Our national need of a turning point
In this blog, WPS Coalition member Jean Brown makes a strong case for recognising that reconciliation and Australia’s relationship to its First Nations people is an integral part of the domestic peace and security agenda.
If there was ever a demonstration of our need for a fundamental turning point in Australia’s relationship to its First Nations people, it was when the recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart were summarily dismissed by the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and a number of his Ministers.
The Statement was the culmination of 13 dialogues between First Nations peoples about Constitutional change, a process agreed to in June 2015 by the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, after 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders had presented their Kirribilli Statement* demanding First Nations people be given a chance to have their say on the Constitution. To have their recommendations rejected out of hand, without any formalised government and cross-party decision-making, demonstrated flagrant disregard for the process let alone the ‘First Nations voice’ represented.
Whatever government comes to power through elections due in May 2019 will have a historic window of opportunity. Could their first act of Government be to invite the signatories of the Uluru Statement to Parliament for a respectful and thorough consultation – as the Apology was the first act of Kevin Rudd’s government in 2008?
With a clear-sighted call from First Nations leaders, supported by a new government, we believe leadership would emerge in many sectors of society to mobilise a movement for a Makarrata Commission, a Truth-telling commission and a Constitutionally-recognised ‘Voice’ in Parliament. Only when those are delivered and signed, providing a framework individual First Nations to negotiate agreements on their own land – however long that takes – only then would we have the broad consensus and authority to fix a national day on which ‘all Australians together’ could rally and celebrate our ‘three-story’ nationhood.
What is mostly overlooked is that it is not only the First Nations people of Australia who need recognition and a treaty – their presence as a continuous culture over 60,000 years speaks for itself. It is we, the ‘mainstream’ Australians whose settler ancestors have arrived in the last 210 years, who need an agreement/a treaty, for our moral legitimacy and constitutional justification in the eyes of the international community and, in fact, in the eyes of generations that follow us. More than legitimacy, it is a challenge to the maturity of our national consciousness to deal honourably with the injustices and untruths in both our past and present. Our generation is diminished by avoiding it.
May 2019 presents a small window of historic opportunity.