Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar has told Garma 2017 she is convinced the proposal to enshrine an Indigenous voice to Parliament would address the powerlessness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have sought greater control over our destinies, for the ability to live freely and equally, and for greater recognition of our rights as the First Peoples of this land since the arrival of the British on our shores in 1788.
“Despite the myth of terra nullius, the policies of destruction aimed at ourselves and our families, and the void in the nation’s founding document that existed before 1967, our peoples have not rested," Commissioner Oscar said in her Garma address on 4 August.
“Our political systems and institutions remain inadequate at providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a voice in the matters that affect our lives, futures and communities.
“An Indigenous body gives us an opportunity to address this flaw, and to elevate our voices in a country where we are a minority and occupy a space on the fringe of government policy.
“More than this, an Indigenous voice means government walking the talk on Indigenous disadvantage. This country spends a lot of time and money on the question of ‘Indigenous Affairs’- much of it done without us.
“We seek a means to address our powerlessness and we are asking that you allow us to do that.”
Last month, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders including Commissioner Oscar issued a joint statement declaring their support for a First Nations’ voice to Parliament.
In her Garma address, Commissioner Oscar was critical of governments that talk about improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children without themselves learning from the decades of inquiries into Indigenous injustice.
“It’s hard to talk about improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal children without addressing the structural reality that confronts them after school,” the Commissioner said.
“Our country needs to learn the lessons contained in the voices and decades of reporting and inquiries of Bringing them Home and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
“The fact that we sit here decades later with little learned and little changed is a hard fact for our peoples to swallow. But it’s also a bit of a double standard. The learning needs to be two way.
“Nice words are no measure for action and proper implementation.
"We cannot continue the discourse of deficit, talking about the gaps that exist between our peoples and the broader population with issues such as education, without having a conversation about the responsibilities of government.
“Ongoing deaths, injustice, intolerance and above all, inaction, only feed an existing discontent that rests with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“Our peoples, like all other Australians, need confidence that inadequacies with our laws, our police and our detention centres must be addressed.”
Photo: Balupalu Yunupingu, Senior Gumatj Clan Leader and Director of Bunggul Ceremonies, Garma.