On the Road to Recognition

Posted by on May 31, 2014 in General, May 2014 no 76

On the Road to Recognition

Tanya Hosch, deputy campaign director for the growing movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s Constitution, explains why recognition and removing discrimination from our national rule book matters to every Australian.


On one of the late lingering days of autumn last May, two thousand people turned up to Melbourne’s Federation Square to hear some speeches about a Constitution.

It was the morning after Dreamtime at the G, and scores of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and senior political figures from across the party spectrum had come together to pledge themselves in pursuit of a great task for the nation: fixing the silence of Australia’s founding document about the long and impressive story of our country’s first peoples, and removing discrimination from it. 

In the crowd, as well as on the stage, there were many familiar faces. Legendary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigners and political leaders of every hue could be spied amongst the young families and schoolchildren, the pensioners and the parishioners who had turned out to be part of this journey towards a referendum.

And together, we walked the first kilometre of Australia’s Journey to Recognition. The crowd was led by AFL legend Michael Long, in a tribute to his walk to Canberra almost a decade earlier.

In the ten months since, that relay has travelled over 17,300 kilometres.

Travelling through 130 communities, it has connected with over 10,500 Australians.

It has held more than 140 events and meetings and worked closely with over 200 organisations.

And in important moments such as these, a movement has begun to grow.

In tiny towns and big cities, more everyday Australians and community leaders have begun to take personal ownership of making the case for this recognition referendum in their own families, workplaces, institutions, sports clubs and houses of worship.

They have given speeches at school assemblies and written email bulletins to staff. They have asked organisations to adopt a statement of support and commitment to the principles of this movement. And they have worn the R for Recognise, as a way to spark conversations with other Australians about the task ahead and the responsibility we have to complete it.

Most importantly, they have invested their own time, energy, time and commitment in the recognition movement.

And, as a result, 180,000 Australians are now supporters of Recognise.

That growing number is a credit to the leadership of many people across the nation.

But we know that number needs to keep growing as we build further and deeper ownership for an idea that can be traced back decades in the calls of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in our country.

And so we need your leadership, too, in the months ahead.

A joint select committee of the Parliament has been asked to extend the Expert Panel’s important work in 2011 and “to build a secure, strong, multi-partisan parliamentary consensus around the timing, specific content and wording of referendum proposals for Indigenous constitutional recognition”.

This year there will also be a parallel review of public readiness for a referendum, by a panel comprising former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, me, and senior federal public servant Richard Eccles.

And while these processes are underway, and are taking input from Australians across the nation, there is another piece of important work that also must be done.

It’s the work already begun with the Journey to Recognition.

It’s the work of building that unstoppable momentum from the Australian people.

For while the leadership of political figures will be crucial, so will ours.

All of us who are working hard for this goal are guided and inspired by the feat of the great 1967 referendum campaigners, and the example they set us.

For in their deeds, they showed us the kind of unity, discipline, partnerships and coalitions that must be built for referendum success in this country.

We know that referenda are hard to win, even with a proposition that is so just.

The double majority required for victory – an overall national majority plus majorities in four of the six states – is a very high bar to clear.

And that is why nothing can be left to chance, and everyone’s active leadership in pursuit of this shared achievement is crucial.

Among the many voices heard at the Journey to Recognition launch last May, there was a consistent theme.

Those senior leadership figures from such different backgrounds and political leanings were beginning to flex some new muscles – muscles of cooperation and coalition building and consensus and setting aside the differences they have on many other issues to find common ground on this one. These muscles will need to be in top shape as we head towards a referendum date. Greens and Labor MPs will need to work side by side with Liberals and Nationals. And all of them will need to work with the wide spectrum of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders – just as we will with political figures.

Among the many things said on that day the relay was launched, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin spoke of how referendum success required a people’s movement, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared: “This is a journey we have to embark upon and complete.” Former Australian of the Year Mick Dodson reassured his fellow Australians that: “There’s nothing to fear about it. It’s the proper thing to do for our country.” And Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said of recognition that “this is going to be a good thing for Australia.” As she walked that day, young recognition campaigner Charlee-Sue Frail – now one of the coordinators of the Recognise This youth offshoot of the broader Recognise campaign – was inspired by the grace and forgiveness of an Elder she walked alongside, a member of the Stolen Generations who had found it in her heart to forgive and who talked about why she wanted to see this day of this recognition come.

And on the walk along the banks of the Yarra, on the traditional lands of the Kulin nations, it was the actor Aaron Pedersen who reminded us how changing a few words in a document can have a profound ability to bring us together in shared pride about the awe-inspiring story of our nation’s first peoples.

“People can start to be proud of the long history of this country, because for me, it’s the longest living culture in the world, and to have a connection to that, makes us so unique in the world, makes us so unique as a country.”

Sign up today at www.recognise.org.au and get active in the movement.

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