Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is vibrant, our people are resilient. Why are we still the most disadvantaged group in Australia?
The biennial Mabo oration was held earlier this week to pay tribute to Eddie Mabo and the landmark high court decision Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1.The 2019 oration featured IndigenousX founder Luke Pearson as orator and Rhianna Patrick as host and explored Indigenous storytelling in the digital age. Notably, the Mabo oration was streamed live on Facebook and has inspired action for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.
During the 2017 Mabo oration the audience of over 800 people agreed to a resolution – a request that the government respond to the Connection to Country report and the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendation to reform the Native Title system. The resolution was proposed by Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen AM, QC, seconded by Bonita Mabo and carried by an overwhelming show of hands.
Since then reforms have been proposed in the Native Title Legislation Amendment Bill that seek to amend the process of applicant decision-making. The intent of the bill is to improve resolution and agreement-making. However, the bill falls short of addressing the onerous requirements of proof considered to be one of the fundamental problems with the system. Two years on from the 2017 Mabo oration, we are yet to see comprehensive native title reform.
I try to avoid framing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in a deficit discourse but what remains at the front of my mind is the alarming rise in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide and our continuing overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. These two issues need urgent attention. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is vibrant and our people remain resilient. Notwithstanding the lack of political will, theUluru Statement from the Heartcontinues to gather momentum across the community, business and finance sector.
Australia has its first ever Aboriginal minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. We have significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university graduates in Australia and across the world at institutions such as Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford. Nevertheless, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain the most disadvantaged group in Australia.
This nation’s history and the changing political landscape demonstrates that nothing is promised. Relying on political leaders to honour Mabo’s legacy will mean a long wait before we see radical change. For me, the Mabo oration and celebration of the Mabo decision is a reminder that we must continue to invest in our young people and demand a seat at the table when decisions are being made about us. Equipping our next generation with the experience, opportunity and savviness needed to navigate our ever-changing political climate and to achieve structural and system changes remains a priority.
We will continue to be inspired by Mabo’s leadership to shape a better future for our communities.