News has broken today that the Commonwealth Government has postponed plans for a Constitutional referendum to recognise Indigenous peoples in Australia’s Constitution. According to Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, the decision was made because there is insufficient community awareness of the proposal.
Kerry Arabena, who is Director of Research for the School for Indigenous Health at Monash University, made much the same point at the Castan Centre’s 2012 conference, held in Melbourne in July. In this short interview conducted with Ms Arabena just prior to the conference, she said “I think it would be very remiss of us as a nation to go to a referendum and not be guaranteed of absolute, overwhelming success”.
Dr Arabena believes that there needs to be a “long lead up ” to a referrendum, during which “we’ll need to have the kinds of conversations about what truth means, what justice means”. She adds that “we require a campaign that’s really going to capture the imagination of the whole nation, and I suspect that myself and others at the moment can’t really see how we’re going to create that message that’s really going to inspire and get people passionate about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution”. Ms Arabena was positive, however, that this obstacle could be overcome by highlighting the positive strides made by Indigenous Australians. “To keep on framing us as disadvantaged people…doesn’t really fully appreciate who we are as a community of people – the kinds of contributions we are making to the country and in some places the world…I think there’s much more opportunity for our voices to be heard,” she said.
You can view the short interview here:
This longer piece is the full video of Kerry Arabena’s talk at our annual conference.
Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a history being framed by Australians as either competent or lacking competence; whether we need to be controlled or whether we can take responsibility; whether we are affected by the problems or we are the problem; or whether we are one of you and able to be included, or we are different and need to be excluded. In this presentation, Kerry Arabena explores national discourses relating to Constitutional reform and explores how language is being used to bring about a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum. First she reviews the current discourses framing the First Peoples’ responses to the Constitutional reform process. Second, she identifies a campaign based on a concept of preciousness by way of providing an alternative discourse than that which is currently popularised in some media. Finally, she explores what a discourse would need to achieve – what compelling narratives do we need to build a positive public response that allow us all to participate in nation building projects across Australia?
Bio: Dr Kerry Arabena is Professor and Director, Indigenous Health Research in the School for Indigenous Health, Monash University. A descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait, and a former social worker with a doctorate in human ecology, Professor Arabena has an extensive background in public health, administration, community development and research working in senior roles in indigenous policy and sexual health. Her work has been in areas such as gender issues, social justice, human rights, access and equity, service provision, harm minimisation, and citizenship rights and responsibilities. She was a founding Co-Chair of the new national Indigenous peak body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, a collective voice to lobby governments on Indigenous issues.