Beyond the words of an Apology

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Wednesday 13 February marks 11 years since then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered a national apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, acknowledging the intergenerational impact of past government policies that resulted in the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families.

The Apology was long overdue, and necessary. But in the words of American theologian Tryon Edwards, ‘right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past’.

The last line in the Apology paints a vision for the future.

‘A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.’

Yet after 11 years, we are struggling to make meaningful progress towards this worthy goal.

In May 2017, over 250 Delegates gathered at the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention and spoke deliberately and directly to the people of Australia through the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Statement from the Heart was the culmination of the most proportionately significant consultation process that had ever been undertaken with First Peoples. The 12 national dialogues engaged 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates, out of a population of around 600,000 nationally.

The essence of the Statement from the Heart is a sequenced reform known as Voice-Treaty-Truth.

  • Voice – the establishment of a First Nation’s Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
  • Treaty – Makarrata: the coming together after a struggle.
  • Truth – the Makarrata Commission to supervise a progress of agreement making and truth-telling about history.

However, the governments of two Prime Ministers – Turnbull and Morrison – have rejected the Uluru Statement, with the concept of an Indigenous voice to parliament being misrepresented as a ‘third chamber of Parliament’.

In November 2018, a joint Parliamentary committee, appointed to review constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, endorsed the proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament based on the Statement from the Heart.

Australia is a long way from turning the words of the Apology into action.

As Australians head to the polls in 2019 to elect our 44th Parliament, our call is for the members of that Parliament to come together with decisive leadership and put an end to the inaction that has plagued reconciliation for years.

Saying sorry is simply not enough.