Report a good step, now parliament must deliver reform

Reconciliation Australia welcomes the release of the final report from the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The committee process constitutes the fifth formal inquiry in seven years that has sought to develop and forge agreement on a proposal for a referendum on constitutional recognition.

It is critical that the delivery of the report injects some urgency for government to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and deliver important reforms.

It is pleasing to see the report seek to maintain a bipartisan approach, including support for the establishment of a Voice to be co-designed between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

However, Reconciliation Australia urges that the federal parliament set out clear timeframes for this work, to ensure the Voice is finally realised in the next term of federal parliament.

The Statement from the Heart was clear that a Voice must be enshrined in Australia’s constitution. This must be the ultimate goal of the co-designed process.

Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said the report outlined some promising measures that could help us become a more unified, equitable and reconciled nation.

“Co-designing national reforms with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is critical,” she said.

“The proposed co-design of the Voice is a good step, in that regard, but the process must not be open-ended and must seek to maintain momentum towards a referendum.

“There was overwhelming support for the Voice in submissions to the Joint Select Committee, reflecting the views Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people expressed at the Uluru Convention and the Referendum Council Dialogues, as well as the views of the broader community.”

Additionally, it is encouraging that the report addresses several other proposals made in the Statement from the Heart – although it did not make a recommendation in relation to treaty.

It is particularly pleasing to see the report’s emphasis on the importance of truth-telling, including the involvement of local organisations and communities, libraries, historical societies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander associations.

In October, Reconciliation Australia and The Healing Foundation convened Australia’s first national truth-telling symposium, which brought together experts from around the country to explore opportunities to progress truth-telling. The symposium discussed the growing appetite for historical acceptance and considered local, state and federal opportunities to progress truth-telling.

Reconciliation Australia welcomes the report’s recommendation for a National Resting Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains, which could be a place of commemoration, healing and reflection. This initiative should be designed in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the next term of government.

Ms Mundine said truth-telling is pivotal to reconciliation and an issue that can be progressed immediately.

“Through our work, we know there is very strong support in the general community for progressing both formal and informal approaches to truth-telling.”

Reconciliation Australia would be open to a discussion with the federal government about progressing processes for truth-telling, building on our work in this field over more than 20 years.

Although the report delivered a number of promising recommendations, Ms Mundine said it was disappointing there was no recommendation relating to treaty.

Treaty is one of six recommendations outlined by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in its final report.

A federal approach to treaty that builds on the growing momentum towards treaty at state and territory levels should be viewed as an important national reform.

“The federal government is falling behind the states when it comes to progressing treaty,” Ms Mundine said.

“It would be good to see political parties take up this issue at the federal level.”

Ms Mundine noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been engaging in discussions about the issues considered in the final report for many years.

“It’s time for political parties to do all they can to realise legitimate proposals for national reform in the next term of government.”

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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