And just before the clock struck midnight, we as a nation were united.
Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had done it; we had reached the momentous occasion of being united — Reconciliation at long last.
The struggle was no more.
How, you might ask?
The Australian national anthem had been amended from ‘For we are young and free’ to ‘For we are one and free’.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the change was to “honour Indigenous people” and the migration which this country has seen.
Ironically, the majority of Indigenous people see such a small and insignificant change to be nothing more than a superficial platitude, one I might add, that we didn’t ask for.
Unfortunately, the Morrison Government has failed to see the irony in this lacklustre action.
This one-word change is being dialed up as the hallmark of progressive ‘inclusivity’. Could a more wonderful metaphor for ‘band aid solution’ have come about?
Such a shortfall would be laughable, if it weren’t so incredibly indicative of where Australia is at in terms of addressing the long-lasting effects of dispossession, forced removal, and stolen wages, land, culture and livelihoods of Indigenous people due to colonisation.
No, this is not a gaff. Our Government seems to think that such a minimal change is something notable and worthy of applause as opposed to its true tokenism.
After all, if we were truly committed to inclusivity, wouldn’t we be more inclined to change the whole anthem which was originally written in 1878?
For context, the anthem was written in the midst of the virulent Frontier Wars (1788-1934) — when the violent massacre of First Nations children, women and men brought little to no consequences.
Instead of arguing the semantic value of a one-word change to an anthem created during a time of massacre, here’s what should be topics of the national conversation:
The celebration of colonial conquest by the Crown was only formally celebrated as a public holiday in 1994.
Why are we still celebrating a date that causes so much pain for community, when it’s only been a formal public celebration for less than three decades?
No formally recognised Indigenous body in Government
We’re still waiting on Treaty.
The age of criminal responsibility is 10-years-old
This human rights blunder continues to prevail despite a Royal Commission recommendation and global criticism calling for this age to be increased.
Globally, the jurisdiction for criminal responsibility is 14-years-old.
Developmental and early intervention such as preschool literacy and support for young parents from multiple agencies is critical in preventing interaction with the criminal justice system.
Uluru Statement from the Heart
United First Nations Australians called for First Nations voices within the Australian Constitution, for a truth-telling process and a First Nations’ Governing Body — the Statement was rejected by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in incarceration
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of June 2020 the prison population was approximately 29 per cent First Nations Australian.
Currently there is a lack or complete absence of government sentencing alternatives, programs and services for First Nations people’s rehabilitation.
However, community-led programs have the potential to address the lack of rehabilitation options seen in rural and remote communities.
If more widely adopted, this could address the high recidivism rates which have been attributed to a lack of options.
Limited Human Rights protections for First Nations Australians
Currently, human rights protections in Australia do not prevent the Federal Government from making laws that discriminate against First Nations people on the basis of race.
The Australian Constitution does not guarantee rights and freedoms as they relate to being represented by a lawyer in a trial, the right to equality before the law, or the right to peaceful assembly.
Wondering why we’re making such poor progress with Closing the Gap targets?
A lack of protection, through forms such as a Human Rights Act means that slow progress is not only evident but inevitable as policy continues to be made without First Nations input.
The result? Poorly designed, targeted, and sometimes discriminatory service delivery and policy with no enforceable consequences.
It would be remiss not to mention how the fight for basic human rights is inextricably linked to the disadvantage experienced by First Nations Australians.
So perhaps, the delusionary ‘inclusive’ action of “young” to “one” is accurate in its portrayal of Australia’s progress on truth-telling.
For now, Australia is on the bottom rung of the Reconciliation ladder.
By Rachel Stringfellow