Reconciliation – Lots to be done!

CEO Social Justice Blog

Last week representatives from Newcastle’s Anglican, Roman Catholic and Uniting Churches agreed to work together to promote changes to the Australian constitution to give recognition to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people who owned the lands of Australia prior to British settlement in 1788.

Both political parties support this initiative and the changes they put forward will not be at all radical. Never the less, it will be quite a challenge to obtain the required number of votes in a referendum.

Back in 1967, over 90% of Australians voted in favour of including Indigenous people in the census, thus granting them citizenship. This followed extensive publicity given to the Freedom Riders led by Charles Perkins in 1965 who uncovered huge discrimination across NSW against Aboriginal people. Australian voters decided that all people should have equal rights including Aboriginal people so the referendum was won. A great occasion.

Since then, the reconciliation movement has moved along in fits and starts.

A decade of reconciliation action ending in 2000 achieved progress in some areas but failed to persuade middle Australia that there was a need for more to be done.

Back in 1967, for example, when Australia was enjoying full employment, 50% of Indigenous people had no paid work. There has been some improvement but not a lot, particularly in country towns where many Aboriginal people live.

Families trapped in long term unemployment lose hope and self respect; also the respect of their neighbours and some country towns are quite divided because of this.

In major urban centres, Aboriginal people are less visible. Aboriginal nations in areas such as Newcastle were virtually wiped out by diseases and killings within 50 years of settlement.

The children of mixed race who were saved, were often taken away from their mothers and raised by others, losing contact with their culture, language and tradition.

So Aboriginal people today work hard to retain their culture and we will all benefit from a culture that goes back thousands of years.

But there are many Australians who continue to believe that Australia began in 1788 and Aboriginal people are just another minority group in a multicultural society. They don’t know their history or they have forgotten.

As the NAIDOC poster in 1987 states; ‘White Australia has a black history’. If we truly recognise the First Nations of this land, why do we continue to celebrate Australia Day on the 26th January, which is the day of the British invasion and is considered an insult to successive generations of Aboriginal people.

So there is lots to be done. The Reconciliation statement produced in 2000 is a great vision for all of us. “A United Australia that respects this land of ours, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and provides justice and equality for all”.

Surely this is achievable. Let’s vote yes for constitutional reform.