NACCHO National Apology 6th anniversary : Why the Apology, Reconciliation, Healing and Recognition Matter’

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“We need to get back to the basics of our culture and allow a diversity of opinions in a respectful and supportive manner.

This is the vital element for reconciliation, healing and recognition to become a reality in our great country.”

Speech by Josie Cashman – A member of  the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council

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I am humbled and proud to be asked to speak to you on the 6th anniversary of the National Apology. This year at the opening of Parliament the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott acknowledged  the damage done to the Stolen Generations. The Apology, Reconciliation, Healing and Recognition are so important to enable all Australians to come together. Many leaders have outlined the effects of the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the need for reconciliation, healing and forgiveness. In this speech, I want to use this opportunity to highlight why these things matter and what is the biggest threat to moving forward as one country.

What is the greatest challenge? My answer may surprise you! To frame this I will look back in history to 1938, to an event that was not a sad occasion for our people but a show of strength, pride and hope. I will also talk about one of my Indigenous heroes, the Phillips family of Redfern.

Firstly, I want to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and high achievers past and present. Our modern Indigenous leaders are very, very courageous. They are often attacked for having a view.

Recent examples include on social media where our Australian of the Year was described as ‘Captain Coconut’, the reference to a coconut is a racial slur meaning dark on the outside and white on the inside.  And last year the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council was subject to a much-publicised raft of racial slurs on social media, including being called “Uncle Tom”, for his willingness to advise a Coalition government on solving the problems that face our people. This behavior should not be tolerated in any culture. Leaders suffer a personal toll with both them and sometimes their families attacked with disgraceful sniping and lateral violence at the hands of their own people. This is fuelled by the far Left for its own agenda.

These groups promote and encourage conspiracy theories that the Government and Australian people are against Aboriginal people and that we continue to be victims of this society. Under this world view, every problem faced by Indigenous people is the result of bad things done by European colonists and assimilation into western cultures. The value of so called “western” influences to Indigenous people – like mainstream education and economic development – is questioned.

Disadvantage and suffering have become the defining characteristics of the far left. Institutionalised welfare is a key policy platform for them. Any suggestion that welfare dependence has had negative impacts on Indigenous people is not tolerated. Underpinning all of this is an idealised concept of traditional Indigenous people not “corrupted” by civilization or development. There is an old expression to describe this – the “noble savage”.

How can we build mutual respect in an environment where fear and distrust of government and the Australian people is encouraged? How can we move on to healing when there are people who want to define us as damaged? This is a cancerous philosophy.

This is the most destructive form of racism and is promoted by the far Left to feed into their ideology that western free market democracy is wrong and we have to keep Indigenous Australians as noble savages. It is this ideology that is stopping Indigenous Australians coming into the economic mainstream. Labelling Aboriginal and Torres Strait People as disadvantaged and victims sets extremely low expectations in terms of employment, business capacity and education. The welfare mentality is the greatest challenge inhibiting our people to rise up. This ideology is the height of discrimination and it is destroying our cultural values which embraced hard work, taking responsibility and contributing to community. This threat from the far Left is what I call intellectual racism.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are sick of being used as a political football for only radicals’ political and ideological purposes. Enough is enough!

This ideology is also totally disrespectful to the Indigenous leaders who had a dream for their families and communities of coming together with all Australians. We need to remember the passion and conviction of our past leaders. They were hopeful and never victims. These leaders were dignified and capable of galvanizing their community as they dreamt for a better life.

An example of this is the historic meeting of the Australian Aborigines’ League at the Day of Mourning Conference on 26 January 1938.  Over 100 people attended from all around the Eastern Seaboard. With little money travelling from far and wide, they were strongly committed and came together to fight for a better life at their own personal risk.  All were well dressed in suits and were well-spoken. Many delegates entered through the back entrance to avoid being identified, afraid they would be victimised by police for attending.

The conference endorsed the following statement:

WE, representing THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA, assembled in Conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the whitemen’s seizure of our country, HEREBY MAKE PROTEST against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, AND WE APPEAL to the Australian Nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, and we ask for a new policy which will raise our people to FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.

Many of our Aboriginal leaders today are direct descendants of this group and I am privileged to acknowledge the contributions their ancestors made.

African-American scholar and economist Dr Thomas Sowell argues that the most damaging results of the welfare state mentality, is the teaching of victimhood. If African-Americans in the 1930s and 40s had been taught that they were victims, then the Civil Rights movement may have never happened. African-Americans survived through centuries of slavery, then their society began to fall apart with the introduction of the welfare state.

In the 1990s Dr Sowell gave a lecture at a university, a young African-American man who was about to graduate, got up from the audience and said ‘What hope is there for me?’. Dr Sowell took off his glasses and said to this young man, ‘you have four-times the hope of your grandparents and twice that of your parents’. This is equally true for Indigenous families. Why then are we not advancing when we have strong political, business and community support including the National Apology and the reconciliation movement?

Like African-Americans, Indigenous Australians are marred by the disadvantage label. A label that teaches us that there is no hope, so what is the point of participation in society?

This is not a phenomena necessarily related to race. It is reflected in the UK amongst whites in the housing commission areas.  Teenagers there can’t multiply six times nine. This country produced people such as Shakespeare and Issac Newton and now a significant proportion of its society can’t do simple maths and cannot read.

In the worst affected areas of Australia, only 18% of remote and rural Indigenous kids attend school 80% of the time, and that 80% is the minimum required to attend to learn the basics. These are the alarming statistics. In 2014 despite being full citizens with equality in the community and access to education we are now faced with the lowest Indigenous school attendance rates.  Most of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders dreamt of being treated as full citizens of this country with full access to education. Here we are now. But if we allow Indigenous people to think they can’t do anything or think the system is against us, what is the point of learning? No if or buts, every Indigenous child need to attend school! One day, I dream of many Aboriginal doctors, accountants and public servants.

If we believe maybe even an Indigenous astronaut to shoot to the moon, because we now live in a world full of possibilities.

We need to get back to the basics of our culture and allow a diversity of opinions in a respectful and supportive manner. This is the vital element for reconciliation, healing and recognition to become a reality in our great country.

I am pleased to say that there are many examples of modern day Indigenous leaders who are victorious. They do not accept the Left’s intellectual racism and the disadvantaged label. They are the Aussie battlers working hard in the community to lift their people, create hope and to let them believe that anything is possible.

An example of this is Mr Shane Phillips, a community leader in Redfern, Sydney. Shane works day and night with Aboriginal kids picking up troubled teenagers up so they can attend early morning sessions of boxing with the local police officers, which brings both groups together to promote citizenship and harmony. Shane also runs and established the Tribal Warrior Association, these wide-sailed ships, glide gracefully on our glorious Sydney Harbour, providing meaningful employment for Aboriginal people as tourist guides and ship operators. Shane engages with the Aboriginal community, promotes kids going to school and helps Aboriginal people gain self-esteem.

Shane’s parents Richard ‘Dickie’ and Yvonne Philips are also my heroes. These pastors gave endless service to the community. Every year they took in up to 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous street children, some of whom were forced to sell their bodies to survive. They huddled on the floor in the leaky cold, old church that used to be a factory, on the ‘Block at Redfern’. Sometimes over 50 or more foam beds littered the floor. Smiling, the children lay their heads down, with full bellies entertained by Uncle Richard playing the ukulele and praising the Lord while slowly hushing them into a gentle slumber with his soft lullaby. These kids were given a safe place and hope for their future.

This couple never gave up with limited funds, if any Government funding.  They instead had a strong conviction that good would prevail. Since this time, we have as a nation benefited from the most historical events to bring us together including the apology, movement towards reconciliation, healing and recognition. I am sure Mr and Mrs Philips would be looking down on us from heaven, not only very proud of their children, but of how far all Australians have come.

I feel so privileged to have spent time with these Preachers. I will never forget when I was feeling down when dear Pastor Philips slowly turned his head around to face me, opened his soft dark eyes with the widest smile and gently said to me ‘never give up on the edge of a miracle’.

The appeal by the Australian Aborigines’ League on 26 January 1938 has in fact, been answered. Australia has made new laws for the education and care of Indigenous people, it has raised our people to full citizen status and has introduced a policy to raise our people to equality within the community. Australia has gone even further than our leaders in 1938 would have imagined. Governments and the private sector have been willing to spend billions in pursuit of real equality for Indigenous people. A formal reconciliation process has been in place for over 20 years and governments have apologised for the policies of the forced removal of children. And now our Parliament is preparing to champion a constitutional amendment to recognise Indigenous people in Australia’s constitution. These symbolic steps demonstrate the goodwill of Australia towards its first peoples and their descendants. On the other hand the victimhood label is wrong and harmful for our futures.

It is time for each of us, black, white or brindle to seize the day and galvanize like never before to finally solve the gap. Let us now rewrite wrongs and recognize the first Australians in the best country in the world. We immediately need to support the Prime Minister’s historic push for the recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Australian constitution.  We need to walk the talk in our professional roles and communities. We need now for every Australian to participate in this, every single Australian’s effort counts.

When I was originally selected on the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council our Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott phoned me and I was so nervous it took me three hours to phone him back after receiving my call at 6AM. I will never forget the Prime Minister’s powerful words that are now cemented in my mind. ‘Josephine, Indigenous People are the first class citizens of their own country’.  It dawned on me then how much hope Mr Abbott has today with this historic opportunity for healing, coming together to showcase our talent and diversity in Indigenous Australia through constitutional recognition. We have a rich culture of respect and family values are the cornerstone. We need to get back to basics and that is back to the start.

Today you have an opportunity to make a real difference. You have a choice to reinstate hope in your professional capacity as an Australian Public Servant and as a member of the Australian community. You have the opportunity to bring everyone together as never before and recognize the first peoples of this beautiful country. My task for you is to function on hope.

Everyday all of us, make choices as to whether we live in hope or disadvantage. My own story shows that we have positive choices to make. From deciding to live hopeless in a drain at 12 to now today, I am standing here, my heart is so full I can’t explain. With that faith, now, maybe today, All Australians, are on the edge of a miracle.