Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Commissioner's statement - Reconciliation Week 2015

As National Reconciliation Week approaches its 10th year, it seems fitting that the theme for this year is 'It’s time to change it up'.

It’s now 48 years since Australians voted overwhelmingly for equality and recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the 1967 referendum. Up until that point, exclusion from the national census meant that the first Australians were, to the eyes of many, effectively non-existent; their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land at worst ignored, at best misunderstood, but always seen as problematic and needing to be 'fixed'.

But the 1960s kick-started the momentum for positive change as reconciliation became a national priority. Over the past five decades there have been many advancements: the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act; the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1991; the High Court’s Mabo judgment in 1992 and Paul Keating’s Redfern speech the same year; the bridge walks for reconciliation in 2000; the establishment of Reconciliation Australia in 2001; and, of course, Prime Minister Rudd’s 2008 national apology followed by all party support for constitutional recognition.

Reflecting on those achievements, ‘changing it up’ prompts us to look at where we’ve been, where we’re heading and how we can best get there to ensure future generations continue to work together with Aboriginal people to build just and respectful relationships.

As a nation and as a community we haven't always got it right and have needed to change tack. The Commission’s work through initiatives such as Report Racism is a perfect example of where we have looked for new ways to make it easier to report racism and address the discrimination that some members of our community continue to face on a daily basis. We don't want the Aboriginal community in Victoria to be afraid to report racism just as we don't want those communities to accept racism as an inevitable part of their lives.

To borrow from former Prime Minister Paul Keating – and these words come from his 1992 Redfern Speech: "We have to give meaning to 'justice' and 'equity' … and we only give them meaning when we commit ourselves to achieving concrete results."

I have no doubt we all share that commitment as well as a willingness to 'change it up' in order to achieve those results.

"Please join me in celebrating National Reconciliation Week at some of the great events held across Victoria and, of course, at Saturday’s Long Walk and Dreamtime at the 'G'.

- Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins