Mabo Lecture - In honour of Gigari George

Posted 2020-10-21

Fundamentally there needs to be a transformational change in public investment priorities.

But that can never happen while the Australian nation remains stuck in the dysfunctional relationship it has with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which the Social Justice Package was supposed to fix twenty years ago.

This nation must establish a clear pathway to deal with its relationship with the people it has colonised. We cannot be talking about constitutional recognition of Indigenous people in isolation of the public policy framework that concerns Indigenous people.

The two go hand in hand.

I know there is debate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about what should come first constitutional recognition or a Treaty.

Let’s suspend that debate for a minute and imagine that we combine the two; what happens the day after. Let us imagine what would be the key elements of a relationship that has been fundamentally re-set between the Australian colonisers and the colonised.

I would like to outline what I think could constitute a reconciled and respectful relationship within the constraints of the federated structure of the Australian polity.

1. Australia must address the racism of the past and commit to a non-discriminatory society. Government must never again impose policies on Indigenous people that are not consistent with the Racial Discrimination Act

2. Formal mechanisms must be established so that there can be transparent and open dialogue and accountability between Indigenous people and government on a regional and national level

3. All governments must be accountable for the services they provide to indigenous people under agreed national standards through the oversight of a national statutory body agreed by COAG

4. There must be national agreement on key principles of self-determination as stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

5. Governments must support the capacity of indigenous people to live on their traditional country

6. In recognition of land and wealth taken from Indigenous people and generational policies of discrimination and suppression, governments commit to measures of restitution such as compensation funds and special tax arrangements.

Fundamental to all of this though is the need to ensure that our relationship is enshrined and bound by the constitutional necessity and capacity to deliver, uphold and protect our inherent rights and values as the first peoples of this country.

We have to exercise our sovereign interests in the manner in which we live our daily lives, treaties have to be negotiated an agreed under a constitutional framework free from the political whims and particular ideology of any political persuasion.

The spirit of the Mabo decision and the struggle of those brave men and women who have fought the long hard struggle should be recognized by a final settlement of these historical grievances and a new set of rules that govern our future relationship in a more truthful nation.”

- Extract from Melissa George’s, 2016 Mabo Lecture