The annual ANU reconciliation lecture: is Australia big enough for reconciliation?

2 Dec 2014

Reconciliation is about more than equality. It involves recognition of the possibility of continuing difference as well.


The Australian community has, to an unprecedented extent, become involved in reconciliation through Reconciliation Action Plans and other initiatives. There is acceptance that there is a broad responsibility beyond governments to help close the gap. At the same time we have sharpened political and government focus with a Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, massive reorganisation of how the Commonwealth goes about its business, and all-party support for Constitutional recognition. In these respects, it can be said to be the best of times. But the wide community support this suggests is support for equality, that we all become the same in a social and economic sense. Reconciliation is about more than equality. It involves recognition of the possibility of continuing difference as well. The continuing place of the world's oldest living cultures is still unfinished business. Reconciliation here requires more than the legally mandated post-Mabo requirement to deal with the Aboriginal native title collectives identified by Indigenous law and custom. It requires a largeness of both mind and heart and preparedness to allow space for Indigenous people to determine what collective identities they wish to maintain as they rightly enjoy equal citizenship. Beyond that, we need to settle the relationship between those first nations and the rest of us. Are we big enough to see beyond assimilation?

The Hon Fred Chaney's hard work in support of often marginalised people has never faltered. As founding co-chair of Reconciliation Australia and an early advocate for Aboriginal voting rights, Fred's contribution includes establishing the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia and, between 1978 and 1980, serving as Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. For many years, Fred was Deputy President of the National Native Title Tribunal and, more recently, chaired the Board of Central Desert Native Title services. He was instrumental in establishing the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation, which supports Indigenous young people to reach their potential, and is the current Chair of Desert Knowledge Australia. Fred's long history of public service is rooted in his fierce commitment to social justice and a belief in the inherent equality of people. In all his leadership roles, Fred inspires others to work collaboratively, respectfully and ambitiously to overcome the barriers that inhibit people's full economic and social participation in Australian society.

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