Social Justice Commissioner: now more than ever, Australia must reconcile with its First Nations people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Katie Kiss, has marked the start of Reconciliation Week by calling on Australians to finally overcome generations of disadvantage and division when it comes to First Nations rights, and forge a path for unity.

The Commissioner warned that systemic failures facing Indigenous communities in all sectors of society including health, racism, and youth justice, were compounded by the failed referendum last October to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

“Now more than ever, Australian’s need to come together to reconcile the relationship with First Nations peoples,” Commissioner Kiss said.

“For more than 230 years, our First Nations of this country have been working tirelessly with our allies to progress the Reconciliation Agenda. Most recently, this aspiration was central to the generous proposal of the Uluru Statement from the Heart from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to all Australians, ‘offering a way to create a better future together’ through the recognition of First Nations in the national Constitution, voice treaty and truth.”

Commissioner Kiss said that the Voice referendum highlighted that further work is required to educate Australians about the country’s history, to promote understanding and respect for cultural differences, and to help tackle and eliminate racism.

“While unity was the intended outcome, the political and media narratives that promulgated mis and disinformation in the lead up to the referendum result has created disunity and further strained the relationship between First Nations peoples and the broader Australian community,” the Commissioner said.

“They are in fact characteristic of the ‘divide and conquer’ strategies foundational to colonial societies. We need to find ways past this, to finally come together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. To transcend the disunity so we can all live with dignity.”

National Reconciliation Week, which runs from 27 May – 3 June, commemorates two key milestones in Australia’s journey with its First Nations people. It marks the successful 1967 Referendum, which saw the removal of references in the Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the 1992 High Court Mabo decision which denounced the doctrine of terra nullius.  

Commissioner Kiss: “National Reconciliation Week provides an opportunity for all Australians to come together in the spirit of reconciliation to get to know each other better, and to reveal the truth of the nation’s development in order to move forward together. This country is crying out for a reframed and reconciled relationship that must be grounded in Truth, Justice, and Healing.

“Australia prides itself on upholding values of freedom, respect, fairness, and equality of opportunity. These are not only cornerstone human rights principles, but they are also necessary to create the conditions that nurture a healthy social fabric.

“We need to hold each other accountable to these values, these human rights principles, these foundational conditions. We need to hold governments accountable to ensuring that all members of the Australian community can access, exercise, and enjoy them. These values are for all Australians, not only those who have power and influence.”

Commissioner Kiss added that ongoing national crises, including cost of living, housing, domestic and family violence, mental health, child safety and youth justice, have further amplified the need for all Australians to push for widespread change that ensures the rights of all communities.

“Systemic racism and structural disadvantage exacerbate these system failures for First Nations peoples, so ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a voice at the table to inform better outcomes for our people is critical – and beneficial for all Australians,” she said.

“It is time, that Australia looked in the mirror and confronted its truth – both historical and contemporary. It is time that Australia ended efforts to dehumanise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and embraced and celebrated its ancient legacy that continues through the First Nations peoples of this land – the two oldest living cultures in the world.”

/Public Release. View in full here.