Truth-telling, Recognition and Closing the Gap

Jul 8, 2022

By Paula Towers, Plus 61J Media, 8 July 2022.

Aboriginal leaders recognise the long history of Jewish support but know there is much more to do, writes PAULA TOWERS

Aboriginal leaders felt a long-awaited sense of movement when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged to work towards a public vote on enshrining an Aboriginal advisory body within the constitution.

“The election announcement felt like a bit of a puff of wind in the sails after five years of doing a lot of rowing since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was created in 2017,” said Dean Parkin, Director of the From the Heart campaign.

Parkin was one of three participants on “an outstanding panel of Australia’s most influential Aboriginal leaders,” said Michelle Blum, CEO of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, at the chamber’s event in Sydney on June 24 that discussed the topic Over the Horizon: Aboriginal aspirations after the 2022 Federal Election.

“Recognition of our past matters … so that we are able to move through that trauma and develop a Better future” Karen Mundine

Referencing the long history of partnership between Australia’s Jewish and Indigenous communities and their shared focus on fighting discrimination and persecution, Blum paid tribute to “the highly principled gesture by William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League in 1938 when they marched on the German embassy in Melbourne to protest the anti-Jewish pogroms and Kristallnacht … taking this stand at a time when Cooper wasn’t even counted as a citizen of his own country.”

The important role of Australian Jewish community members in the fight for justice and recognition for Indigenous people was also highlighted by Blum, including noting the actions of the former NSW Supreme Court chief justice, James Spigelman, who first came to public recognition in the 1960s when he joined First Nations leaders, including Charles Perkins, in the Freedom Rides; the work of Melbourne lawyer Ron Castan QC, who played a leading role in the landmark Mabo case, as well as more recent leaders, such as Mark Leibler, who have played prominent roles in the reconciliation movement and constitutional recognition process.

Another member of the panel was Pat Turner, head of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and Coalition of Peaks Lead Convenor.

In an interview with Plus61J, Turner said she wanted to thank the Jewish community for its “unwavering support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country”.

“We understand the pain and suffering of the Jewish communities throughout the world.

“We didn’t have exactly the same experiences – they were awful, unimaginable, and I think people who have suffered do support each other well but the Jewish community in Australia has been absolutely outstanding and I want to express my heartfelt thanks for that support. There’s been lots of times when our communities have worked together and worked very well – with mutual respect and understanding.

“My priority is Closing the Gap, to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. “

The Coalition of Peaks was formed to work with Australian governments on Closing the Gap, and it now represents more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak and member organisations.

“There are a lot of social and economic problems, but that’s what we’re working on to overcome … until we have the same life expectancy and the same quality of life, with health, housing and education, [and] our children thriving.

“We want to control our own lives and deliver our own services because an Aboriginal medical service is much more effective than other parts of the health system in treating our people. We get much better returns on the investment and we get better outcomes.”

The new Labor Government gives her renewed hope: “I am optimistic that we will see some real progress made. I’m optimistic about the number of Aboriginal people in parliament, regardless of what party they belong to. Obviously, most of them are in the Albanese Government – which is wonderful.”

However, in the panel discussion, she said her only hesitation on a way forward for constitutional recognition was in the lack of detail: “Australians will not vote for the Indigenous voice unless they have details.” Turner strongly supports a national voice but requires “some meat on the bones”.

Reconciliation was also a major theme and the third panellist, Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine, also spoke about the input of the Jewish and broader community.

Mundine, who has been instrumental in some watershed national events, including the Apology to the Stolen Generations and the 1997 Australian Reconciliation Convention, told Plus61J: “Truth-telling is a really important part of reconciliation, and I would say that the Jewish community understands this very well; in fact, it’s probably been the point where the Jewish community and Aboriginal communities have come together in support of each other.

“Recognition of our past matters – understanding our past, knowing what has happened, continuing to talk about it in our present … so that we are able to move through that trauma and develop and build a better future,” she said.

“When it comes to constitutional reform, and The Voice to Parliament – read The Uluru Statement,” she advises. “It’s an invitation to all Australians to be part of the solution, be part of moving forward. Start having those conversations with families, with friends, with synagogues; it is the biggest conversation that we can all be part of, because when it goes to referendum we’re all going to have to have a say and make our decision.”

Learn more about the Uluru Statement and sign the canvas.