“The Forgotten People” at the Art Gallery of NSW

On 12 November 2016, Thomas Keneally and Rachel Perkins met with the editors of The Forgotten People, Damien Freeman and Shireen Morris, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. They discussed the book’s role in the public debate about recognising Indigenous peoples in the Australian Constitution.

Thomas Keneally AO is one of Australia’s foremost novelists, playwrights and authors of non-fiction. He is best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, Schindler’s Ark.

Rachel Perkins is a film and television director, producer and screenwriter and founder of Blackfella Films. She is perhaps best known for her films Bran Nue Dae (2010), Radiance (1998), and One Night the Moon (2001).

Contributors to The Forgotten People include Cardinal George Pell AC, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in the Vatican, and Australian Catholic University’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Greg Craven.

Mr Keneally talked about the importance of bringing the left and right together in the push for constitutional reform. 

You can only succeed if you can get both conservatives and progressives to agree. That’s the trick: agreement.

What this means is accepting the need for a conservative solution. “Embrac[ing] the reality of the conservative world” is crucial, Keneally said because “without it, no constitutional reform is ever possible”.

The Forgotten People: liberal and conservative approaches to recognising indigenous peoples is edited by Uphold & Recognise’s founder Damien Freeman. Uphold & Recognise has recently joined with the PM Glynn institute at the Australian Catholic University to promote the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians whilst at the same time upholding the Australian Constitution.

The Constitution is a sensible document created by sensible men.

A key goal of Uphold & Recognise, as described in their Charter, is that the voice of Aboriginal Australians should be heard in the processes of Parliament. Keneally describes the group’s sensible, conservative solution as the introduction of an advisory council into Parliament. As Keneally described it: “that advisory body would give our brothers and sisters a voice in relation to laws that affect them.” Then, “we get an advisory body which can’t be legislated away”.

The advisory body would give Indigenous Australians a form of recognition that is more than just mere symbolism. “Indigenous people need to gain something of practical value from their constitutional recognition”. “Aboriginal people have no reason to be interested in our making a gesture of recognition. Without giving Indigenous people something of practical value, then I think [constitutional recognition] could be a far emptier gesture”. 

Keneally believes that the council would bring Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians together: “In acknowledging the place they’ve always had, we will fortify our own”.

I think the great flaw in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian peoples will be redressed by this constitutional change

Keneally also spoke about Father Frank Brennan SJ’s book, Amplifying that Small Still Voice. To Keneally, Brennan “is a man I respect”. He is “a great Australian elder”.  Father Brennan’s writing on Aboriginal issues was showcased at the 2016 Byron Bay Literary Festival, and he has repeatedly advocated for modest constitutional reform. His books on Aboriginal issues include No Small Change, The Wik Debate and Land Rights Queensland Style.

Both Father Brennan and the founder up Uphold & Recognise, Mr Damien Freeman, are researchers at the PM Glynn Institute.


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Uphold & Recognise is a non-profit organisation that receives generous in-kind support from the Australian Catholic University via the PM Glynn Institut: https://pmglynn.acu.edu.au/

Uphold & Recognise