The Institute Times

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation's final report to Parliament

At the end of the year 2000, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation handed its final report to the national Parliament at a ceremonial event at Parliament House in Canberra.

This letter contained in the report provides an overview of the decade-long work of the Council and a way forward for the nation to achieve reconciliation.

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation's final report to Parliament

4 December 2000

Senators and Members
Parliament House

Dear Senators and Members

The historic decade of reconciliation, set in place by the Commonwealth Parliament in 1991, has included a myriad of activities throughout the nation designed to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. It has gone right to the core of what it means to be Australian, and how our nation stands on issues of justice, equity and community harmony.

There have been significant achievements, but as Council's work ends, full reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community remains to be accomplished.

This report and our recommendations are presented to you on the eve of the centenary of Federation. They embody our understanding of the Australian people's aspirations for the new century.
An important component of this report comprises the national documents of reconciliation–the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation–which are the result of extensive consultation around Australia.

Consultation with the Australian people has been the hallmark of the Council's work. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have become involved, some through small community meetings, others in major rounds of public discussion. The three most significant rounds were the development of the 1995 submission to the Federal Government, Going Forward: Social Justice for the First Australians; obtaining community views to feed into the Australian Reconciliation Convention of May 1997; and throughout 1999 in the development of the national reconciliation documents. The latter process is arguably the most extensive consultation process ever undertaken in Australia on a matter of public policy. It engaged Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians in discussion and debate in outback localities, country towns, regional centres and cities. The issues of reconciliation have been deliberated in an array of communities and have penetrated the corporate world and all spheres of government, as well as the major cultural, religious, educational, legal and business institutions of our society. The national reconciliation documents, therefore, are a synthesis of the wisdom of the people of Australia. They were ceremonially presented at Corroboree 2000 in Sydney on 27 May 2000.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation now recommends to the Commonwealth Government the ways of giving effect to these documents. We are convinced that if the Government and the Australian community accept our recommendations, reconciliation will be achieved and will be reflected in the daily life of the nation.

The commitments made by all spheres of government and sectors of the Australian community to the national documents are outlined at Chapter 8 and Appendix 2 of this report. Perhaps above all others, this chapter provides tangible evidence of the Australian people's desire for reconciliation through the innumerable and innovative ways they have embarked on the process.

Our report also emphasises that overcoming disadvantage is central to the reconciliation process.

When the Parliament—with unanimous cross-party support—enacted the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991, it hoped the legislation would usher in a decade of reform and social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A complementary goal spelt out in the preamble to the legislation was that the Commonwealth seek a national commitment to progressively address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage and aspirations during the decade leading to the centenary of Federation. This commitment related to land, housing, law and justice, cultural heritage, education, employment, health, infrastructure, economic development and other relevant matters.

Subsequently, the 1992 meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Commitment to Improved Outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. This planning and coordination framework sought to define responsibilities in service delivery, and all Australian governments agreed to work cooperatively to improve the outcome of services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While there have been positive results from this Commitment—most significantly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health—generally the results have fallen far short of expectation.

In its Roadmap for Reconciliation, the Council identified an update of the 1992 Commitment as an essential action for overcoming disadvantage. It recommended the establishment of benchmarks for measuring the performance of governments in delivering services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities and an annual reporting system against these benchmarks.

The Council has been heartened by the fact that the COAG meeting in Canberra on 3 November, considered that reconciliation was a priority issue for all governments and agreed to take a leading role in driving the necessary changes and periodically reviewing progress under these arrangements. We are pleased that ministerial councils will develop action plans, strategies for improved performance reporting and benchmarks. We recognise the importance of investing in community leadership initiatives; reviewing and re-engineering programs and services to ensure they deliver practical measures that support families, children and young people; and forging greater links between the business sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to help promote economic independence. Council sees the implementation of this COAG agreement as a key plank in sustaining the reconciliation process into the future.

In the last half of this year the Council has developed guidelines for implementing the four strategies forming part of the national reconciliation documents. These have been published in the booklets Overcoming Disadvantage, Achieving Economic Independence, Sustaining the Reconciliation Process and Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights. These booklets identify actions that can be taken by governments, organisations, communities and individuals to fulfil their commitments to reconciliation.

The Council also has recommended the introduction of legislation to deal with the unresolved issues of reconciliation. This proposal for legislation recognises the importance of consultation and good-faith negotiations between all parties and the need for informed public debate about the issues of reconciliation. It has the potential to facilitate much-needed agreement and settlement of outstanding matters between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. A suggested draft for this proposed legislation is included as Appendix 3 in this report.

Reinforcing these formal commitments, recent bridge walks and other tangible expressions of commitment to reconciliation across Australia have demonstrated the people's will for reconciliation. As we conclude our work, the Council is confident that the reconciliation movement will be continued–not only at grassroots level, but as an obligation accepted by governments, institutions and organisations throughout the land.

The Council believes that if the documents and strategies outlined in this report are acted upon, Australia will have a solid claim to asserting itself as a reconciled nation. We would be getting close to the Council's vision of:

A united Australia which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all.

We commend this report to you with the fervent hope that our recommendations are adopted and that they will lead to a united and reconciled Australia.

Yours sincerely

Dr Evelyn Scott, Chairperson
Sir Gustav Nossal AC CBE, Deputy Chairperson
John Abednego
Dr Archie Barton AM
Kerry Blackman
Sadie Canning MBE
Robert Champion de Crespigny
Geoff Clark
Karmi Dunn
Dimity Fifer
Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
Sally Goold OAM
Jackie Huggins
Bill Lowah
Ray Martin
Daryl Melham MP
Jenny Mitchell OAM
May O'Brien BEM
Senator Aden Ridgeway
Ray Robinson
The Hon Helen Sham-Ho MLC
Ian Spicer AM
Alma Stackhouse OAM
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Marjorie Thorpe

Read the full report at the Australasian Legal Information Institute.