New report on reconciliation urges Australia to take a 'brave' stance and stamp out systemic racism

Australia is being urged to take "brave" measures to address inequality and systemic racism amid anger at a failure to deliver on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally at Langley Park in Perth.

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally at Langley Park in Perth. Source: AAP

The Australian government’s failure to deliver on reconciliation measures demanded in the Uluru Statement of the Heart continues to evoke anger and disappointment, a new report says. 

The 2021 State of Reconciliation report says Australia is at a tipping point in the reconciliation process and demands a shift from “safe” to “brave” actions to ensure further progress. 

It draws on interviews and data sourced from First Nations organisations, leaders and the community. 

Reconciliation Australia chief executive Karen Mundine said there remains a gap to bridge to continue progress towards reconciliation in Australia. 

“Actions must involve truth-telling and actively addressing issues of systemic racism and instances where the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are ignored, denied or reduced,” she said.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart outlined calls for a constitutionally-enshrined Voice to Parliament and the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.  

The report said there remains “anger and exasperation” in the community at the government’s failure to deliver on these calls.

The Australian government has decided against enshrining such a Voice to Parliament and has stalled its promise to deliver on constitutional recognition.

Ken Wyatt lays out strategy around Indigenous voice to parliament

The report notes that the lack of progress stands as an indicator that Parliament is not keeping up with broader community sentiments that support reconciliation. 

“The refusal of the Australian government to accept the ‘Voice to Parliament’ provisions of the Uluru Statement was a step back in progress,” the report said. 

“The principle that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must have a decisive voice in matters that affect them - a cornerstone of the equality and equity dimension of reconciliation - is far from being implemented across the board.” 

The federal government recently published a discussion paper about the design of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. 

Under the proposal, up to 35 local and regional Voices would consult on the creation of laws, including native title and racial discrimination, which impact Indigenous Australians. 

But the body would have no power to overturn policy or prevent laws coming into force, according to interim proposals.

The fight against systemic racism 

The reconciliation report also includes calls to stamp out entrenched racism, including the overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in the prison system. 

The report found concerns over systemic racism in Australia remain prevalent - with 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believing Australia remains a “racist country”. 

Some 43 per cent of the broader community agreed.

“Australian institutions must be more active in calling out and condemning all racism both at the individual and systemic levels, including any racism in our parliaments,” the report said. 

"The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia in 2020 may suggest a growing Australian unity," the report added.

The report also found almost 60 per cent of the general community believed more must be done by government departments to close the gap in health, justice, education, and employment.

The federal government has never supported a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous Voice. 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt in November warned a referendum on the issue could fail and derail the entire movement. 

The government promised a referendum on constitutional recognition back in 2019. 

But Mr Wyatt has since said this is unlikely to take place this parliamentary term, saying "constitutional recognition is too important [to] rush and too important to fail."

Published 19 January 2021 at 2:19pm
By Tom Stayner