Constitutional Change in South Australia

On Thursday the 21st of March 2013, South Australia’s Constitution was amended to recognise Aboriginal peoples as the traditional owners and occupiers of South Australian land and waters. This long-overdue amendment acknowledges past injustices and recognises the continuing importance of Aboriginal heritage and culture. South Australia’s historic change comes as Australia gears up to amend the Australian Constitution.

Commonwealth Constitutional update

On July 10, the Minister for Indigneous Affairs, the Honourable Ken Wyatt announced at a press conference that the Morrison Government would take Constitutional reform to a referendum within three years..

“I will develop and forward a consensus option for constitutional recognition to put to a referendum during the current parliamentary term. That means working through until we reach a point in which there is consensus across all the relevant groups who have a stake in it.

I do not want to proceed if we are not going to be successful. I have commenced the process of engaging and seeking the counsel of Indigenous leaders on the best way forward.…….The Morrison Government is committed to recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution and working to achieve this through a process of true co-design. Constitutional recognition is too important.

And I don’t want to rush it, because when I consider the successful 1967 referendum, it was as a result of tireless advocacy and an extraordinary nationwide momentum for change. If we want to see that kind of national consensus again, we need to be thorough and we need to take time to get it right. We have allocated $7.3 million for a co-design process to improve local and regional decision making, and an additional $160 million has been set aside for a future referendum once the model has been determined.”

Apology to the Stolen Generations

On the 13th of February 2008, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a landmark apology to the Stolen Generations. Emotions ran high as thousands of Aboriginal people gathered in Canberra to watch the Apology, which was also televised across Australia. In his milestone speech, Mr Rudd delivered the following apology:

“That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”

In 2013, five years on from this famous speech, Kevin Rudd reflected on the Apology and looked to the future of reconciliation at the Reconciliation SA Breakfast. Read this speech here.

There is Still Work to Be Done

Reconciliation SA has campaigned and promoted the need for all recommendations from the Bringing Them Home Report to be enacted campaign to promote the Bringing Them Home report recommendations that have not been enacted.

In doing this, Reconciliation SA in the 20th year anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report released a report and scorecard outlining the achievements and remaining outstanding recommendations.

In further progress these recommendations Reconciliation SA supported the work of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Committee in advancing the 2010 Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal Bill (a private member’s Bill moved by Ms Tammy Franks of the Greens). This has resulted in the Stolen Generation Reparations Scheme that has now rolled out across South Australia.

Learn more about reconciliation in South Australia by visiting our Interactive Timeline.

Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme

On Thursday 19th of November 2015, the State Government announced a $6 million Reparation Fund for survivors of the Stolen Generations from South Australia. This comes nearly eight years after the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. The Honourable Kyam Maher MLC announced the scheme in a strong statement made to Parliament.

Under the “Next Steps – Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme” South Australian survivors of the Stolen Generations who were forcibly removed from their parents will be eligible for an ex gratia payment of up to $50,000. Survivors will have the chance to assess if they still want to pursue other legal remedies or apply to the Reparations Scheme. According to the detail of the scheme, applicants will have 12 months from March 2016 to lodge their applications.

An additional $5 million has been allocated to be used for whole-of-community reparations, such as memorials, counselling and support programs, scholarships and exhibitions sharing the stories of the Stolen Generations.

This long overdue fund implements more of the “Bringing Them Home” Report recommendations and is a critical step in the journey of healing for many survivors of the Stolen Generations. As Minister Maher acknowledged, “no amount of money will ever be enough to undo the wrongs of the past but it’s an offer we will be making to those members of our community stolen from their families by past governments as recognition of these wrongs.”

Reconciliation Australia: The State of Reconciliation in Australia

Fifteen years after the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation presented the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation, Reconciliation Australia has released their inaugural The State of Reconciliation in Australia report and Summary Report.

Twenty-five years after the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR), this report examines the state of reconciliation in Australia in 2016. The report uses a five dimensional framework of reconciliation to measure and analyse Australia’s progress over this time and set out a roadmap for a reconciled Australia. The intention is to spark a renewed national conversation about how, over the next 25 years, we can move towards becoming a reconciled, just and equitable Australia.

Featured image credit: The Age 2016, at the launch of the State of Reconciliation Report

Reconciliation Australia Limited

Reconciliation Australia was established in 2001 as the national expert body on reconciliation in Australia. Reconciliation Australia was established following the disbandment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) in 2000.

It is a Commonwealth constituted not-for-profit organisation.
The object of Reconciliation Australia is to give effect to the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation (see above) through building an equitable, just and reconciled nation, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples participate equally and equitably in all areas of life, experience respectful relationships and have their history accepted in our nation’s story

CAR: Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation

In National Reconciliation Week 2000, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation presented this Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation: Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation.

“We, the peoples of Australia, of many origins as we are, make a commitment to go on together in a spirit of reconciliation. We value the unique status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original owners and custodians of lands and waters. We recognise this land and its waters were settled as colonies without treaty or consent. Reaffirming the human rights of all Australians, we respect and recognise continuing customary laws, beliefs and traditions.

Through understanding the spiritual relationship between the land and its first peoples, we share our future and live in harmony. Our nation must have the courage to own the truth, to heal the wounds of its past so that we can move on together at peace with ourselves. Reconciliation must live in the hearts and minds of all Australians. Many steps have been taken, many steps remain as we learn our shared histories.

As we walk the journey of healing, one part of the nation apologises and expresses its sorrow and sincere regret for the injustices of the past, so the other part accepts the apologies and forgives. We desire a future where all Australians enjoy their rights, accept their responsibilities, and have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. And so, we pledge ourselves to stop injustice, overcome disadvantage, and respect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the right to self-determination within the life of the nation. Our hope is for a united Australia that respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all.”

CAR: National Roadmap towards Reconciliation

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation

In 1991, the Commonwealth Parliament showed vision, leadership and unity when it voted unanimously to establish the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and a formal reconciliation process. The Parliament noted that there had been no formal process of reconciliation to date, and that it was ‘most desirable that there be such a reconciliation’ by the year 2001, the centenary of Federation.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established as a statutory authority on 2 September 1991 when the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 (no longer in operation) received the Royal Assent.CAR’s vision statement called for “A united Australia which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all.” Patrick Dodson, known as the ‘Father of Reconciliation’, was the first Chairperson of the CAR.

After a very extensive public consultation process, the Council drew up two documents of reconciliation: the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation . At Corroboree 2000 on 27 May 2000, it presented these to the Prime Minister, other national leaders, and the nation as a whole.

At the end of the year 2000, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation handed its final report to the national Parliament at a ceremonial event at Parliament House in Canberra. This letter contained in the report provides an overview of the decade-long work of the Council and a way forward for the nation to achieve reconciliation.

Featured image: Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Pat Dodson lights a candle with former prime minister Howard at a luncheon in the Great Hall of Parliament House to mark the start of Reconciliation week. Photo: Mike Bowers