key points

Key Idea

A formal process of Reconciliation was initiated by the Federal Labour government in 1991 and lasted for 10 years. Reconciliation continues as a concept and as a social movement in Australia and is closely tied to Indigenous struggles for social justice.

A Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation operated during this decade-long formal reconciliation process. The Council argued that the empowerment of Indigenous Australians must be based on a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, one which is free of the ongoing process of political and social subordination currently acting as a barrier to improved relations. In other words, the Council stressed that this new or reconciled relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians must be based on self-determination and acknowledgement of the human rights of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.

The Council also measured reconciliation, however, by the preparedness of governments and the wider Australian community to ensure that Indigenous Australians not only have access to their rights but are empowered to enforce and practice them. Indeed, in the words of the Council:

by virtually every test on the range of usually accepted social indicators such as rates of unemployment, rates of custody, rates of infant mortality, life expectancy, household income and other indicators, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities are now, and have been in the past, at a serious disadvantage. This disadvantage arises because of the long-term failures by Commonwealth, State, Territory and local governments to ensure that Indigenous individuals and communities have access to their citizenship rights. Governments have maintained the process of subordination through their policies and strategies in responding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s calls for justice and greater control over their lives (Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 1995, 26-27).

Thus, reconciliation is intimately connected to social justice, as the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation pointed out, “there can be no reconciliation without social justice” (Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 1995, 22).