Change requires courage: We need all Australians to walk with us

In BlogX, Politics, Race & Racism by IndigenousX

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Author: Teela Reid

@teelareid

Photo Credit: Jason McCormack, NSW Law Society.

This week I appeared on #QandA as one of the questioner’s to the Prime Minister regarding the Uluru Statement from the Heart. He sought to defend his dismissal of a proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament by relying on the fact we already have Indigenous MP’s in Parliament.

By doing this, he set out to purposefully mislead all Australians on what First Nations Australians proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. He also revealed his lack of faith in the intelligence of all Australians to democratically decide whether First Nations are worthy of a Voice in the laws and policies that affect our lives.

But Australians refused to be fooled by the PM’s performance. This was evidenced on social media and many other news platforms just moments after the #QandA episode. People were not only furious, but in utter disbelief at the PM’s obtuse and belligerent response to my simple question as to why he did not respect a First Nations consensus on a Voice to Parliament? The PM attempted to pit me against our esteemed Indigenous MP’s; those of which I have always, and will continue to respect their positions in Parliament.

Twitter soon ignited:


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And to use a term I don’t use or see everyday, this legend below pointed out the deceitful tactics deployed by the PM:


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However, some voiced their disagreement with my questioning:


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In my view, comments like the latter falls short of substance. They are presumptuous and premature as they fail to understand the process behind law reform in the democratic process. For instance, Australia’s journey to recognising First Nations Australians has been virtually a decade in the making. To simply accept the PM’s opinion that ‘it won’t fly’ with the public, or pass a referendum, in light of the fact polls reveal up to 61% support for a First Nations Voice (despite the lack of Prime Ministerial Leadership) denies the point that significant questions like these should be debated at a national level. Most notably, the PM denied the Australian people the opportunity to engage in a discussion on the issue and burnt bi-partisanship following almost a decade of support.

Following #QandA I was a guest on the ‘Triple J Hack’ program alongside respected Yawuru man and Senator Patrick Dodson, known by many as the Father of Reconciliation. Senator Dodson confirmed he is ‘not put in parliament exclusively by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people’. Additionally, a Senators role is very different to the type of representative Voice the Uluru Statement offers.  (Please read the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full if you haven’t already).

The reality is Indigenous Affairs is dominated by political elites in Canberra. This is the structural nature of our dilemma. This is the cause of our national failures to Close the Gap. For instance, we have a non- Indigenous Minister of Indigenous Affairs that has no direct duty to listen to the aspirations of First Nations Australians. The current status quo is clearly not working; outcomes are getting worse, not better as Canberra bureaucrats suffocate the self- determination of First Nations.

What is even more concerning about the PM’s performance on #QandA is that he offered no real alternative to move our country forward on the issue of recognising First Nations Australians. He simply wasn’t interested in offering solutions, and instead he seemed so keen on lecturing us about his belief that we are incapable of setting up our own structures. He proved he is not the leader that will unite Australians, as he purposely set out to divide and conquer.

So where to now for Indigenous Affairs in Australia?
As Megan Davis wrote this year in her article, ‘To walk in two worlds’ featured in The Monthly, she said:

“The one thing my people have never given up on, despite forensically documenting in our collective memory the capacity of law to oppress, is the capacity of law to redeem.”

This is true. We do not relinquish our fight now. PM’s come and go, but First Nations will remain here proud of our place in the world. We need all Australians to walk with us, to take ownership of the Uluru Statement and to share our pride. It is a shining beacon of hope amongst our bleak political climate. It is a call-to-arms, a declaration for inclusion and change to find our rightful place in Australia as the First People – to build a prouder nation.

But change does not come easy, and law reform is a monumental task for those for those who make up only 3% of the population. But if there is anything I have taken away from my exchange with the PM on #QandA, it is the overwhelming support and good faith of all Australians to rectify historical wrongs as the truth is beginning to prevail.

In his acceptance speech at the Aria’s 2017,@Briggs said, “change doesn’t come from being comfortable”. And, I am sure for some of those watching #QandA, many felt very uncomfortable, seeing an Aboriginal woman being lectured by an upper class white guy. But what it revealed is the disgraceful paternalism my people face, day in and day out. A conversation with the PM on national TV is a small feat and a lot more civil than the treatment of our ancestors experienced in fighting for our rights.

The heartache felt by the 29th Prime Minister’s rejection of the Uluru Statement is real. For those who participated in the comprehensive Constitutional Dialogue’s understand the soul and energy it took to even engage in the process given the complete destruction of our affairs the government has unleashed, particularly since the Howard Government era. According to the Referendum Councils Report, these dialogues were unprecedented:

‘..in our nation’s history [it] is the first time a constitutional convention has been convened with and for First Peoples. It is a significant response to the historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the original processes which led to the drafting of Australia’s Constitution.

The Dialogues engaged 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates – an average of 100 delegates from each Dialogue – out of a population of approximately 600,000 people nationally. This is the most proportionately significant consultation process that has ever been undertaken with First Peoples. Indeed, it engaged a greater proportion of the relevant population than the constitutional convention debates of the 1800s, from which First Peoples were excluded.’

People have committed their lives to this type of advocacy, and indeed, some of those have passed-on during this Referendum Process. They left us knowing the contempt the government still has for our people. But for the next generation of fierce advocates, we have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of those giants and we refuse to back down in the face of racism and contempt. We want a better, more inclusive Australia – our time will come. We need all Australians to walk with us.

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