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Monday, 16 May 2016 15:32

The Australian dream

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aboriginal men holding flagIf the Australian dream is to be something more than the howls of racism, then we must listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and work with them for justice, writes Loreto Sister Libby Rogerson.

The Australian dream, said Stan Grant in his memorable speech at the IQ2 debate, is rooted in racism – racism is killing the Australian Dream.

As we commemorate Sorry Day in 2016 it is worth asking: What are we sorry for? Sorry that in 1963, when Stan Grant was born, Aboriginal people were counted, not as citizens, but as part of the flora and fauna? Sorry that in successive elections we marshalled the law and order forces which inevitably ended in harsher laws imprisoning more and more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? Fifty percent of juvenile prisoners in Australia are Indigenous. Sorry that Adam Goodes, an outstanding community leader and footballer, is booed for a cultural dance not to the fans liking? Sorry that despite endless meetings, discussions, articles and conversations we still cannot find a place for the First People in our constitution?

When Adam Goodes was booed Stan Grant said: We heard a howl. We heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival. We heard the howl of the Australian Dream and it said to us again, you’re not welcome.

For sorrow to be genuine, action is required. Non-indigenous Australians working to make the justice system truly just could be a starting point. Mandatory sentencing, imprisonment for defaulting on fines and bail laws which, frequently, keep innocent people incarcerated for weeks or months are in need of a drastic overhaul. Judicial legislation should not be at the whim of politicians playing the fear factor for votes. Accepting this judicial status quo says Professor Pat Dodson permits the criminal justice system to suck us up like a vacuum cleaner and deposit us like waste in custodial institutions.

The criminal justice system will continue to suck up and spew out unless Indigenous and non-Indigenous talk to each other and share their dreams for a more harmonious society. Progress cannot be made if the fate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is decided solely by bureaucrats in offices thousands of kilometers from remote communities battling poverty, unemployment, sickness and sub-standard housing. We have to work together and Indigenous Australians have to be consulted every step of the way.

It is one thing to say we are sorry and another thing to set out to right the wrongs of dispossession and discrimination. If the Australian dream is to be something more than the howls of racism, then we must listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and work with them for justice because, as Stan Grant says, we are better than this and we will not be defined by racism.

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of the Loreto Networker, the e-newletter of the Loreto Sisters (IBVM) of Australia and South East Asia.