This week is bookended by two significant moments in our nation’s history – the first of these being the referendum of 27 May, 1967, that recognised Australia’s First Peoples’ right to vote.
Twenty-five years later, on 3 June, 1992, the High Court of Australia handed down a decision on what is popularly known as the Mabo case.
The case legally recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as having a continuous and special relationship with the land. Subsequently, federal parliament passed the Native Title Act, which established a legal framework for native title claims throughout the country.
While this year also marks 25 years since the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation started a national conversation about how to become reconciled, equitable and just, many injustices remain as a result of colonisation, dispossession and control over First Peoples’ lives and land.
Justice outcomes continue to decline, with adult imprisonment rates worsening and no change in high rates of juvenile detention and family and community violence.
While bridging the health, social and economic gaps is vital, Reconciliation is about more than simply improving services and economic participation. It is also about the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and non-Indigenous Australians, addressing the causes of racism and discrimination, and strengthening the understanding of, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. It also requires deepening Australians’ understanding of historical wrongs and injustices and their contemporary impact.
Achieving these objectives requires action at multiple levels. In terms of our political processes, the principle of negotiation and self-determination – not tokenistic consultation – must be embedded in policy processes. It should be inclusive of diverse Indigenous community perspectives and aspirations, and must include a revitalised institution of representation at national and regional levels.
The St Vincent de Paul Society strongly supports Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, as a means of establishing a more just Australia.
“While constitutional recognition will not erase these many forms of injustice, it is a matter of deep sadness and shame for us as a nation, that we have not yet taken this important step in our national journey of recognising the historical truth and honouring the First Peoples,” the Society’s National Council CEO, Dr John Falzon said.