Thirty Years since the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
Reconciliation Australia was established in 2001 as the national body on reconciliation in Australia, but the reconciliation process began a decade before with the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR).
This process was set in motion by a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which proposed that the country urgently needed a formal process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous peoples.
In 1991, the Commonwealth Parliament voted unanimously to establish the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) and a formal reconciliation process.
The Parliament noted that there had been no formal process of reconciliation to date, and that it was ‘most desirable that there be such a reconciliation’ by the year 2001, the centenary of Federation.
The CAR was established as a statutory authority on 2 September 1991 under the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act.
The CAR’s vision statement called for:
“A united Australia which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all.”
Three non-Indigenous deputy chairs served during the decade of CAR: Sir Ron Wilson, Ian Viner and Sir Gustav Nossal.
The Council members comprised community members, politicians, faith leaders, artists, journalists, trade union representatives, educators, and business people. In its decade of operations the Council had 32 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and 16 non-Indigenous members.
Former Council members, Linda Burney MP and Senator Patrick Dodson now sit in the federal parliament.
Council defined eight key issues as essential to the process of reconciliation in its first strategic plan; issues identified by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as essential to any understanding of their past, their position in the present and their hopes for the future.
The key issues also were the basis of the Council’s community education program throughout its life. They were:
- a greater understanding of the importance of land and sea in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies;
- better relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider community;
- recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage are a valued part of the Australian heritage;
- a sense for all Australians of a shared ownership of our history ;
- a greater awareness of the causes of disadvantage that prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from achieving fair and proper standards in health, housing, employment and education;
- a greater community response to addressing the underlying causes of the unacceptably high levels of custody for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- greater opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to control their destinies ;
- agreement on whether the process of reconciliation would be advanced by a document or documents of reconciliation.
In 2000, after close to a decade of research, promotion, partnership-building, consultation and educating, CAR presented its final reports to the Australian people, The Australian Declaration towards Reconciliation and The Roadmap for Reconciliation, at the Corroboree 2000 event in Sydney in May 2000.
They made two key arguments: that firstly, a decade of formal reconciliation was nowhere near enough to address 200 years of accumulated colonialism, oppression, and genocide—much remained unfinished; and secondly, that the majority of Australians agreed reconciliation was vital for Australia’s future, and supported a formal process.
This support was evident at the many People’s Walks for Reconciliation across the country in 2000, in which hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous walkers crossed bridges for reconciliation and justice.
The Walks showed that while established by an Act of Parliament, the reconciliation process in Australia was truly a people’s movement.
It was as a result of one of the six recommendations of the final CAR Report that Reconciliation Australia was formed in 2001.
‘Reconciliation has made significant progress throughout the life of the Council. Corroboree 2000 to me was a turning point, I believe, where we witnessed many hundreds of thousands of people embracing reconciliation.
The future of reconciliation will continue to progress slowly but surely and I believe education will play a major role. What the Council has done over its life span is to put the whole process in place and put reconciliation on the national agenda. It is now up to the younger people to deliver and I believe they can and will.’ Dr Evelyn Scott.
Read more about the 2000 Bridge Walks
Watch the SBS Documentary, Walk for Reconciliation