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Nulungu Reconciliation Lecture

Aboriginal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice


Thank you for your kind welcome and can I reciprocate as I begin today by respecting the Yawuru, the traditional owners of Rubibi the place that is now known as Broome. I thank them for allowing me on their country. I salute the Elders who are here today, those that have gone before us, and those who are yet to come.

My people are freshwater people, the Gangulu, from the Dawson Valley in Central Queensland.

My Elders send a message of gratitude to the Yawuru people for allowing one of theirs on your country and they tell me to pass onto to you their understanding of the fight you fought to be recognised as the traditional owners of this place and their admiration for your continued caring of your country and your continuing practice of your culture.

I honour Patrick Dodson, Elder, Traditional Owner, Leader, Inspiration

Can I acknowledge the Vice Chancellor of Notre Dame University,  Professor Celia Hammond, the Chancellor of Notre Dame University, Mr Terrance Tobin QC and Dr Bernadette Tobin, Professor Keith McNaught, Head of Broome Campus,

The Bishop of Broome, the Most Reverend Christopher Saunders, my Colleague, Commissioner Tim Wilson, our Australian Human Rights Commissioner

My Kimberley friends, particularly, Joseph Edgar and Steve Kinnane here at the Nulungu Research Institute and Neil Carter from Fitzroy Crossing

I thank the Nulungu Research Institute on the Notre Dame University for inviting me here today to present the 2014 Nulungu Lecture.


Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and as such the 2013 Social Justice Report presented an opportunity for reflection as I thought about those who have come before me, Professor Mick Dodson, son of the Yawuru, Dr Bill Jonas, Ms Zita Antonios and Dr Tom Calma.

When we started looking back over those 20 years, we were struck by their fearlessness, courage and advocacy, how they established partnerships, kept Governments accountable and provided hope to our communities.

We were inspired by their courage to confront the challenges of the Stolen Generation, the abolition of ATSIC, the Northern Territory Intervention, native title, constitutional recognition, family violence and violence against women, health equality, criminal justice issues, and of course the development and ultimate adoption by Australia of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration).

And then we were amazed at their resilience. To be exposed daily to those matters that confront us, to witness up close the damage done to our communities and to keep turning up day after day to advocate for our most vulnerable is testament to this resilience and to their commitment.

We found that twenty years ago non-Indigenous Australia seemed to be waking up to its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. The Mabo judgement had just been handed down by the High Court,[1]  the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (Native Title Act) was being negotiated,  [2]Prime Minister Paul Keating gave the famous Redfern address,  [3]it was the early and optimistic days of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established[4] .

Another seminal event was the appointment of Professor Mick Dodson as the first Social Justice Commissioner on 22 January 1993. He was uniquely qualified to take up the position from his admittance as a barrister at the Victorian Bar in the late seventies, his involvement as Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), his leadership and advocacy as Director of the Northern Land Council (NLC) and legendary status as community leader. In 2009 he was given his due recognition for his contribution, not only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples but for all Australians when named Australian of the Year.

As the first, Mick was an inspired choice and set the standard for those of us who follow in his footsteps as Social Justice Commissioners.

He understood the gravity, complexity and weight of expectation. In the first Social Justice Report, he wrote:

I am acutely conscious that to be identified as an ‘Aboriginal leader’ and appointed by the Commonwealth to a position of influence may be viewed by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as being co-opted by government.[5]

Mick went on to explain this tension in its historical context:

It is a measure of the experience of indigenous Australians, as the subjects not only of harsh government policies but also (more insidiously) well-intentioned paternalistic government policies, that there continues a deep distrust of governmental policies and appointees.[6]

He was very clear that the way through these challenges was by hearing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice and acknowledging:

to my country men and women…it is not appropriate that my views should be substituted for their own direct voices or that I can presume to speak for any person’s particular traditional country.[7]

This commitment from Professor Mick Dodson represents the very consultative, engaging and open leadership style that Social Justice Commissioners have provided over the years.

But looking back over this past 20 years was not an exercise in nostalgia. From a historic perspective we generally say that learning from the past helps us shape the future.

The constant themes from those years can be boiled down to three narratives.

Rights, Relationships and Responsibilities.

Each of these narratives can stand alone as central points of advocacy. I am sure it would not take too much effort to develop a campaign around either one of these.

However, if we consider each as reinforcing to the others, our advocacy is not only eminently stronger but if followed will, I believe, provide for more effective outcomes for our peoples.

For instance, It is my belief that relationships not underpinned by rights and responsibilities will eventually fail.

Responsibilities not founded in our rights and articulated in our relationships with each other will neither be properly understood nor seen as mutually obligatory, be those relationships be within and between our families, communities, individuals and with the Australian population.

Finally, rights without responsibilities and without being framed in the context of relationships are basically meaningless.

Patrick, in your first Nulungu Lecture you talked about a false dichotomy in the debate over welfare reform and crisis intervention – practical reconciliation as opposed to a rights and responsibilities framework. Both matters have to be dealt with and both should involve the free choices of the Aboriginal peoples. (Patrick Dodson, Nulungu Lecture, 21 August 2008).

These dichotomies abound in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.

Let me start with rights.

Australia has a proud history of advocating human rights. In 1948 we were represented on the committee tasked with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we were one of the first countries to franchise women in our elections and we have committed to seven of the most important international human rights conventions and treaties.[8]

But somehow, a ‘rights-based approach’ is seen by some as an anathema in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs; somehow for us, our situation is so dire that governments and significant others can justify the non-recognition and removal of our rights for the ‘greater good’ without discussion, without engagement and certainly without our agreement.

A rights-based approach is essential in providing sustainable improvements in our communities and families, an approach where rights and responsibilities stand side-by-side.

For instance, we should think of self-determination not only as a right but also as a call to our people to rise to this challenge and take responsibility and control over our internal and local affairs, and we should measure its effectiveness by how the most vulnerable in the community are engaged and heard.

I am constantly confronted by this dichotomy and to help me work through this challenge I have come to rely heavily on a human rights based approach.

There are two key features of human rights. Universality and Indivisibility.

Universality means that rights apply to everyone, everywhere, equally and regardless of circumstance – they are intended to reflect the essence of humanity. They are not contingent upon any factor or characteristic being met – you do not have to ‘earn’ rights or be ‘deserving’ of them.

And the indivisibility of human rights means that all rights - economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights – are of equal importance. …you cannot claim to be performing an action in exercise of your rights if it causes harm or breaches the rights of another person.[9]

Simply put, there is no hierarchy of human rights and all rights are interconnected. For example I am constantly asked by people about the right to drink alcohol.  I can find no such human right per se, and I think people get this confused with the right to equal access to goods and services.

However, if in accessing the equal rights to goods and services people do consume alcohol, there are duties to others when exercising this right. The first duty is to exercise it in a way that ensures other people can enjoy the same right. So if you are in a bar you can’t harass, intimidate or be violent to others.

Then you have different duties, to exercise that right in a way that protects other rights such as the security of person, that is, all people have a right to be safe and secure. (Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, Article 3, The Universal Declaration on Human Rights)

So if you drink to excess, you can’t harass, intimidate or be violent to others, particularly vulnerable peoples such as Elders, women, children and people with disabilities.

The concept of indivisibility relies on everyone exercising rights in ways that, as I have just said protects all rights of other people.

So how do we do this?

We need to ensure, as I say above, that the most vulnerable in our communities – the women, children and elderly – are heard and protected and this may mean balancing different and competing rights.

Finding this right balance is not new in human rights. Sometimes the process of getting the balance between competing rights is the best indicator of a functional self-determining community or society.

It is how these discussions and debates are facilitated, conducted and agreed that will mark the strength and maturity of that community or society.

For example, I have spoken to the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council they considered the safety and security of women and children over-rode the ability of members of five communities to purchase take-away alcohol from a roadhouse near Uluru in the Northern Territory.

I am told they undertook consultations within those five communities, and worked with government and in partnership with the roadhouse owners. The net result is the special licencing conditions for the roadhouse have been in place for about 14 years and an indication of their acceptance is that in that time, there has not been one formal complaint about them from any members of those five communities.

This approach is not new. Every day I’m meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and community members who are stepping up and confronting these challenges and making these hard decisions.

These challenges are made easier by the strength of relationships that exist.  In the case of the NPY Women, it was the relationship they had with the roadhouse owners and the Licencing authorities in the Northern Territory that made their arrangement work.

As I have said earlier, there are multiple levels of relationships that intersect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. If I may, I want to talk for a while about the big relationship that needs fixing here in Australia, and that is the one between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the rest of the Australian population as a whole.

This relationship has been a challenge since colonisation, where the British had three options for taking possession of the Australia.

If the country was uninhabited, Britain could claim and settle that country and could claim ownership of the land.
If the country was already inhabited, Britain could ask for permission from the indigenous people to use some of their land.
If the country was inhabited, Britain could take over the country by invasion and conquest- in other words, defeat that country in war.[10]

Our history shows that option two can be ruled out because as we know, permission was definitely not sought.

And there is an ever rising awareness of the frontier conflicts here in Australia and recognition of Pemulwuy in Port Jackson, Windradyne in Bathurst, Yagan in the Swan and Canning Rivers around Perth, Calyute and the battle of Pinjarra and of course Jandamarra or 'Pigeon' in the Western Kimberley in the late 1880s as examples of Aboriginal resistance.

However, ‘martial law’ was only declared in Bathurst New South Wales against the Wiradjuri in 1824[11]  and in Tasmania in 1830.[12]

This rules out option 3, which leave us with the first option, that the land was uninhabited, terra nullius, that is, an empty land.

The British settlement of Australia was based in this presumption and the people of Australia – Aboriginal and colonial alike - have struggled with its residue for over 230 years.[13]

There have been many efforts, like the 1967 referendum to address this struggle over these 230 years. However, this matter was framed as a matter of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of Australia with the proclamation the Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 (Ctw).

The Object of the Council was to:

promote a process of reconciliation between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the wider Australian community….[14]

This Act and therefore its aims initially received multi-party support led by Robert Tickner, the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr. Michael Wooldridge, then Opposition Spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs, and Senator Grant Tambling, Country Liberal Party, Northern Territory.

Its first Chairperson was another Yawuru man and another Dodson kid, Patrick. Like Mick, Patrick’s advocacy for his people is legendary. He was a Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Director of the Central and Kimberley Land Councils and is fondly known as the Father of Reconciliation.

As Chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Patrick, you led the country through a conversation that for the first time in Australia’s history was deliberate in its approach at a national level to address this relationship.

For the first time Australians were asked to consider the rightful place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in this great nation state.

However, there were challenges. In 1997 Professor Mick Dodson and Sir Ronald Wilson presented The Bringing Them Home Report to the Federal Parliament.

This presented an opportunity for the country to confront the past practices that separated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. This Report was emblematic of the challenge. If we are to reconcile as a nation we must concede that awful things happened along with the good.  One of the Recommendations of the Report was that:

That all Australian Parliaments….

….. negotiate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission a form of words for official apologies to Indigenous individuals, families and communities and extend those apologies with wide and culturally appropriate publicity.[15]

For some people the challenge presented by this Report proved too much, particularly this call for an apology.

For some people sorry was really the hardest word to say.

However, the Council continued its work bringing together Australians from all walks of life to sit down and work through these challenges.

At the Council for Reconciliation’s event, Corroboree 2000, on 12 May that year, the Council presented the Towards Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation, the culmination of its work and its blueprint for the future of reconciliation.

Who would ever forget the Bridge Walk, where over 300,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in an act of solidarity around reconciliation. On that day people also walked on Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra with Melbourne and Perth all having bridge walks by the end of that year, with at least another 300,000 people taking part.

And who would ever forget in Sydney that plane putting the word sorry into the bright blue Sydney sky.

Of course, the actual utterance of those words by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008 was also an important part of our nation’s healing journey and the necessary relationship building between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the rest of the Australian community.

As we know, the Council’s work was taken up by Reconciliation Australian. RA has continued the work with one of its main plank being Reconciliation Action Plans. There are now RAPs in over 500 organisations, businesses, schools, universities and Government bodies.

An indication of the effectiveness of the RAP program is that a recent RA report found that:

91% of RAP employees believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are important to Australia’s identity compared to 71% of the general community.

66 % of RAP employees versus 41 % of people in the general population have more frequent contact

45 % of RAP employees versus 21 % of the general population agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold a special place as the First Australians.

77 % of RAP employees versus 51 % of the general population are more likely to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures

71 % of RAP employees are more likely to trust Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their organisation compared to 13 % of people who think trust is high in the general community .[16]

In its Strategic Plan for 1998 -2000 the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation raised the issue of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

It said that its first goal in that document was to:

Achieve recognition and respect for the unique position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Indigenous peoples of Australia through a national document of reconciliation and by acknowledgment within the Australian Constitution.

The Council maintained this theme in its final report to the Federal Parliament, recommending that:

The Commonwealth Parliament prepare legislation for a referendum which seeks to:

  • recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia in a new preamble to the Constitution; and
  • remove section 25 of the Constitution and introduce a new section making it unlawful to adversely discriminate against any people on the grounds of race.[17]

    This issue of our equality has been advocated over many years at events like the Aborigines Conference of 1938 where people such as William Cooper, Jack Patten and Doug Nichols advocated:

    for a new policy which will raise our people to full citizen status and equality within the community [18]

    through to the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.

    The Panel was made up of Australians from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and organisations, small and large business, community leaders, academics, and members of Parliament from across the political landscape.

    Along with Patrick and Mark Leibler as co-chairs, I was fortunate to be asked to be part of that Panel.

    We held over 250 public consultations with over 4,600 people in attendance around Australia, papers were translated into 15 languages, and received over 3,500 submissions.

    Whilst we can never claim to have met with everyone, we nonetheless provided ourselves with a great basis from which to develop our recommendations.

    In this we used four criteria to guide us. We decided the recommendations must:

    • Contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation
    • Be of benefit and accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
    • Be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums; and
    • Be technically and legally sound.

    Overwhelmingly, Australians wanted to remove the races powers in sections 25 and 51 (26) and they wanted a guarantee that no one would be discriminated against on the basis of race, color or ethnic origin.

    They wanted a statement of recognition that acknowledged Australia was first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, our continuing relationship with our traditional lands and waters, respect for our continuing cultures, languages and heritage and finally, the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    The Panel presented our report to Prime Minister Gillard in January 2012. In the foreword to the Report the co-chairs wrote:

    It is now for the Government and Parliament to take the Panel’s recommendations forward. As co-chairs, we would be pleased to assist in this process by participating in discussions and providing advice, including on the extent to which any proposals the Governments puts to Parliament are likely to be supported by the Australian community as a whole. [19]

    Like others on the Panel, I was of the opinion that the Government would consider our recommendations and in consultation with the Coalition, the Greens and Independents would quickly, but without undue haste, let the public know what recommendations would be supported and which presented some challenges.

    Unfortunately this was not the case. In late 2012, the then Labor Government proposed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act, that was passed by both houses of Parliament unopposed in February 2013.

    The Act acknowledges in law that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the first inhabitants of this nation and seeks to foster momentum for a referendum for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It includes a sunset date of two years to allow the campaign for change to continue to build momentum and ensure the focus remains on the ultimate goal of a successful referendum. In other words, the sunset clause in the Act of Recognition sets down a broad timeframe for the holding of the referendum.

    The passing of this Act by Parliament was an important first step towards the main goal of constitutional reform. As then Prime Minister Gillard stated:

    …no gesture speaks more deeply to the healing of our nation’s fabric than amending our nation’s founding charter, so I commend this bill to the House as a deed of reconciliation in its own right, and as a sign of good faith for the referendum to come. [20]

    The then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott supported the Prime Minister’s message:

    I honour the millions of Indigenous people, living and dead, who have loved this country yet maintained their identity and who now ask only that their existence be recognised and their contributions be acknowledged. [21]

    The multiparty support of the Act was a great portent for the success of the referendum needed to change the constitution.

    A Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was established in November 2012. The Committee operated with the mandate to ‘work to build a secure strong multi-partisan Parliamentary consensus around the timing, specific content and wording of referendum proposals for Indigenous constitutional recognition’. [22]

    It produced its first report on the Inquiry into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill in January 2013. [23]

    The progress report, delivered by the Committee in June 2013, provided clear direction on the steps and timeframes required to ensure that momentum towards a referendum is maintained and built upon following the September 2013 election. [24]

    The report provided a strong endorsement of the work and recommendations of the Expert Panel, stating that ‘the work of the Expert Panel provides a solid foundation for the process of constitutional reform’. [25]

    This Joint Select Committee lapsed with the call of the Federal election in 2013, but was reconvened soon after, with the first Aboriginal Member of the House of Representatives, Mr Ken Wyatt MP as the Chair and the first Aboriginal women elected to the Senate, Senator Nova Paris as the Deputy Chair.

    A Panel to Review the Act of Recognition was also established.

    The current iteration of the process to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution began in earnest at the election in 2010 where there was unanimous support from the political parties for this broad concept.

    It is now in the latter part of 2014, with the Act of Recognition due to lapse in around six months’ time and we have had the Expert Panel, a Joint Select Committee convened, lapse, reconvened, a Panel to review the Act of Recognition and it seems that for all of this, we are only one preliminary report closer to a model for recognition being released, which will undoubtedly require another round of consultation.

    Of course, consultation is important, but with well-established multi-party support for recognition, it is time to shift the emphasis of this consultation, from the contents of a report to the model that will be put to the people in the referendum.

    The Journey to Recognition is doing a great job at raising awareness about the need for constitutional recognition, having signed up more than 216,000 Australians and counting. The campaign has hit the road again in my home state of Queensland this July with scheduled visits to communities such as Weipa, Yarrabah, Hope Vale and my home town, Rockhampton to name a few. This Journey began in Melbourne last May and since then has covered more than 20,000 kms by foot, bike, 4WD, kayak and paddleboard across the NT, WA, SA, VIC and now QLD. This has involved over 130 communities and more than 10,500 Australians. 

    However, despite the groundswell, I am perplexed when thinking about the timelines for the referendum and get more than a little bit dismayed when I hear it may not happen until 2017. The reasoning with this thinking is that 2016 is an election year and its best not to confuse a general election with such an important issue that will be the subject of this referendum.

    And because of the sunset clause, in February next year the Act of Recognition will lapse and with that goes the Parliamentary recognition of us.

    It is in this context that I call upon Parliament to move forward on this issue with the same spirit and enthusiasm with which it started.  Readily identifying a model will mean the public, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, will have a greater opportunity to know what they are endorsing and what I call the 'debate proper' can begin. This clarity will also maximise opportunity to build on the existing momentum behind the campaign that is necessary if we are to have a successful referendum.

    This may also mean considering a revised timeframe for the referendum itself. Taking into account the work that has already been done and the work still to do, it is my belief that a more realistic timetable that avoids the election issue but also allows maximum support to be gathered behind this by the public is at the end of 2015.

    This timeframe has also been supported by constitutional expert, George Williams, who has indicated that now that the interim report has identified “concrete options for reform” that the government should “move the debate forward by indicating a willingness to hold the referendum in 2015”. A failure to do so he says may mean “the momentum built up by campaigns such as Recognise [may] be lost” and that “waiting also risks the issue becoming mired in politicking as the 2016 federal election approaches”. [26]

    Maintaining multi party is a vital element in the quest for constitutional recognition. However, so too is support from the broader Australian community and as all Parties acknowledge, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples themselves.

    We can’t afford to have the course for recognition burdened by complacency and administrative processes that eat up time, energy and enthusiasm. We must remember the purpose we all started with here, with rightly acknowledging the First Peoples of this country and removing the opportunity to racially discriminate against anyone. 

    But if we are to emulate in any way, the success of the 1967 referendum, or go any further in improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and their relationship with non-Indigenous Australians, we need to get this right.

    It is shocking to me that in 2014 we are still a country that has ties to our racist past, of the darker periods in our nation’s history, such as the White Australia Policy that had at its core the destruction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, communities and culture.  Australia no longer stands for these attitudes. By recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and removing discrimination, we are sending a powerful message about the way we wish to see ourselves as a nation, as Australians. We are saying that we truly believe in equality, in a fair go and in non-discrimination for all Australians. We are saying that we truly respect and honour the 60,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history that is currently missing from our nation’s founding document.

    By supporting these changes, we are honouring the many thousands of people that have come before us, who have fought for change and equal treatment. From the diggers that have fought to be recognised for their service in Australia’s war efforts and the entitlements that should have followed, to the many Aboriginal men and women who were denied proper wages for work they did as a part of government policies of exclusion. The entire lives of people like Jimmy “Wave Hill” an Aboriginal stockman of the now infamous Wave Hill Walk Off and Peter Coppin who with many others led the Pilbara pastoral strike in the 1940s, were dedicated to demanding equal treatment for equal work, regardless of race. The issue of constitutional recognition asks the same question of all Australians - to demand equal treatment and to end the discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the 21st century.

    I have always said that I will argue the case for recognition from an unashamedly emotional perspective as there will be enough experts arguing from the legal and political perspectives.

    Because this quest goes to the heart of the nation. It is not about changing the retiring ages of judges or changing electoral cycles. It is about us all as Australians having a say in the kind of country we want to live in and what we stand for in an ever globalised environment. But ultimately, it is about recognition.

    Anyone that knows me, knows that I'm a glass half full fella. I am an optimist to the point of sometimes being called Pollyanna.

    I have said recently, on a Sunday morning, not too far away, after resoundly passing the referendum that day before, we will be waking up to a new country, one which has come to terms with its past, has passed the test of maturity and has given proper meaning to the Aussie 'fair go'.

    It is really about rights, relationships and responsibilities.

    Ladies and gentlemen. I want to close tonight with a poem. One penned by one of my heros, Oodgeroo Nunukul a Quandamooka woman from Minjeribah. Stadbroke Island in Moreton Bay in South East Queensland.

    No one would ever accuse Oodgeroo of being Pollyana but in her poem, Song of Hope she wrote of such a day.

    Look up, my people,
    The dawn is breaking
    The world is waking
    To a bright new day
    When none defame us
    No restriction tame us
    Nor colour shame us
    Nor sneer dismay.

    Now brood no more
    On the years behind you
    The hope assigned you
    Shall the past replace
    When a juster justice
    Grown wise and stronger
    Points the bone no longer
    At a darker race.

    So long we waited
    Bound and frustrated
    Till hate be hated
    And caste deposed
    Now light shall guide us
    No goal denied us
    And all doors open
    That long were closed.

    See plain the promise
    Dark freedom-lover!
    Night's nearly over
    And though long the climb
    New rights will greet us
    New mateship meet us
    And joy complete us
    In our new Dream Time.

    To our fathers' fathers
    The pain, the sorrow;
    To our children's children
    the glad tomorrow.

    Thank you ladies and gentlemen


    [1] Mabo v Queensland [No 2] (1992) 175 CLR 1.

    [2]Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

    [3] P Keating, Redfern Speech: Year of the World’s Indigenous People (Speech delivered at Redfern, 10 December 1992). At (viewed 25 September 2013).

    [4] Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 (Cth)

    [5] M Dodson, Social Justice Report 1993, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1993), p 3. At (viewed 25 September 2013).

    [6] M Dodson, Social Justice Report 1993, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1993), p 4. At (viewed 25 September 2013).

    [7]M Dodson, Social Justice Report 1993, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1993), p 4. At (viewed 25 September 2013).

    [8] Attorney-General’s Department, National Human Rights Action Plan: Baseline Study (2011), p 4. At (viewed 8 October 2013); M Sawer, ‘Women and Government in Australia’ in Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1301.0 – Year Book Australia 2001 (2001). At (viewed 8 October 2013).

    [9] T Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2006, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, (2007), pp3-5. Emphasis added.

    [10] The myth of terra nullius NSW Board of Studies, 1995

    [11]"Six Australian Battlefields", by Al Grassby and Marj Hill, published by Angus and Robertson in 1988


    [13] Terra Nullius and Australian Colonialism, Professor Eklund, 28 February 2001

    [14]S. 5 Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991(Ctw)

    [15] The Bringing Them Home Report, Recommendation 5a 2

    [16]Reconciliation Action Plan Impact Measurement Report, 2012

    [17]Reconciliation: Australia’s challenge, Final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Parliament, December 2000

    [18] Aborigines Conference, 26 January 1938, The President, (Mr. Patten): I will read the resolution as on the notice paper convening this Conference: "We, representing the Aborigines of Australia, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the Whiteman's seizure of our country, hereby make protest against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, and we appeal to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people to full citizen status and equality within the community."

    [19] Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution, Report of the Expert Panel, Foreword from the co-chairs Pg5

    [20] Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 13 February 2013, p 1121 (The Hon Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister).

    [21]Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 13 February 2013, p 1123 (The Hon Tony Abbott MP, Leader of the Opposition).

    [22] Parliament of Australia, Information about the establishment of the Committee. At (viewed 16 October 2013).

    [23] Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 (January 2013), ch 3. At;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbillhome%2Fr4943%22 (viewed 16 October 2013).

    [24] Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Progress Report (June 2013). At (viewed 16 October 2013).

    [25] Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Progress Report (June 2013), p 7. At (viewed 16 October 2013).

    [26] Williams, G., (2014) “Time to fix silence at the heart of Australia’s Constitution”, available online at: (viewed 18 August 2014).

    Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner