Statement in honour of Indigenous Australia
Issued: Thursday, May 24, 2007
Forty years ago the most successful Australian referendum opened the way for many changes in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. An overwhelming majority of Australians - 90.77 per cent - voted 'yes' in the referendum on May 27, 1967, that allowed the Commonwealth to make laws for the benefit of Aboriginal people and to count them in the reckoning of the population. The 1967 referendum paved the way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become citizens of their own country, have the right to vote in all States and Territories, and to enjoy freedom of movement.
Catholic Religious Australia gives thanks for the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultures, the resilience of Indigenous Australians, and the unique place that they hold within the Australian nation. Today the whole nation is enriched by the artistic, literary, sporting and intellectual contributions of Indigenous Australians.
catholic Religious Australia supports the right of Indigenous peoples everywhere to be key participants in policies, processes and decisions that affect their communities. During the last forty years we Religious sisters, brothers and priests, like so many other Australians, have come to a deeper understanding of the history of our nation; the need to recognise the original owners and custodians of these lands and waters; to make a just and proper settlement; and to address the injustices of the past and the present.
We wish to learn from the spirituality of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who encountered God in this land thousands of years before Abraham set out for the Promised Land. Forty years after the 1967 referendum, the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is 17 years less than for other citizens. Land, language and culture remain under threat, and Indigenous participation in education and the labour force still remain lower than for other Australians. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still lack effective access to services which the broader Australian community regard as basic entitlements of citizens.
Much remains to be done if all Australians are to have a 'fair go', sharing equitably in the common good of our Commonwealth.
This year also marks the tenth anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report (May 26, 1997). We are sorry for the part that our institutions played in the tragedy of the stolen generations. We commit ourselves to continue to work for reconciliation with its requirements of truth and rectification. Unless we unite with a common will, a poverty of spirit will afflict our entire nation.
Catholic Religious Australia commends the remembrance of these milestones in churches and communities. This year National Aboriginal and Islander Sunday, falls on July 1, the first Sunday in July, following the proposal of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Catholic Council (NATSICC). We also commend the campaign of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission to 'make Indigenous poverty history', which offers practical suggestions for effective action to address the disadvantages still endured by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.