I am not an Aboriginal Australian. I do not have that honour. But like many Australians I have a deep respect for the ancient culture that possessed this land for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of the First Fleet. I had the privilege of being in the House of Representatives on 13 February 2008 when Kevin Rudd apologised to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.
I saw first hand the incredible outpouring of emotions and am keenly aware of the power of symbolism to assist healing and reconciliation. It has been suggested that moving Australia Day from 26 January will be a similar gesture of respect and goodwill between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. While I understand the argument, I fear it would have the opposite effect.
The most articulate call to change the date of Australia Day was made in 2009 by Professor Mick Dodson. Having won the prestigious Australian of the Year award, Dodson, expressed the view that Australia can ‘do better’ noting that, ‘many of our people call it invasion day’.
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Indigenous people are still struggling to get a toehold in the Australian economy with financial exclusion rife, according to a recent report from the Centre for Social Impact entitled Measuring Financial Exclusion in Australia.
It should come as no surprise to those with even a passing interest in Indigenous affairs. It’s hard to keep up with all the doom and gloom performance indicators in education, health and housing. The alarm bells have been ringing for so long we’ve become ‘ho hum’ to the noise.
So financial exclusion is no different. The report shows that Indigenous Australians are doing it tough. Actually, they’re doing it the toughest.
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The prominence of the story about AFL player Liam Jurrah in the national media was interesting. Yes, here is a man who many in central Australia hold up as a vision of hope and this dream has for the time being been destroyed.
But Jurrah, as many have noted, is a man with feet in both worlds. These worlds do not often cross paths in a way that is palatable to white people on the East Coast.
One very un-sexy story that doesn’t involve football stars or machetes but is going to have more impact on Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory is the extension of the Intervention.
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This week’s Q and A program featured Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, who has been an instrumental figure in drawing attention to the federal and Northern Territory Governments policies which are effectively stripping traditional Indigenous communities - ‘homelands’ - of funds.
Aboriginal peoples’ rights to traditional lands, culture, informed consent and adequate housing are being undermined.
Last week, Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International and I had the honour and privilege of spending time with Rosalie and the people of the Utopia Homelands on a fact finding mission. This was the first time I had travelled to Utopia in two years. I was struck by the fact that very little had changed.
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Teenage mums in Adelaide’s northern suburbs will soon lose their welfare payments if they don’t go back to school.
Local federal MP Nick Champion asked for his electorate to be included in the Federal Government’s tough-love trial. As he says: “We are not doing anyone any favours if we do not help teen mothers finish school.”
I’m sure many of you are nodding in agreement. It’s hard to argue with a program designed to empower kids with knowledge and skills, instead of cursing them to a life of welfare dependency in the blind belief that they’ll rise up from entrenched disadvantage when they’re good and ready. But if conditional welfare is acceptable for white girls in the northern suburbs, why is the State Government so squeamish about the issue in SA’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands?
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I don’t think anyone is that shocked to discover former Carlton president John Elliott is a bigot and no doubt Can of Worms let his comment air because of the publicity, but sadly it seems the sentiment behind his recent racial slur is echoed by a cross-section of Australians.
Some comments on the story included:
“Aussie is OK as an abbreviation, but Abo isn’t? I never knew that Abo was offensive?”, and “Why can’t we use the word ‘abo’ it is just an abbreviation.”
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Yesterday I was reminded of one of the most amazing and moving moments I have ever experienced. It was in 2006 and I was listening to the national anthems being sung at the Lone Pine memorial service on Anzac day. Surprisingly, what moved me was not the roar of over 10,000 Australians singing our own national anthem, but hearing the thousands of Kiwi pilgrims belting out theirs.
I wasn’t moved at the thought of God defending our mates over the ditch (as the anthem goes), rather it was the first ever time I had heard New Zealanders sing the first Maori verse of their anthem, and it was sung with such gusto and pride.
I was astonished not only that they had been taught the Maori words, but that they were proud enough to sing it so loudly and passionately. I was jealous of their historic and cultural pride that day.
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When my parents arrived in the 1950s as ’10 pound Poms’, Australia was a brave new world. Their street in Melbourne’s Glen Waverley bustled with fellow European migrants eager to create a life for their families.
But while our neighbourhood was a snapshot of multicultural Europe there wasn’t a lot of mixing. My parents socialised with others from the old country while their Italian and Greek neighbours went to their own churches and started their own small businesses.
The ‘poms’ and ‘wogs’ in the street lived together quite happily, but separately.
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Aboriginal reconciliation hit the headlines again this week with an extraordinary call for all non-indigenous Australians to make restitution for the crimes of theft and genocide – or leave the country.
Dr Peter Adam said that atoning for the sins of the past required such a radical solution.
‘‘No recompense could ever be satisfactory because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating and so irreparable,’’ Dr Adam said in a speech to the NSW Baptist Union.
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