For First Nations peoples this year, all roads lead to the Referendum on the Voice to Parliament. That is the lens through which at Jesuit Social Services, we too acknowledge National Reconciliation Week, ANDY HAMILTON SJ writes.
This important week tells stories that help us to recognise the long path which has led to the Referendum. It speaks of the small but significant stages that we have already walked, how far remains to travel, and why we need the Voice to Parliament.
National Reconciliation Week recalls the Referendum held on May 27, 1967. It decided that Indigenous Australians must be recognised as part of the population. It also recalls the 1992 Mabo High Court decision that recognised the existence of Native Title, the 1997 report Bringing them Home that examined the forced separation of Indigenous Australian children from their families, and the 2008 Apology by the Prime Minister to Indigenous peoples for the removal of their children.
Those last two dates are especially important for us as at Jesuit Social Services – we confront in our work with young people in the justice system the over-representation of First Nations children and adults. Each event acknowledged symbolically the wrongs inflicted on Indigenous peoples in Australia and the need to redress them. The 2018 Closing the Gap agreement between Australian governments and Indigenous representatives recognised the gap in health, wealth, education, employment and in other matters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. They also set targets for change. These targets have for the most part not been met.
In this context, the Voice to Parliament is a natural and necessary step towards practical reconciliation in which equal relationships are built, past wrongs are remedied and long-standing effects of European conquest are unwound.
We acknowledge that Australians, including some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, have different opinions about the Voice. Our position at Jesuit Social Services is however clear – we are convinced that the establishment of the Voice will be a welcome step towards justice and reconciliation.
Reconciliation commits us to address all the many disadvantages which in our work at Jesuit Social Services we see every day. They include the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our criminal justice systems. This has its root in a history of personal and structural relationships, including racism.
The path of reconciliation requires continuing investment to implement the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. It will also require committing adequate resources to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in designing, leading and delivering services and programs. They are best equipped to meet the needs of their communities.
Voting ‘yes’ in the Referendum will enable Australians to commit ourselves to shape a nation that makes reparations for past and present wrongs, works towards closing the gap, and makes a lasting difference to the lives of its people.