Reconciliation


The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established under the Commonwealth Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 to commence a formal process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, to be achieved by the year 2001, the centenary of Federation.

Members appointed to the Council were prominent people drawn from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and the wider community, and worked closely with the Australian Local Government Association to have the issue of reconciliation on the local community agenda.

National Reconciliation week was first celebrated in 1996, and runs from 27 May (the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum) to 3 June (the anniversary of the High Court judgment in the Mabo case).

The word Sorry written by a  skywriterTo celebrate the fifth National Reconciliation Week, the Council for Aboriginal Recognition organised a major national event — Corroboree 2000 — during which more than 250,000 people participated in the Bridge Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Indigenous Australians. The event highlighted the issue of a lack of an apology by the Commonwealth Government to the Stolen Generations.

In 2001, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was replaced with an independent, not-for-profit organisation, Reconciliation Australia, which is the national organisation responsible for building and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for the wellbeing of the nation.

The Recognise movement works to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution, and is a part of Reconciliation Australia which is governed by its board. The groups Reconciliation Queensland and ANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) promote reconciliation in Queensland.

Back to top

National Congress of Australia's First Peoples

In 2009 a steering committee recommended that a new independent representative body be formed — the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples. It commenced operation in 2010, and is responsible for providing advice to government on, and advocating for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Unlike ATSIC, it is not responsible for providing funding or programs to communities, nor is it answerable to government. The Congress is a public company, limited by guarantee, and is owned and controlled by its membership. Continued government funding for the National Congress is currently under review.

In 2013, the Abbot Liberal government formed the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, which includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous members, and its role is to inform the government's policy implementation. The twelve-member Council was dissolved in January 2017.

However, in February 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull appointed six new members for the second term of the Indigenous Advisory Council to have a focus on advising the government on practical changes that can be made to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples.

Back to top

Formal recognition of past hurts

Sorry Day

The 1997 Bringing them home report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families recommended that a National Sorry Day be held each year on 26 May to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects . Sorry Day has been observed each year since 1998.

In 2005, the National Sorry Day Committee renamed Sorry Day as a National Day of Healing for all Australians, so that the day could focus on the healing needed throughout Australian society to achieve reconciliation.

Queensland Parliament Apology

On 26 May 1999, the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, moved a motion in the Parliament:

'That this House apologises to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland on behalf of all Queenslanders for the past policies under which indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and expresses deep sorrow and regret at the hurt and distress that this caused.

This House recognises the critical importance to indigenous Australians and the wider community of a continuing reconciliation process, based on an understanding of, and frank apologies for, what has gone wrong in the past and total commitment to equal respect in the future.'

The motion was carried.

The National Apology

On 13 February 2008, the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made a formal apology in the Australian Parliament for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering, and loss on these our fellow Australians . He referred to the mistreatment of the Stolen Generations as this blemished chapter in our nation's history , and said:

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

Queensland Constitutional recognition

On 24 November 2009, the Queensland Parliament passed a bill to add a preamble to the Queensland Constitution. The Preamble recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in these words:

The people of Queensland, free and equal citizens of Australia —

(c) honour the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the First Australians, whose lands, winds and waters we all now share; and pay tribute to their unique values, and their ancient and enduring cultures, which deepen and enrich the life of our community …

Back to top

Family Responsibilities Commission

In 2008, the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial commenced under an agreement between the Australian and Queensland Governments, and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.

A key part of the trial was the establishment of the Family Responsibilities Commission, under the Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission Act 2008. The objects of the Act include supporting the restoration of socially responsible standards of behaviour in Aurukun, Coen, Mossman Gorge, and Hopevale — all located in north Queensland — and with predominantly Indigenous populations. Doomadgee is now also part of the trial.

One of the aims of the Family Responsibilities Commission, which includes senior community members, is to restore culture and Indigenous authority in those areas. Parental responsibility on matters of school attendance, care of children, and drug and alcohol use are connected with payments of government assistance such as Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) and welfare.

Some controversy accompanied the establishment of the Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission because of an association with the 2007 Northern Territory Federal Intervention on Aboriginal communities. At that time, federal legislation was passed stating that all of the measures introduced through both federal and Queensland legislation establishing the Families Responsibility Commission were to be characterised as beneficial, and therefore exempt from the prohibition of racial discrimination. This characterisation has since been removed from the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975and the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

The life of the Family Responsibilities Commission was set to expire at 1 January 2012, but yearly extensions have been granted following Commonwealth and Queensland Government consultations about financial contributions.

Back to top