||Issue No. 150||30 August 2002|
Shut It Down!
Interview: Australian Worker
Unions: Morning Ambush
Cole-Watch: Grumpy Old Men
International: Arrested (Sustainable) Development
History: Illegal Alien
Economics: The Trouble With PPPs
Poetry: Is This 'My Country'?
Review: Garage Days
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Always Listen To The Wind
- CFMEU delegates to the Treaty Conference
About 400 people gathered on Ngunnawal country at the Canberra Convention Centre for three days this week to kick off a conversation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians about the shape of relations between us into the future.
Under banners of 'Treaty: Let's Get it Right!', well known and new generation Indigenous activists, joined with non-Indigenous activist religious, a scattering of trade union delegates and individuals from ANTaR or Reconciliation groups to exchange ideas on ways forward.
No-one at this gathering was hung up on the Treaty word: the emphasis was rather on the second part of the title: "Let's get it right - for black and white", as one speaker said.
However, with nothing happening in the two years since millions marched across bridges in support of Reconciliation between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, there was also a feeling of a need to move on these matters, now.
Before the Conference, ATSIC had visited some local Indigenous communities to hear their views. This week was an opportunity to begin those conversations with non-Indigenous people.
But there was evident feeling from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants that there needs to be extensive conversations at a grassroots levels in all communities yet.
And that these matters need to be sorted with respect for each other, as well as wisdom and diplomacy -- to ensure that the process benefits Indigenous peoples and cannot be misused to frighten off non-Indigenous people.
Singer Kev Carmody set the tone, when he reminded listeners of the words his uncle told him: 'Always listen to the wind, boy' - dream your dreams, but keep your feet on the ground. To find the right answers, make sure we ask the right questions, he warned, before singing his Vincent Lingiari song: 'From little things, big things grow'.
Steps already taken
The Conference gathered an impressive range of speakers covering topics from the 'Unfinished Business' Indigenous peoples continue to live with, through to Agreement Making and the Economics and Social Impacts of a Treaty or agreement(s).
From those papers, it is clear there are plenty of international precedents for this process of agreement making between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
There are also already existing examples of agreement-making within Australia to draw on - both regional agreements and agreements at a more local level between particular communities and local authorities or institutions.
The NSW Government's moves to maintain Indigenous languages, announced this week, marks the beginning of a development, which if applied on a national scale, as Lester-Irabinna Rigney told the Conference, might ensure the protection and transmission of Indigenous cultures that would benefit all Australians.
Plus there are numerous studies and reports on Unfinished Business issues from the past few decades within Australia: as Mick Dodson reminded participants: "We don't have to reinvent the wheel" to start moving on these matters again.
Ideas for a process
Conference speakers also provided some useful ideas for dealing with the agreement-making process. Recognising that 'to treat' or make an agreement or agreements involved negotiation between parties and the consent of both parties, was one important element.
It should be a conversation about ideas, not positions, said long-time activist Michael Mansell.
Northern Ireland loyalist para-military turned peace activist, David Irvine suggested it must be a conversation where people abandoned the old feelings of superiority and inferiority; where we worked to achieve equality of outcomes (not equal opportunities, which too often simply maintains the status quo); where equality, justice and diversity were the core values against which new legislation and agreements were constantly measured.
Non-Indigenous Australians might ask themselves: what are they afraid of? And deal with all the 'old shibboleths and myths' they have about Indigenous people, as majority Protestant loyalists have had to do in negotiating with Irish Republican Nationalists.
Bearing in mind the lessons of the Republic Referendum, constitutional lawyer George Williams suggested four things people might find useful to keep in mind when considering a Treaty or agreements were, that it involved:
1. an acknowledgment of past and current situations
3. incorporation of rights, and
4. is about opportunities.
On the positive side, surveys about the Treaty have already shown majority support for it, especially among young people. Changing emphases in international law also suggest Australian sovereignty could be significantly enhanced by being rooted in a lasting agreement with our Indigenous peoples, Justice Commissioner Bill Jonas told the Conference.
Much more to be done
If these conversations were a first step, everyone recognised there is also a huge amount to be done to move us towards those envisaged new relationships.
Trade unionists might notice that ACTU President Sharan Burrows committed the ACTU to the Treaty process, saying that a "just and sustainable Australia goes to the heart of the Australian identity", with justice and equality obviously among the core values of the trade union movement.
Burrows said the ACTU would make sure that its agreements were in partnership with the aspirations of Indigenous Australians, particularly with regard to employment matters.
"As people committed to decency we can do something about racism in our communities, schools and workplaces to make sure it is explored, chopped up into little pieces and sorted out.
"Democracy is about forcing our politicians to hear our voices," Burrows reminded us.
"We are not talking about fear, but about partnership and of respect for decency. We can make a stand."
"That means taking up the challenge within our own organisations as well," Burrows said, "accepting that union leaders must also debate the challenges to the status quo, so that we can create a decent nation that respects all our differences."
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