‘I know Australia is a better nation than this’

Peter Yu delivers the 2018 ANU Reconciliation Lecture at the Shine Dome, Australian Academy of Science.

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.


2 Comments on ‘I know Australia is a better nation than this’

  1. Why don’t high rolling aborigines with nice Government cars, nice homes and probably own a house or two invite other aborigines to their homes and offer others assistance after all, these are their money. They are the high roller aborigines and you will know them because they stand out like a sore thumbs. Their kids drive around with nice cars and probably big bank balance thanks to their CEO parents. Go around to the communities and try to put two and two together to figure out why one family has more than others. I hear my mob say we can’t touch our money. Well let me tell you, somebody is touching our money. They are the people who waltz into our communities and claim to be aborigines cos all they talk about is aboriginal law and culture while they smoke dopes and why they don’t get caught puzzles me. I don’t know if they had blisters on their hands and feet working 24 7 for many years. My story will be out where I have photos from the age of ,3 to now, 70. My story is not fake where I still do physical work. And still poor but happy. Cheers.

  2. Peter’s views are the views of many informed and forward thinking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Leaders across the country. It is not an alignment of a particular and solitary political persuasion but one which is practicable, workable and fully representational of the practicalities surrounding reconciliation. Thank you Peter for stating the obvious and not bowing down to the actioned rhetoric of this and other former misguided governments whose last intent would be to appropriately address the issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within Australia.

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