Michael Rose AM supports Sean Gordon
This is an edited speech, delivered by Michael Rose AM on 20 September 2017, in support of Sean Gordon’s essay, “Claiming the Common Ground for Recognition.” Gordon’s essay is available for download here.
I want to speak about what I’ve observed over the last couple of years as a member of the Referendum Council and, before that, as a member of the Empowered Communities Steering Committee.
I don’t think anyone has paid enough attention to how extraordinary it was that the representatives of 240 First Nations came to a consensus outcome. I live just across the water here in Balmain. If someone wants to put in a parking meter, you can’t get 200 citizens of Balmain to come to a consensus decision about even simple stuff like this. And here were representatives of all of Australia’s First Nations coming to a consensus decision about very complicated, very difficult, very important stuff. People who really understood what they were talking about, really understood what they were asking for, came to a very simple, very elegant, almost unavoidable suggestion. And that suggestion was, “We want you to recognise us by doing something that we need. We want you to recognise us. We want you to see us in contemporary Australia by giving us the practical means to change the lives that we live.”
What the Uluru statement says is, “We want recognition of a group of people, and we want you to see us and recognise us in Australia today, and allow us to be who we want to be.” Whenever recognition gets talked about, there’s a discussion about equity, and we’ll almost certainly hear this in the media in future. “Why should one group of people have special representation? Why should one group of people have something that other groups of people don’t have? Surely, that cannot be fair, why is there special treatment?” There’ll be this very tight focus on fairness as well as criticism of the past. You might recall this from the Howard era, where there was a lot of discussion abound the past: “Oh, well, I’m not responsible, I wasn’t there in my great great grandfather’s time, I wasn’t in the First Fleet, I didn’t do this.” So, these ideas of fairness and responsibility will get elevated and will be rolled around as an answer to the Uluru statement. And I think the answer is for as many of us who can to help the broader community recognise themselves as beneficiaries of the modern Australian nation.
If I think in the language of a beneficiary, if I think about fairness and equity and responsibility, I can’t arrive at an answer that says, “I can afford to do nothing.” I must get to an answer that says, “If I’m a beneficiary of a process, and other people have had their world destroyed or compromised by that process, then whether or not I’m responsible for the process, I’m responsible for the resolution of the current mess.” I think that is going to be the challenge. Sean put out the challenge to non-aboriginal Australians to take this discussion forward. The challenge is going to be to help our fellow citizens see themselves for what they are - beneficiaries of the modern nation - and to understand that, as beneficiaries, they can be generous, they can be fair, and they can take responsibility, and none of that will diminish them.