Reconciliation: A landmark moment for Australia

Wednesday is International Human Rights Day.

It’s on a day such as this that we should ask ourselves a key question: how can we ensure equality of opportunity for all Australians, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, and how should we recognise the First Australians, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

We should and must deliver equality of opportunity for all Australians – both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous – as a basic human right.

It’s a goal that can be achieved through reconciliation, and recognition through constitutional change has an important role to play.

Reconciliation is about building better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the benefit of us all.

In my role as Chairman of KPMG Australia and as a Board Member of Reconciliation Australia I have been closely involved in the reconciliation movement and the key issues. I believe it is thus vital that we commit to positive change and take the steps that need to be taken to ensure progress towards a successful referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Right now, we need people to talk about the issues and come up with innovative ideas and actions that will make this possible.

Reconciliation Australia is a strong voice in this process and the organisation has a clear vision: to build an Australia that is reconciled, just, and equitable for all. That is the basis of its recent submission to the Australian Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Four crucial elements have been outlined that need to occur if we are to see a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution.

First, all Australian Governments and Parliaments need to make a clear and public commitment that a referendum on this issue will take place. Such a commitment will put to rest any fears that a referendum will not occur.

Secondly, the Federal Government must set a date for the referendum, with a corresponding timeline of key milestones.

Thirdly, it is imperative the question that is to be put to the Australian voters is finalised as soon as possible.

Finally, in order to ensure public awareness on the issue is high, and to ultimately ensure a successful ‘Yes’ campaign, it will be crucial the Federal Government adequately funds the Recognise campaign until the completion of the referendum.

Why is it important to speak about these issues now?

As part of our reconciliation journey Australia must recognise the powerful role Indigenous Australians have had and continue to have in shaping who we are as a society and culture. Acknowledgement of that role is both symbolic and practical. The changes must be substantive; they must be written into the Constitution itself and they must also be seen in practical terms – in equal access to fundamental services such as health and education for Indigenous Australians. And the changes must be supported by both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians

KPMG is a strong supporter of constitutional change. At the leadership level, the National Board of KPMG has declared its support for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution. Beyond that, as an employer with over 5,500 employees here in Australia, we see our responsibility to educate our employees and encourage them to add their voices to the growing call for constitutional recognition.

Our people have embraced the call and I am often warmed by the level of passion amongst them and the way so many have become agents of change, sharing the message with their friends, families and communities.

Over the next 12 months I say that reconciliation and the process of constitutional change must be an issue that’s front and centre for Australia. It’s crucial the voice of business is strongly heard in the discussion that should involve the hearts and minds of all Australians.

That means our Prime Minister, The Hon. Tony Abbott and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Bill Shorten, must make a bi-partisan announcement of the timing of a constitutional referendum as soon as possible.

We recognise the promise of constitutional recognition has been actively discussed in Australian politics for eight years and has been a much sought after milestone on Australia’s reconciliation journey for many years. In order to create a reconciled nation, we must seize this opportunity for both symbolic and practical change, and create a landmark moment for our nation.

The time is here and we must act on this now.

I thus urge all Australians to become involved in achieving this positive change and I look forward to hearing the voice of Australian business in support of the landmark referendum we both want and need.

© andesign101 / 123RF Stock Photo
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