Democratic thinking

Articles on democracy in the independent online media

December 02, 2005

Australia’s reconciliation bill

This Sunday, 4 December 2005, marks five years since the end of Australia’s “decade of reconciliation”. On the same day in 2000, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (Car) submitted its final report, containing the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and the Reconciliation Bill 2001, to the federal parliament in Canberra.

The symbolic end to the decade had come earlier in the year, when nearly 250,000 people marched across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, urging the prime minister (then, as now, John Howard) to say “sorry”. More large walks followed in the other capital cities, demonstrating popular support for the reconciliation process.

What has happened since? John Howard sentenced the Car’s declaration to failure when he issued his own version on the same day. The government took almost two years to formally respond to the final report, and then rejected most of its recommendations. When Senator Aden Ridgeway introduced a Reconciliation Bill in 2001 and 2003, not even the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) supported it, let alone the conservative National Party government. Car’s successor body, Reconciliation Australia, is a non-profit foundation with no statutory role, no recurrent funding and no formal responsibility for leading the national-reconciliation process.

Mark Byrne.

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