National Reconciliation Week: We are in this together

Silhouette of group holding hands
  • Published Date: 26 May 2020

By Professor Ken Smith, ANZSOG Dean and CEO

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is a time for all Australians to learn about the histories, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities across our diverse country.

It is also a time to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia, and to build respectful relationships between the broader community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

This year’s theme – In This Together – has particular resonance at a time when so much of our daily lives are disrupted by COVID-19. The Reconciliation Australia website has more information and resources about this year’s Reconciliation Week events.

The week begins on 27 May – the anniversary of the landmark 1967 referendum, which secured constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It ends on 3 June, the anniversary of the High Court’s momentous Mabo decision of 1992, which overturned the colonial policy of Terra Nullius (the empty land) and finally recognised Native Title.

These historic recent decisions were clearly important steps in greater recognition of Indigenous rights and self-determination in Australia. However, this week is a reminder that there is still a long way to go in ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ sovereignty is recognised, and that further recognition and reparation is essential.

Reconciliation is a continuing process, which must be practised and strengthened every day if we are to become a nation that fully respects and includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, and values their knowledge and culture.

At ANZSOG, we are on our own journey towards including Indigenous culture and knowledge in our practice, and building stronger connections between governments and the First Peoples of Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Last November we held our third Senior Indigenous Public Servant Forum on Ngunnawal country in Canberra, bringing together a small group of Indigenous public servants from Australia and New Zealand to discuss ways to shift mindsets in the public sector and to discuss practical ways to support Indigenous staff.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we have had to defer this year’s third annual First Peoples Public Administration conference. We will be working with the community within our owner governments to determine how we proceed in the COVID-19 response and recovery environment with activities and programs in the months ahead as we plan activities for 2020 and into 2021.

Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians and must involve post-colonial institutions changing to properly and appropriately acknowledging Indigenous Australians.

The public sector has a major role to play in the Reconciliation process, and at ANZSOG we are committed to assisting the public sector to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants to lead necessary changes in policy, programs and practices.

As Professor Marcia Langton said at our Reimagining Public Administration Conference in Melbourne last year: “Indigenous people need to set their own priorities, rather than have them set by the Canberra bubble”.