Report from 26 March 2008 (4 pages pdf)THE AUSTRALIAN DIALOGUE
The discussion identified numerous issues that constitute the problematic nature of the relationship between Indigenous Australia and the nation state and the potential for reforming that relationship.
The points outlined below attempt to summarise the issues thematically.
• Recognition that a structured national dialogue could fill a vacuum and satisfy a yearning of many stakeholders to address the deeper questions and unresolved issues of the position of Indigenous people in Australian nationhood.
• Broad recognition of the benefits to the nation of inculcating Indigenous cultural values, symbols and artistic expressions into the life of the nation will be a critical determinant of how Australians see themselves as a nation.
• The election of a new national government and the goodwill engendered by the parliamentary apology has created an historic opportunity to address long term sustainable change in the nature of the relationship with the First People. There is a danger however, that the parliamentary apology may come to be seen as a form of “cheap grace” if the good will is seized upon by government to focus only on practical measures without changing the fundamentals of the relationship. The window of opportunity to bring about real and profound change is a narrow one.
• There is a sense of urgency felt by many Australians about the annihilation of Indigenous culture in the current generations and that a philosophical foundation to guide the actions of government, corporations and civil society is imperative to prevent this. The focus of the dialogue should therefore be on a philosophical framework that defines the position of Indigenous society and culture in Australian nationhood.
• The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, which the Australian Government is committed to sign, could be a major element of the philosophical framework. The challenge for the nation will be to develop a deep appreciation of the philosophy that gave rise to the United Nation declaration rather than cherry pick those Indigenous cultural imperatives that suit the settler society.
• In developing a philosophical framework that would constitute a paradigm shift in Indigenous/settler society relationships the nation must transcend the false dichotomy that symbolism and practical measures are in competition. Symbolism must become imbedded in policy discourse.
• There is also a false dichotomy inherent in current assertions that new policy approaches are required because past policies have failed. The nation must recognise it hasn’t completely failed in the area of Indigenous affairs, but that there has been a failure to capitalise properly on the positive outcomes when they have been achieved.
• The dialogue must link the realities of local and regional experience in to a national policy and philosophical framework. Recognition needs to be given to the many initiatives and approaches occurring in different jurisdictions and regions that could produce enhanced benefits to Indigenous people under a broad philosophical framework.
• The dialogue must address the nature of the fear that has existed and persists in the relationship.
The group agreed to progress the notion of an Australian dialogue and saw it as a national imperative.
The proposed paradigm shift needs to transcend policy and discourse from Indigenous public policy to matters pertaining to nation building.