The failure of the Howard Government’s ‘practical’ reconciliation policy
In 1991, the Australian Commonwealth Parliament unanimously passed the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act (Cth) 1991 (hereafter the CAR Act). The CAR Act instituted a process that aimed to reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by the end of 2000, in time for the Centenary of the Federation of Australia. This ten-year process had three primary goals: to educate the wider Australian community about reconciliation and Indigenous issues; to foster an ongoing national commitment to address Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage; and to investigate the desirability of developing some form of document of reconciliation, and if it was considered desirable, to provide advice concerning the content of such a document. The election of the Howard Liberal/National Coalition Government in 1996, halfway through the reconciliation decade, saw a significant shift in the Commonwealth Government’s approach to both reconciliation and, more broadly, Indigenous Affairs. The new Howard Government largely rejected the previous Hawke and Keating Labor Governments’ policies of advocating a limited notion of Indigenous rights (such as self-determination and native title, but not a treaty or national land rights) and symbolic reconciliation (such as formally recognising the Aboriginal flag). The Howard Government also largely ignored the three primary goals of the reconciliation process - education, socio-economic disadvantage and a document of reconciliation - which had been bipartisan policy when the CAR Act was unanimously passed by the Commonwealth Parliament just five years earlier. Instead, the Howard Government implemented a new policy of ‘practical’ reconciliation. This policy advocated that the Government priorities should be primarily to address the substantial socio-economic disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous people in health, education, housing and employment. In this paper, I analyse the Howard Government’s policy of ‘practical’ reconciliation over the past eleven years. I argue that the policy has been a substantial failure on three main levels. First, the policy ignored the importance of symbolic reconciliation in providing some justice to Indigenous people. Second, the policy did not recognise the fundamental nexus between Indigenous rights, such as self-determination and land rights, and Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage. Third, the policy did not actually succeed in alleviating Indigenous socio-economic disadvantage.
Second International Conference on Racisims in the New World Order, Caloundra, Australia 6-7 December 2007
The Complexities of Racism: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Racisms in the New World Order / Babacan, H, Gopalkrishnan, N (eds): pp.34-43