Perspectives on Reconciliation & Indigenous Rights

Nina Burridge


This paper provides an overview of discourses of the movement for national reconciliation prevailing within the Australian socio-political context since the inception of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1991, to the national apology delivered by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13th February 2008. It provides an framework for the various discourses of reconciliation, by exploring and analysing the accrued meanings to such terms such as ‘genuine’, substantive or ‘true’ reconciliation; the Howard’s Government’s ‘practical reconciliation’ and the Rudd government’s great attempt at ‘symbolic’ reconciliation in the national apology to Indigenous Australians. In the changing political context in Australia today this paper revisits the debates on reconciliation, and endeavours to locate the movement solidly within a human rights framework that includes first nation rights. This requires an examination of the roots of the reconciliation movement including community attitudes to reconciliation and the nature of the peoples’ movement as well as the differing perspectives of policy makers, politicians and of course, Indigenous peoples. It asks crucial questions about the progress of reconciliation and the type of reconciliation mainstream Australians will accept. In truth therefore, was the ‘National Apology’ a grand symbolic gesture by mainstream Australia to maintain the status quo and divert our eyes from the more searching questions of the ‘unfinished business’ of ‘substantive’ reconciliation which encompasses first nations rights for Indigenous peoples.

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