Reconciliation in Australia has become a meaningless term, says respected Yawuru man Peter Yu.
Mr Yu*, from Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley, told a capacity audience at the Australian National University that reconciliation had become part of Australia’s “lazy dialogue”.
Mr Yu was delivering the 2018 ANU Reconciliation Lecture.
“I believe the once laudable concept of a reconciliation whose initial objective was to heal the wounds of our nation’s historic injustices and include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in a modern Australia under the terms of an agreed political settlement no longer exists,” Mr Yu said.
“Reconciliation has lost its moral and political gravitas.
“While I know and believe sections of the general community remain committed to the concept and aspiration of reconciliation, it has become a nebulous and meaningless term and used by anyone as a throwaway concept to apply their interpretation about the relationship between Indigenous people and the Australian State.
“It has become part of Australia’s lazy dialogue concerning Indigenous people dominated by symbolism which has little connection with the realities of people’s lives.”
Mr Yu said he found the first few weeks of the year unsettling as Australia lunged from Australia Day to the anniversary of Mr Rudd’s historic apology to the Stolen Generations through to the annual tabling of the Closing the Gap report in Federal Parliament.
“Throw in recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution and the potential severing of constitutional links to the British Monarch and what we have in this country is a facile dialogue of disconnected symbols which are supposed to define Australian nationhood,” he said.
“Juxtaposed with the focus on symbolism and rhetoric about doing better to close the gap is the unacceptable reality of increasing imprisonment rates, appalling health outcomes, homelessness and overcrowded houses, family and community violence concerning Indigenous people.
“The list of benchmarks which describes the crisis confronting many Indigenous people, particularly in remote Australia, is depressingly familiar.”
Mr Yu said governments had normalised what should be unacceptable.
He said only Indigenous people could close the gap, but it would mean changing the relationship Australia has with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Mr Yu said a political settlement to Indigenous constitutional recognition should be tied to a future, independent Australian Republic.
He said the current national Constitution did not enshrine the principles of equality of citizenship.
“I am an optimist by nature and I know Australia is a better nation than the political system that represents us,” he said.
“The failure of successive national governments and parliaments to forge pathways to recognise Indigenous peoples in the nation’s constitution is a failure of Australia’s body politic.
“Constitutional recognition should not be viewed as another contentious issue, accompanied by political cajoling and manoeuvring, to be ticked along the linear trajectory of Australian nation-building.
“It should be understood as fundamental to our moral and ethical national character.”
* Mr Yu is a board Member of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd, deputy chair of the AFL Aboriginal Advisory Committee, deputy chair of Broome Future Ltd and trustee on the Princes Trust Australia.