Thirteen years on from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to Indigenous Australians, the Federal Parliament heard speeches on Monday from members and leaders about the Parliament’s relationship with Indigenous communities.
Members of the Government and the Opposition spoke on the importance of the landmark National Apology and its role in being a new beginning for Reconciliation, not the completion of it.
Speaking to Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison compared the 13 years since the National Apology to a heartbeat in the Indigenous habitation of the continent.
“But nations are a living continuum of past, present and future. In all of us, the loves, losses and traumas of our past, live on in us,” he said.
“They linger, they have their own life, and they are passed on.”
The Prime Minister recognised the state-actioned “grief. Trauma. Endless pain that cascaded through generations”.
“I am sorry. Truly sorry,” said the Prime Minister echoing Rudd’s words.
These sentiments were echoed by Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, who was the first Aboriginal man elected to the House of Representatives, and the son of a Stolen Generations survivor.
Minister Wyatt described Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as “sewn into the fabric of modern day Australia”.
“Cultures that [have] survived dispossession, disease, disruption,” he said.
This anniversary has previously been used to announce the annual Closing the Gap report, yet following the new National Agreement, signed in July 2020, this will occur annually in the middle of the year, beginning this July.
However, Monday marked an opportunity for a reflection on the goals and progress of the initiatives aimed at closing the gap.
“For over a decade, we saw mixed results — inconsistencies in outcomes and a failure to achieve permanent change,” Minister Wyatt said.
He reiterated that under the Coalition Government there is a commitment to “genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians”.
“Because when we are one we are strong. And when we walk together we have limitless potential,” he said.
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, spoke about the Closing the Gap efforts and their current shortcomings.
Burney noted Labor’s support for the new approach to Closing the Gap but expressed her displeasure in the 2020 report that saw only two of the seven targets on track.
The Shadow Minister noted Labor’s commitment to all three elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and made specific mention of the ability to have a “constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament”.
Burney believes a referendum for such an amendment would succeed with broad bipartisan and Indigenous community support.
“An enshrined Voice to Parliament would mark the beginning of a pragmatic new way of doing business for us all.”
Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, spoke of the anniversary and the need to close the gap.
“Each year when the anniversary falls, as we vow to narrow the chasm that we so gently call a gap, we are reminded of all the unfinished business that surrounds us,” he said.
Albanese further called for the implementation of the Uluru Statement, echoing Burney’s comments.
Whilst the day was solemn, it was also optimistic, as members of all parties looked forward to how they hope to do better for and with Australia’s Indigenous communities.
By Aaron Bloch