Now More Than Ever: It’s Time to Stand Up for Reconciliation

Bundjalung woman and Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine addresses this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme – Now More Than Ever.

We are in an historic phase on Australia’s journey towards reconciliation.

In October last year we dealt with the profoundly disappointing outcome of the referendum on a Voice to Parliament – an appeal to the Australian public to elevate and protect a national First Nations body within the Australian Constitution.

Instead of creating an opportunity to reset our relationships through diverse ways of engaging, opponents of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are attempting – and will continue to attempt – to seize this result to push their retrogressive and racist agendas.

In the weeks and months post-referendum, there was a flurry of media attention on an imaginary wave of local councils abandoning Welcomes and Acknowledgements of Country.

Like many things in life, the truth is much less dramatic. At the time of writing there have been three local councils – out of the 500-plus LGAs – that have done so.

There have been other councils that debated these propositions but all of them have so far kept these important ceremonies.

In the lead up to 26 January, Woolworths was accused of trying to ‘cancel Australia Day’ by acting on their commercial decision not to stock specific Australia Day products in store, a decision made because of steeply declining sales. Kmart and Aldi also revealed they would not be stocking these products. All simply made business decisions based on changing consumer behaviours that are no doubt reflective of how Australians are reconsidering what 26 January means to different parts of the community. But if we were to believe the headlines, 26 January was cancelled.

Most recently we have seen brazen public acts of racism, no doubt emboldened by the tenor of the referendum debate and defeat. And while shocking and outrageous to some, for many if not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, these acts are neither surprising nor unexpected.

Seize the moment to build a better nation

Having taken time out – to work through my feelings of disappointment, despair and distress at the referendum result, and to recharge my batteries after the physical exhaustion of the campaign – I now see the clarion call to action to seize the moment.

Now more than ever there is an urgency to the work of reconciliation – to build a better nation that enacts and defends the rights of First Nations peoples to make our own decisions about our own lives and communities.

What the referendum revealed to us is that under the bedrock of mainstream Australian society’s good intentions lies a mantle of ill-informed and misguided conceptions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and what is at stake if we do not embrace change.

This mantle has been formed by 230-plus years of harmful policies and rhetoric.

Left unchecked or, worse, purposefully ignited, this mantle can erupt into the kinds of racism and bigotry experienced by First Nations people during the referendum campaign and since.

We only have to look across the Tasman to Aotearoa-New Zealand, to glimpse how this could play out if given oxygen.

The New Zealand Coalition Government, ironically elected on the same day as the Voice referendum, has plans to review the place of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand’s laws; has directed that the Maori language is limited, or removed, from use within the public sector; and shut down the Maori Health Authority, Te Aka Whai Ora – an agency set up to improve health outcomes for Maori people – by the end of June.

The fight for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, recognition and justice must continue and any advancement must be protected.

Now more than ever, it’s time to take action

Here in Australia, we urged people last year to Be a Voice for Generations to build on the progress we have made towards equality and equity. This National Reconciliation Week, in light of the referendum, we are urging people to take action, Now More Than Ever.

It’s a reminder to all of us that the fight for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, recognition and justice must continue and any advancement must be protected.

To not do so is to break with the legacy we have inherited from generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists, advocates and leaders, and the allies who supported them, who fought for every one of the rights we enjoy today.

Now more than ever there is an opportunity to make a difference in this country, to challenge the status quo and not let another generation be lost to systems that were not built for First Nations people nor the diversity of Australia in the 21st century.

Now more than ever it is time to learn from the lessons of the past and accept that without the full engagement of First Nations peoples in the life of this country, Australia is forever diminished.

And now more than ever it will take each of us who can see the benefits and opportunities of making space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and our ways of being, knowing and doing, to advocate for and defend those rights against those who would limit or take them away.

Stand up and be counted

As part of National Reconciliation Week, we once again invite choirs, singing groups and schools to raise their voices for reconciliation. It is one of the actions we highlight on our website. This year’s song is the great Australian reconciliation anthem Blackfella/Whitefella by the Warumpi Band.

The song asks: ‘Are you the one who’s gonna stand up and be counted?’

This song and our theme are clarion calls to all of you – our supporters, allies, friends and partners – that now is not the time to disengage and disconnect from our mission.

We need you and reconciliation, Now More Than Ever.

This article was first published by Arrilla Indigenous Consulting Pty Ltd, a Supply Nation certified, majority Indigenous owned and operated business working across Australia with over three decades of leadership in cultural competency training and consulting. Published with permission. Visit or email [email protected]

This article is from the 51st edition of Reconciliation News. Read the rest of the issue.

Visit our website to find out more about National Reconciliation Week. To find events happening near you, go to check the NRW Events Calendar 2024. You can also add your own public events to the calendar.

Are you ready to stand up and be counted? Join the Voices for Reconciliation.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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