Kevin Rudd Essay

Today Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his “closing the gap” report in parliament on the state of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and wellbeing. We think it would be useful for us all to take a break from the statistics and consider some fundamental questions. Numbers and targets are important when it comes to addressing need but we often forget that sound policy comes from sound principles and motivations.

In terms of national policy we began this journey to “close the gap” as a result of the national apology to the stolen generations: an apology whose second anniversary occurs on Saturday. We began well, with good intent and fine words but we appear to be stuck. For example, instead of celebrating the national apology on Saturday, some Aboriginal groups and their supporters are protesting against the state of the ongoing Northern Territory emergency intervention and its non-compliance with principles of fairness and human rights.

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The road to “closing the gap” has many potholes and detours. Our vehicle, designed by government bureaucracy rather than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, is running out of petrol because it is not fuel efficient. We having difficulties reading the roadmap and are beginning to suspect it is either only half-completed or for a different part of the country. We have lost direction. The car has broken down. The problem is that to close the health and wellbeing gap we first need to “close the gap” in our imagination.

We need to imagine an Australia that embraces the First Peoples of the land and respects their rights and celebrates their cultures and communities. We need a vision for the future to guide our efforts. That is not to say that we haven’t had moments when something like “vision” has broken into the public arena, shedding light on some of the darker corners of our national psyche. Former prime minister Paul Keating’s Redfern speech and the national apology were such moments. In fact this year represents the 10th anniversary of many such visions; Corroboree 2000 and the many Reconciliation Walks throughout the country and the Sydney

Olympics, when a Cathy Freeman victory seemed to momentarily unite the nation and a Yothu Yindi song had us all singing Treaty. Much of the development of that vision was due to the work of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, which – with many volunteers – ran workshops and created local reconciliation groups across the nation. The council developed a Declaration Towards Reconciliation, a Roadmap Towards Reconciliation and a suggested legislative framework to address the unfinished business of reconciliation, including a negotiating process for treaty making.

Perhaps the council “manual” (pun intended) should be pulled out again to get us back on track to closing the gap. As Victorian Aboriginal leader, Muriel Bamblett, said at last year’s Human Rights Oration, the gap in health and wellbeing will only start to close if the gap in our relationships and our understanding of our national story is also narrowed. For as long as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples feel like aliens in their own land, the impact of systemic and personal racism will remain an impediment to addressing indigenous disadvantage.

And until we resolve the issue of our foundation as a polity imposed upon, rather than negotiated with, the First Peoples, we will remain a nation with little vision. As Muriel Bamblett noted in her oration when considering the question “are we there yet? ” We need to re-launch the reconciliation movement so that we can begin treating the core problems at the heart of this nation; the lack of processes of real and practical self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the lack of protection of our rights and the prevalence of cultural disrespect and racism in the broader community.

We have lost friends who were inspirational leaders during the nine-year life of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and sought to keep the fires of reconciliation burning thereafter. Community broadcaster, poet and stolen generations member, Lisa Bellear and co-founder of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation in Victoria (ANTaR Vic), the late senator Sid Spindler, particularly come to mind. Lisa braved the gap between our peoples with much love and humour, turning her experience of one of our nation’s most shameful practices into a motivation for community building.

Sid, who, as a youth, witnessed the Nazis forcing Jewish people out of their homes, and as a “new Australian”, fought for justice for many disadvantage people in this country and particularly for the First Peoples. It is from the spirit of such people that we can find the imagination to vision a better way. We need to re-kindle the flame of reconciliation that burned so brightly 10 years ago and re-commit to our journey together as peoples with words such as “sorry” and “treaty” as our sign posts.

We need to get back on the road to closing the gap by addressing the unfinished business and ensure that our nation’s foundations are based on a just and lasting settlement of the outstanding issues of constitutional recognition and protection, land justice and treaty. Perhaps 2010 can be a year of such re-visioning. (http://www. theage. com. au/opinion/politics/were-not-there-yet-on-aboriginal-reconciliation-20100212-nwhj. html)


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