COMMENT | This is what the PM will hear if he is committed to connecting with Indigenous communities, as outlined in his Close the Gap speech today, writes Stan Grant.
Stan Grant

10 Feb 2016 - 4:58 PM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2016 - 7:44 PM

Amongst the plethora of statistics around Indigenous affairs this week, and the despair at efforts to close the gap, there is something worth clinging to: 86 per cent of Australians believe the relationship with Indigenous people is important. This is despite the fact that nearly a third of people in this country have no meaningful contact with black Australia.

These numbers were contained in the 2016 State of Reconciliation report released on Tuesday ahead of the Closing the Gap report on Wednesday.

There is something stirring in Australia. People are frustrated at the inability to deal with the stain on this nation's soul. They are looking for answers to resolving the grievance that lies at the heart of Australian settlement, and that trap Indigenous people in a cycle of suffering, injustice and disadvantage.

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We have seen it in those people who raised their voices to silence the booing of Indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes. I have felt it in the overwhelming positive reaction to a speech I gave confronting the racism that threatens to destroy the Australian dream of equality and tolerance, and a fair go.

Perhaps it has always been there, buried under the weight of our history searching that light could allow it to grow. We have seen it in the 1967 referendum that fleshed out our citizenship and empowered the federal government to make laws to try to improve Indigenous lives. We have seen it in marches for reconciliation and the apology to the stolen generations.

Still, black and white in Australia meet across the chasm of history, separated by mistrust and ignorance, or sometimes sheer bigotry, and hostility. As white Australia reaches for us, so we must find a way to talk to them.

As I said in my speech, Australia is a remarkable country in many ways the envy of the world - prosperous, democratic, tolerant and diverse - so it can stand the challenge of that greatness and confront its failings.

I have no difficulty acknowledging the decent, hard working Australians of all backgrounds who raise their families, pay their bills, coach their local football teams and pursue lives of dignity and respect. In turn they should have no difficulty seeing the same virtues in us.

We live alongside each other, we work together, we cheer for the same sporting teams, and often we love and marry each other. Yet, we live in a country where one group of people die ten years before the rest.

Black leaders despair that Indigenous affairs are in crisis. The old ways of top down policy and implementation do not work.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spoken today of the need to connect with Indigenous communities to listen to, and act on the advice and guidance of our leaders.

If he does, he will hear words like 'treaty' and 'sovereignty', and he will hear of the pain of history, and he will hear too of our resilience, our pride and our success.

It is a message the 86 percent also need to hear.

Stan Grant is NITV's Managing Editor and presenter of The Point, a national news and current affairs program commencing February 29, 2016 at 9.00pm.

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