful as we are capable collectively of achieving.

In that spirit, we await the conclusion of the gathering at Uluru – and the advice presented to the Prime Minister and myself, and all of us privileged to serve this parliament.

Mr Speaker

Fifty years ago – to the Holt Government’s great credit – it didn’t fund the case against constitutional change.

Remarkable really. A parliament full of white men, many born at the turn of the 20th Century, approved a straightforward statement of the ‘Yes’ case.

And I quote:

Our personal sense of justice, our common sense, and our international reputation in a world in which racial issues are being highlighted every day, require that we get rid of this out-moded provision.

If that parliament, in those days could find common ground on the elimination of discrimination from the Constitution.

If they could summon the humility to acknowledge that however firmly they had clung to their old attitudes, those attitudes were wrong.

Then surely we – 50 years later – in our more reconciled, a more confident and more diverse modern Australia.

Surely we can find it in our abilities, in our intellect, in our heart to achieve Constitutional Recognition.

So, in celebrating these old anniversaries and looking back – it falls to this parliament, to ask ourselves the question: What will be our contribution going forward?

The words and the sentiment of everyone here is admirable, it is excellent. But we will not have the ability to shirk the question that will be asked of us.

It is our turn to step up. Not to find fault – but to find common ground.

Not to look for the lowest common denominator – but to find change that we hopefully, in 10 to 20 years’ time, can say: Do you remember when answered up? When we measured up?

When we spoke to the better angels of the Australian nature. That we actually said that this Constitution can afford to recognise our first Australians.

I am grateful for the presence of so many of those who campaigned in 1967, of those who campaigned in 1992, of the family members.

You give us inspiration.

You do this place honour.

I sincerely hope and promise – that we will do our very best to carry that spirit, and your courage for the questions we must answer.

We must answer affirmatively for Constitutional Recognition of our first Australians.

 

 

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #BTH20 Report released : Bringing Them Home 20 Years on : An action plan for healing

“ While this report might primarily detail the response from government to the Bringing Them Home report, it is not a report to government about government.

 This is a report for everyone, and outlines as a whole how we can actively support healing for Stolen Generations and their descendants.

There needs to be commitment to making change. We all have a responsibility to do this together.

 The price of not acting on the recommendations means an increased burden for Australia as a whole. It’s time for action. We need to address the unfinished business—for the sake of our Elders, our young ones, for our entire communities and all Australians.”

Bringing Them Home 20 Years on : An action plan for healing

Download the 2017 Report Here :

Bringing Them Home 20 years on – 23 May 2017

 ” Tony Abbott’s signature Indigenous Advancement Strategy worsened the Stolen Generations’ trauma by funnelling mental health and social services funding to non-indigenous NGOs, in some cases to the very churches that ran the insti­tutions to which the children were forcibly removed.

On the 20th anniversary of the landmark Bringing Them Home report, a review to be handed to Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten today says most of its recommendations have not been implemented “

From Todays Australian  See below Part 3 for full Text

Photos below : The PM and Opposition leader meeting with members of the Stolen Generation this morning

“Not only have we denied Aboriginal People the right to their families but their right to culture; stories; traditions & language.”

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull Prime Minister

Part 1 : 20 YEARS ON:  IT’S TIME TO HEAL THE TRAUMA

Australia’s aging Stolen Generations are still struggling with the impacts of unresolved trauma, and need a new policy approach to assist them and their families to heal.

That’s a key finding of a major new report launched today by the Healing Foundation.  The launch marks 20 years since the landmark Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament.

Called Bringing Them Home 20 Years On, the new report sets out an action plan to overhaul Australia’s Indigenous policy landscape.

Healing Foundation Board Chair Steve Larkin said the failure to implement the recommendations of the original Bringing Them Home report has made matters worse for all Indigenous Australians.

“Our Stolen Generations haven’t been able to heal because Australia has failed to address their needs in a co-ordinated, holistic way.  As a result, their grief, loss and anger is being passed onto their kids and grandkids,” said Professor Larkin.

The Healing Foundation found the most pressing needs highlighted by the report are for:

  • Federally coordinated financial reparations similar to the Commonwealth Redress Scheme provided to survivors of child sexual abuse
  • a full analysis of the Stolen Generations changing needs as they age
  • a national study on intergenerational trauma, its impacts, and the best ways to address
  • ensuring all professionals who work with the Stolen Generations and their descendants – from police to mental health workers – are trained in recognising and addressing Indigenous trauma

Chair of the Healing Foundation’s Stolen Generations Reference Committee Florence Onus is one of four generations of women who have been forcibly removed from their families.

“I embarked on my healing journey when at 21, my mother attempted suicide.  With family support I became her full time carer and together we began the journey of healing,” said Ms Onus.

Florence is passionate about breaking the cycle of trauma through healing, education, cultural identity and spiritual nurturing.

At the event in Federal Parliament House Ms Onus and Professor Larkin will present Australia’s political leaders with a copy of the report

Part 2 : Report Executive summary

On 26 May 1997 the landmark Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament. The report was the result of a national inquiry that investigated the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families.

This marked a pivotal moment in the healing journey of many Stolen Generations members. It was the first time their stories—stories of being taken from their families—were acknowledged in such a way.

It was also the first time it was formally reported that what governments did to these children was inhumane and the impact has been lifelong.

Did you know?

  • The first Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998—exactly one year after the Bringing Them Home Report was presented to the Parliament.
  • The Bringing Them Home Report resulted from an inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, and recommends both an apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and reparations.
  • The term “Stolen Generations” refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were forcibly removed, as children, from their families by government, welfare or church authorities and placed into institutional care or with non-Indigenous foster families.
  • The forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children began as early as the mid-1800s and continued until the 1970s.
  • Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia have implemented state-based Stolen Generations reparations schemes

Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been affected by the Stolen Generations.

The resulting trauma has been passed down to children and grandchildren, contributing to many of the issues faced in Indigenous communities, including family violence, substance abuse and self-harm.

Messages from NACCHO CEO Pat Turner and June Oscar

Two decades on and the majority of the Bringing Them Home recommendations have not yet been implemented. For many Stolen Generations members, this has created additional trauma and distress.

Failure to act has caused a ripple effect to current generations. We are now seeing an increase in Aboriginal people in jails, suicide is on the rise and more children are being removed.

Addressing the underlying trauma of these issues through healing is the only way to create meaningful and lasting change. Commemorative events, like the 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report, are an important part of the healing process, for Stolen Generations members, their families and the broader community. In order to change, you have to remember.

The anniversary presents an opportunity to reset—to secure sustainable support to help reduce the impact of trauma.

This report, which was informed by the Healing Foundation’s Stolen Generations Reference Committee and other Stolen organisations, outlines an action plan for long term and holistic change.

As the first stage of taking action, the Healing Foundation has identified four key priorities which can be quickly addressed to build an evidence-based and equitable framework for healing.

Priority one

A comprehensive needs analysis so that we can tailor and deliver more effective service for Stolen Generations members that also represent the best possible return on investment. Right now, we don’t know how many Stolen Generations members are still alive, let alone the demographic data that would enable us to optimise service design and delivery.

We don’t know that needs have changed over the past two decades, as Stolen Generations members reach their elderly years and require specific aged care services.

Priority Two

A national scheme for reparations to ensure equal access to financial redress and culturally appropriate healing services, where state and federal governments – and the institutions that caused the harm – share the cost of the burden. Some States have recently announced reparation schemes for Stolen Generations members, which suggests a promising level of commitment to an overarching federal scheme.

Some states have recently announced reparation schemes for stolen Generations members, which suggests a promising level of commitment to an overarching federal scheme.

Priority Three

Coordinated and compulsory training around stolen Generations trauma so that the organisations working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are better equipped to provide effective and appropriate services.

The aim is to ensure that everyone has the skills to identify and appropriately deal with trauma- from police to frontline social and health workers, and staff at every level within key policy and provider organisations.

Priority Four

A comprehensive study of intergenerational trauma and how we can effectively tackle it. Measures to deal with intergenerational trauma need to underpin future strategies addressing social and health problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities, including suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, incarceration rates and the high numbers of children entering the protection system

Part 3 : Abbott’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy backfired for stolen generations

Tony Abbott’s signature Indigenous Advancement Strategy worsened the Stolen Generations’ trauma by funnelling mental health and social services funding to non-indigenous NGOs, in some cases to the very churches that ran the insti­tutions to which the children were forcibly removed.

From Todays Australian

On the 20th anniversary of the landmark Bringing Them Home report, a review to be handed to Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten today says most of its recommendations have not been implemented.

The review also says the ageing nature of the cohort of indigenous Australians removed from their families for decades up until the 1970s, usually forcibly, means there will be specific aged-care needs that have not yet been planned for.

Attention to financial redress has been inadequate and more work must be done on the impact of the intergenerational trauma behind high rates of suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, incarceration rates and increasing numbers of children being put in care, it says.

This trauma was identified as a result of the official policies of child removals, and the subsequent brutalisation in institutional settings.

The review, by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, says training around Stolen Generations’ trauma must be improved so everyone from “police to frontline social and health workers and staff at every level within key policy and provider organ­isations” can provide effective services. It notes that the number of Stolen Generations members alive is not known but suggests a minimum realistic estimate of 15,000 people, with an extra 160,000 having immediate family who were removed.

The review, co-written by Lowitja institute chairwoman Pat Anderson, notes the failure to act since the 1997 report has “caused additional trauma and distress” for Stolen Generations members and had a “ripple ­effect” on current generations.

It notes research that shows those who had been removed, or who had parents, grandparents, great-grandparents or siblings removed “are around 50 per cent more likely to have been charged by police, 30 per cent less likely to report being in good health, 15 per cent more likely to consume alcohol at risky levels and 10 per cent less likely to be employed” than other indigenous Australians.

It also notes that despite some focus on healing, very little of this has been aimed at repairing relationships between Stolen Generations and their communities, which “has fed lateral violence resulting in increasing isolation”.

The Indigenous Advancement Strategy was introduced by Mr Abbott as prime minister in an attempt to streamline the delivery of services and create better efficiencies. It has been widely panned, including by a Senate committee and the Nat­ional Audit Office, for its hasty and poorly planned implementation, for channelling large program streams through non-indigenous organisations and inadequate indigenous decision-making input. A key focus of constitutional reform talks at Uluru this week by the Referendum Council will be how to achieve “substantive” change giving indigenous Australians a decisive influence on policymaking which affects them.

For more Info

Aboriginal Health #Referendum debate : At this weeks #Uluru Convention Do #wehavethesolutions ?

” More than 300 delegates will attend the #Uluru Australian First Nations Constitutional Conventioncon against the backdrop of the three big milestones in Indigenous history:

50 years since the #1967referendum

25 years since the High Court’s Mabo decision #Mabo25

and 20 years since the #BTH20 Bringing Them Home report on the forced removal of Aboriginal children.

Finding middle ground:

Twelve delegations from across the country will make their way to Central Australia this week to try to find middle ground on a proposal. Options for change include:

  • Drafting a statement acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians
  • Amending or deleting the “race power” — section 51 — which allows the Federal Government to make special laws for Indigenous people
  • Inserting a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination into the constitution
  • Establishing an Indigenous body of representatives to be consulted by Parliament
  • Deleting section 25, a redundant clause which says state governments can exclude people from voting in on the basis of their race.

Both leaders will address Parliament on the significance of the anniversaries on Wednesday, take part in the Long Walk to the MCG, and address a lunch before the Indigenous Round game between Essendon and Richmond on May 27, the anniversary of the referendum.

The Uluru Convention promises to be an historic moment in what is a continuing journey for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. ”

This Month see NACCHO Save a Dates for more info

23 May : #BTH20 event is about marking the 20th anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report.

 May 23-26 Conference Aboriginal People with Disability

26 May :National Sorry day 2017

27 May : Dreamtime at the G /The Long Walk MCG Melbourne

27 May to June 3 National Reconciliation Week

31 May World No Tobacco Day

 ” Aboriginal people will not accept a feel-good, symbolic stamp on a fundamentally unfair system. The system needs to be improved.

We need to change the way we do business in Aboriginal affairs. Constitutional recognition must mean real reform.

It must create a genuine paradigm shift, or Aboriginal people will reject it

Jeremy Clark and Jill Gallagher, the co-convenors of the Melbourne dialogue.

The long road to recognition

Over the past six months, from Hobart to Broome and Adelaide to Thursday Island, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have reclaimed the movement towards constitutional recognition at twelve historic First Nation Regional Dialogues.

On 23–26 May, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 constitutional referendum, representatives from each dialogue will meet at Uluru for the first Australian First Nations Constitutional Convention. There, they aim to agree on whether and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples might be “recognised” in the Australian Constitution.

Each dialogue has reflected the priorities of the communities involved, but the calls for substantive, structural reform have been consistent.

Some proposals have attracted strong support across the dialogues: structural reforms that provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with an enhanced role in Australian democracy such as a representative body with a voice to Parliament and treaty negotiations, and a prohibition on racial discrimination. Also emerging have been calls for a truth and justice commission. Most importantly, the dialogues have agreed that the conversation must not stop at Uluru, and that the First Nation peoples must be involved in negotiating the model of recognition.

The dialogues and the convention are being facilitated by the Referendum Council, a body established with bipartisan support by the Turnbull government. The council’s job is to advise the prime minister and the opposition leader on “progress and next steps towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.” This is a landmark moment: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are being asked whether they want constitutional reform that purports to “recognise” them, and what shape it should take.

As Patrick Dodson wrote when he was co-chair of the Referendum Council, “Strong support by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the referendum proposal is absolutely essential. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not support the referendum proposal, there is little incentive to proceed to a referendum.”


These dialogues – designed and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves – break the pattern of past constitutional deliberations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples weren’t involved in the conventions that drafted the Australian Constitution in the 1890s. In the document itself, they were excluded not only from the national law-making power of the new federal government, but also from the population count that determined the number of seats for each state in the House of Representatives.

The 1967 referendum removed both of those exclusions. But while that vote brought essential reforms, including a national role for the Commonwealth in Aboriginal affairs, it fell far short of achieving substantive equality. Nor did it recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as First Peoples or guarantee them a meaningful role in decisions about Indigenous affairs. The regional dialogue process puts Indigenous people back at the centre of the debate about constitutional change and practical reform.

The process is important for another reason. The concept of “recognition” is far from straightforward, and the failure to acknowledge this fact has led to concerns about the government-funded RECOGNISE campaign. The message of RECOGNISE, which is part of Reconciliation Australia, is expressed in general terms, emphasising explicit recognition in the Constitution and pointing to the possibility of racial discrimination under existing provisions. But it hasn’t been in a position to articulate the form that recognition might take, and what differences it might make to people’s daily lives. In the absence of a clear model, many people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities fear that advocating “recognition” will simply build public support for a “minimalist” solution.

A minimalist package would consist of three amendments to the Constitution. The first is the repeal of section 25, which anticipated that states might pass discriminatory laws disqualifying people from voting at state elections on the basis of race, though it penalises any state that does so. Its deletion has multi-party support, as it has had for more than fifty years. It is a “dead letter” in legal and practical terms: no state would now contemplate taking the vote away from Aboriginal people. (In any event, there is a strong argument that to do so would breach the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975.)

Breaking the pattern: participants in the Ross River Regional Dialogue early last month. Referendum Council

The second minimalist element is a change to the wording of what is known as the “races power” in section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution. This gives federal parliament the power to make laws for the people of any race for which special laws are deemed necessary. When it was introduced in 1901, the power expressly excluded Aboriginal people. The 1967 referendum changed that, for the first time giving federal parliament power to make positive laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A decision by the High Court in 1998 strongly suggested that the power could also authorise laws that are detrimental to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The minimalist change would not address that possibility; rather, it would remove the word “race” from the Constitution and replace it with a power with respect to “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The third element is the insertion of a constitutional “statement of acknowledgement.” This would be a statement of facts – for instance, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were the original occupiers of the continent, that they have a continuing relationship with their land and waters, and that they possess distinctive cultures, languages and heritage.

In the past, there have been calls for such a statement to be included as a preamble to the Constitution – indeed, prime minister John Howard put forward a controversial preamble proposal containing some words of recognition at a 1999 referendum, which was soundly defeated. Today, it is envisioned that such a statement could sit inside a new chapter of the Constitution, or as a preamble to the section giving the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Such a statement is unlikely to have any significant legal effect, although it might be used to help interpret the scope of that Commonwealth power regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A minimalist model stands at one end of a spectrum of what recognition might look like. It was emphatically rejected in the Kirribilli Statement, which was presented by forty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition on 6 July 2015. That statement read:

[A]ny reform must involve substantive changes to the Australian Constitution. It must lay the foundation for the fair treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the future.

A minimalist approach, that provides preambular recognition, removes section 25 and moderates the races power, does not go far enough and would not be acceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Kirribilli Statement called on the government to establish a mechanism for negotiations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the government and parliament in relation to more extensive constitutional reforms. It also urged the government to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over an acceptable referendum process. Soon after, Aboriginal leaders went back to the prime minister to stress the necessity of an engagement process initiated and led by Indigenous people. The government eventually relented, paving the way for the current dialogues.


 

Further along the spectrum of recognition sit models that provide First Nations peoples with guarantees of political participation, and recognise self-determination and other inherent rights, prohibit racial discrimination and support agreement-making to deal with past wrongs and future empowerment.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a party, contains two key articles to guide states in their relationships with Indigenous peoples. (Indeed, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were involved in the declaration negotiations.) Article 18 reads:

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

Under Article 19, governments must “consult and cooperate in good faith” with Indigenous peoples “to obtain their free, prior and informed consent” about policies and decisions that might affect them.

The welcome ceremony at the First Nations regional dialogue in Hobart. Referendum Council

Countries across the world have recognised First Nations peoples through new structures that promote political participation and self-determination in different ways. In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, a foundational document acknowledging Māori authority and ownership, influences modern-day legislation, policy and practice and forms the basis for regional agreement-making or settlements; other structural recognition has been achieved through reserved Māori seats in the NZ parliament. In Norway, Sweden and Finland, the Sámi people were granted political representation through the Sámi parliaments, which facilitate consultation between the government and the Sámi on policies and decisions that affect them.

Recognition can take other forms too. Australia, with no constitutional bill of rights, could insert a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination. This would extend the protections offered by the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and be binding on federal parliament. Governments could negotiate agreements or treaties with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, recognising their status as First Peoples, providing reparations for past injustices, settling outstanding land issues, transferring decision-making authority, and facilitating economic development in Indigenous communities. No constitutional reform would be required to enter into and legislate for such treaties, although their status could be enhanced by constitutional reform.

The Referendum Council isn’t starting from scratch in considering these issues. It has been directed to build on work undertaken by two inquiries, one conducted by a panel of experts and the other by federal parliamentarians.

The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians consulted widely and made five recommendations for constitutional reform in early 2012. While a statement of acknowledgement was among the recommended proposals, the panel stressed the importance of a package that also included substantive legal change: a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination that would bind all governments across Australia. Its report also considered forms of recognition that would have given greater political participation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or would have prioritised treaty negotiations. The federal government has never formally responded to the panel’s report and recommendations.

The parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, led by Ken Wyatt MP and Senator Nova Peris, looked at the issue in 2014 and 2015. Its final report contained a number of options, each of which would have restricted the power of the Commonwealth to pass racially discriminatory laws against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The report considered the recommendations in the Expert Panel report, and referred to alternative models that had subsequently emerged. One of these was a proposal for a constitutionally enshrined body to advise parliament on proposed laws that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; others included measures to promote self-governance, structural reform incorporating a Council of Elders, reserved seats in the Senate, and progressing a treaty through constitutional change. Again, there has been no formal response to this report.


It’s important to remember that well-developed plans for recognition pre-dated these two bodies by more than a decade. For example, the 1988 Barunga Statement, presented to prime minister Bob Hawke by Aboriginal people from Central Australia and the Top End of the Northern Territory, demanded the recognition of Aboriginal rights, including the right to self-determination and self-management, to land and compensation and to basic rights enshrined in international law. The statement called on the Commonwealth to pass laws to create a nationally elected Aboriginal and Islander organisation to oversee Aboriginal and Islander affairs, a national system of land rights, and reforms to the policy and justice system.

The Barunga Statement also called on parliament “to negotiate with us a Treaty recognising our prior ownership, continued occupation and sovereignty and affirming our human rights and freedom.” Advocacy for greater empowerment in the 1980s led to the creation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, or ATSIC, in 1990, but the Hawke government backed down on its promises of national land rights and a treaty.

Following the High Court’s watershed 1992 decision in the Mabo case, prime minister Paul Keating delivered the Native Title Act 1993 and a national land fund, and promised a social justice package. In 1995, in response to that third limb of the response to Mabo, an ATSIC report, Recognition, Rights and Reform: A Report to Government on Native Title Social Justice Measures, reported “overwhelming support for the reform of the Constitution especially in relation to recognition of indigenous peoples.” It recommended that government fund a constitutional reform process canvassing the opinion of Indigenous communities, and facilitate local conventions and negotiations at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were adequately represented. ATSIC also urged the Commonwealth to investigate reserved seats in parliament. The Keating government didn’t proceed with many of these ideas before it lost government soon after, in 1996, and the proposals were dropped by the incoming Howard government.

Fresh calls for constitutional reform came when the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation issued its final report, Reconciliation: Australia’s Challenge, in 2000. As part of its roadmap to reconciliation, the council recommended that parliament prepare legislation for a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia, including the introduction of a constitutional clause prohibiting adverse racial discrimination. The council also called for governments across Australia, including the Commonwealth, to advance reconciliation through an agreement or treaty process. Almost two years later, the Howard government rejected the treaty process and the push to include a non-discrimination clause in the Constitution.

The 2007 federal election provided new impetus for constitutional recognition. On the eve of that election, John Howard announced that, if he were re-elected, he would move within eighteen months “to formally recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution, their history as the first inhabitants of our country, their unique heritage of culture and languages, and their special (though not separate) place within a reconciled, indivisible nation.” His proposal was for a minimalist model of acknowledgement contained in a preamble, though he also used more ambitious language when he described this as the cornerstone of a “new settlement.”

After Labor’s election victory in 2007, prime minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the government and the parliament to the Stolen Generations and for other past wrongs. But it was not until Julia Gillard’s election victory in 2010 that the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians was established to advance the cause of constitutional change.


Today’s calls for constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are made in a changed political and legal environment. The Howard government abolished ATSIC in 2005, leaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with no national representative body. As Indigenous writer Natalie Cromb has observed, “ATSIC was not without its problems, but to see the governmental power in stripping all representative and legislative rights and powers from Indigenous people in one fell swoop demonstrated just how Indigenous people are at the mercy of the government.”

Today, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples strives to be a voice for First Nations Peoples in Australia, but its work has been hampered by lack of adequate funding. The prime minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council operates as an advisory panel rather than as a representative body. Across Australia, state constitutions have been amended to include statements of acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia. Many of these contain a “no legal effect” clause – a “give with one hand and take away with the other” approach that, for many, undermines even the symbolic significance of the language. The Commonwealth parliament has passed legislation acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first occupiers of Australia, and their continuing relationship to their land and waters, and their continuing cultures, languages and heritage.

There are also signs of more ambitious plans. In Victoria, the state government has been working with Aboriginal communities since 2016 on how a treaty might be negotiated. The South Australian government has appointed an independent treaty commissioner to draft a framework for treaty negotiations. The Northern Territory has established a cabinet sub-committee to promote public discussion of a treaty.

Meanwhile, the dramatic loss of funding and jobs in Indigenous organisations following the federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, community distress at alarmingly high rates of youth suicide and incarceration, the threatened closure of remote communities and other intensely experienced local issues add to the complex contemporary political environment in which the regional dialogues have taken place.


The First Nation Dialogues took their present shape after a series of meetings with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders across the country. A leadership forum followed, and the dialogue methodology and agenda were finalised at a trial dialogue.

In each location, the Referendum Council partnered with a land council or another local host organisation. The host organisation and convenors selected around one hundred participants according to a formula of 60 per cent representation of the land owner base (traditional owner groups, native title bodies and so on), 20 per cent representation for local community organisations, and 20 per cent representation for key individuals. Gender and demographic balance, and representation for the Stolen Generations was also a focus.

Each of the dialogues took place over three days. They were facilitated by two local convenors assisted by five local working group leaders, who led and reported back from breakout groups throughout the dialogue. The carefully planned agenda included opportunities for the Referendum Council to provide delegates with information about the history of constitutional reform in Australia, as well as the different forms that constitutional reform might take. Civics education and foundational legal and political information were provided to assist in the discussion of options for reform, during which delegates had an opportunity to tell the Referendum Council what substantive and meaningful recognition would mean to them and their communities.

Small group discussions provided delegates with an opportunity to understand the different reform options, to consider their possible benefits and disadvantages, and to look at alternative proposals. The delegates were asked what their preferred form of recognition would look like. At the end of each dialogue, the delegates confirmed a statement of record of their discussion, and selected ten people to represent the dialogue at Uluru.

The proposals that attracted strong support – treaty negotiations, an enhanced role and voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s democratic system, a prohibition on racial discrimination, a truth and justice commission – all build on decades of consultations and inquiries. They embody the political advocacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigners stretching back into the nineteenth century. They reflect Australia’s international obligations, and they mirror structural reforms that have been achieved in other countries.

The Uluru Convention promises to be an historic moment in what is a continuing journey for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. •