Monday, 15 June 2020
National Reconciliation Week
I'd like to reflect on reconciliation tonight. It's a topic of immense significance to all Australians. Earlier this month, we celebrated Reconciliation Week. This week is always a time to reflect, a time to act, and a time to heal. It's a time to reflect on the long road travelled along this land of sweeping plains and hidden pains. It's a time to reflect on the time and the journey ahead. It's a time to make reconciliation happen and a time to heal through such actions. That's the long path we must follow, across the vale of tears that life can be, if we are to become a more perfect union. It is a long path but we must walk it. We must reflect.
I did a lot of that, walking and reflecting, on the Long Walk—in fact, for hundreds of kilometres—with AFL legend Michael Long, as we walked from Melbourne towards Canberra. The charity of the same name says of our walk's legacy:
Seeing Aboriginal and other Australians rallying together, Michael's Long Walk became a mission of hope.
As Longie said at the time: 'This isn't about Indigenous Australia and white Australia, this is about all Australia'. I still carry with me the memory of truth-telling on that walk. I remember one day walking up the old Hume Highway, naively asking about an Anglo-Saxon name that seemed to adorn many of the highways, streets and parks in country Victoria. My new mate, an elder, said, 'Yeah, a real hero, that bloke—he killed thousands of us blackfellas.' You won't find that in Wikipedia.
'The truth will set you free' was first uttered by a carpenter who, in his day, overturned tables and conventional truths, motivated by divine anger at injustices. Action, that's what we need. We need the righteous anger of that carpenter, and we need the hunger for justice in our bellies. But, if these are not mobilised towards righting wrongs, building bridges and establishing peace, then we can't in good conscience call ourselves leaders. 'Wreckers' might be more apt. The struggle for reconciliation continues, and it's a long road.
My heart was broken this week by reports out of Katherine that a five-month-old Aboriginal girl passed away in tragic circumstances. While in custody, the mother was separated from her child. There is an ongoing coronial investigation in the Northern Territory, so it would be inappropriate to comment more at this time, but I will quote a Barunga woman, Helen Lee: 'I don't want to blame no-one. It's just the system that needs to get better.' Yes, it does.
As well as changing processes and policies and closing material gaps, it's the psychological gaps we need to close. And that's where healing comes in. Healing is much harder than dividing people. It's a long road to walk, but it's the only one that leads to a strong, united and egalitarian Australia we can be proud to leave to our children. How it treats its children is a measure of what a society values. In the Christian tradition, human divinity appeared as an infant. Famous Russian novelist Dostoyevsky write that the tears of a single suffering child condemn the whole world if the child's tears are not atoned for. Reconciliation is this kind of atonement; it's turning the pages of painful chapters—a telling of history with a trail of tears that allows for the opening of a new, inclusive chapter which we will write together. That's why we need a voice to parliament, that's why we need a referendum and that's why we need truth-telling.
This has nothing to do with politics or culture wars. It has everything to do with the universal aspiration for human dignity, without which our nation will never be complete. Thank you.