Tjurkurpa: For the Indigenous People of the World

The Magna Carta Lecture

Adelaide Town Hall

Speech, check against delivery, E&OE

26 July 2011

We date this great document the Magna Carta to a famous gathering at Runnymede on the Thames in June 1215.

The English aristocracy met with the English King to deal with some ancient grievances.

As others have observed, it was not an Act of Parliament.

There was no Parliament.

It was not part of any Constitution.

There was no constitutional order to speak of.

It simply became known as the Magna Carta.

In October 1297, this time under the great seal of King Edward I, a modified version of the Magna Carta was distributed throughout the kingdom.

By letters patent, the King directed the courts to administer the Charter as the common law of the land.

Any judgments inconsistent with the Charter were to be “undone and holden for naught”.

As Father Frank Brennan SJ has observed, Magna Carta went from being a political document setting down an agreement between contesting parties to being a legal document protecting the rights and liberties of subjects, and not just wealthy barons, from the excesses of the sovereign.

A contemporaneous 13th century copy of this great document was gifted by the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth of Australia upon our own federation more than a century ago.

It is, and should be seen, as one of our greatest national treasures — both the physical document itself, as well as the spirit of Magna Carta that it embodies for the nation.

It was on this subject of the ‘spirit’ of the Magna Carta that Frank Brennan’s father, Chief Justice Brennan reflected at a ceremony marking the naming of Magna Carta Place in 1997, not far from the Old Parliament House. Brennan said:

“Above all, Magna Carta has lived in the hearts and minds of our people. It is an incantation of the spirit of liberty. Whatever its text or meaning, it has become the talisman of a society in which tolerance and democracy reside, a society in which each man and woman has and is accorded his or her unique dignity, a society in which power and privilege do not produce tyranny and oppression.

It matters not that this is the myth of Magna Carta, for the myth is the reality that continues to infuse the deepest aspirations of the Australian people.

Those aspirations are our surest guarantee of a free and confident society.”

Once again I turn to Brennan the younger for commentary — “Magna Carta has come from being a political document setting terms of the relations between a king and his barons, to a legal document outlining the liberties of all subjects, and now a symbolic document espousing universal values, a treasured patrimony of the national histories and identities of both the United Kingdom and Australia.

It speaks not just to barons, but to all persons, including those first Australians who fell outside the scope of the law’s protection at the time of British settlement.

It speaks to all the world of the notion of justice according to law, administered without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

Magna Carta therefore represents all that is finest in the continuing values that bind the peoples of the United Kingdom and Australia, other peoples of the common law world, and to those of the family of democracies that lie beyond the common law world as well.

This is not a heritage lightly to be discarded.

Magna Carta and the Idea of ‘the West’

Of course the concept of citizens’ rights and their liberties against the intrusions of the state is not unique to the Anglo Saxon world.

The Greeks would have something to say about that, given the glories of classical Athens, the democracy of Pericles fully one and a half millennia before the celebrated gathering at Runnymede.

Similarly, the Judeo Christian tradition across the millennia, while not intrinsically ‘democratic’, has informed our civilization’s concept of underlying values that over time have found expression through the emerging democratic institutions of what came to be known as ‘the West’.

So too with the Enlightenment, the celebration of reason, rational discourse and the scientific method — and with it the importance of the separation of the church and state.

All these profound philosophical, ethical and political influences, including the law and spirit of Magna Carta, are part of what we more should celebrate and sustain as the civilization of the West.

In recent times much has been written of the decline of the West — even the death of the West.

These writers point to the failure of modern democracies to deal with the great national and international challenges of our time — as democracies often degenerate into mindless partisanship, relentless fractionalisation, and an inability to look beyond tomorrow.

The same critics point to the rise of the East, in particular the rise of China, employing a different political tradition and a different economic development model, to conclude that the West’s days are indeed numbered.

Others again point to what they describe as the ethical morass of the West, particularly as the moral certainties of a once dominant Christian church gives way to the moral relativism of a secular, post Christian society — indeed what some Christian apologists have described as the suicide of the West.

And so the comparisons go on: in education, science and innovation; in enterprise and commerce; in literature, film and the arts.

According to this worldview, the great global cultural happening is now Shanghai and the Florentine Renaissance now belongs to a distant civilisation which now lies squarely in the past, whose flame now barely flickers in the modern West.

Of course when our friends in America engage in the literature of national self-flagellation along the lines of the “decline and fall of the United States”, falsely echoing the great eighteenth Century tome of Edward Gibbon on the decline and fall of Rome; then an intellectual and cultural fashion begins to be created that bears little relationship to the underlying realities.

And as the twin pillars of the contemporary West, Europe and the United States, engage in a rolling public political spectacle on the extraordinary proposition that significant economies in Europe and for the matter the United States, itself, could default on sovereign debt, some would also argue that we are moving into a world where truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

The chief casualty of all this is the political, economic and cultural self-confidence of the collective West as the world supposedly reels before the unrelenting, rolling juggernaut that is China.

This is not the time, nor the place, to compare the civilisational strengths and weaknesses of China, East Asia and the West.

Beauty will inevitably lie in large part in the eye of the beholder.

It is well known I am a long standing student of China and have long been an admirer of China’s classical philosophical, literary and aesthetic tradition; much of its contemporary film and its extraordinary achievements in lifting nearly half of its population out of poverty.

But this is not some sort of crude, zero-sum game where the rise of Asia axiomatically means the decline of the West.

It is, I believe, high time we in the collective West, without any undue sense of civilizational hubris or despair, take stock of what values and institutions we stand for and why, and to celebrate them, not apologise for them.

In particular, what are the great civilizational strengths representing this ‘idea’ of the West that should animate our future: the unchallengeable legitimacy of democratically elected institutions; the flexibility of free markets to respond to change; the sheer power of an ideologically unconstrained, individually driven, enquiring mind; the comfortable acceptance of cultural diversity within the wide canvas of national unity; the power and the place of justice, fairness and compassion as necessary and enabling features in Western societies, whether informed by Christian traditions or by post-Enlightenment traditions of the common man.

Great strengths lie, therefore, in the collective software, and in the consequential hardware, of what we over time have called this idea of the West.

This is a civilisation patrimony that must not be surrendered meekly.

The power of its ideas continues to permeate and in some respects transform other civilizational traditions as well.

Look for example at the expanding family of democracies across the non-Western world — the near universal appeal of the democratic ideal in political cultures that seek to suppress it.

Almost 800 years on, therefore, the spirit of Magna Carta lives well beyond the confines of Runnymede, England or even the English-speaking world.

And in this, we should have great pride, confidence and resolution.

To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, rumours of the death of the West are grossly exaggerated.

The Evolution of Magna Carta

One of the virtues of the democratic world, the common law world, the world of Magna Carta, is that justice is not a static concept.

It is not frozen in time.

It is dynamic — as it seeks to widen the scope of rights, freedoms, and associated responsibilities across the whole community, not just a single part.

We have seen this through the evolution of the democratic franchise through the 19th century.

We have seen this through the extension of the franchise to all men, irrespective of their qualifications as holders of property, once believed to be co-definitional with the right to participate in democratic life.

We have seen this in the extension of the franchise to women, beginning here in the progressive political community of South Australia, one of the first to do so anywhere in the world.

We have also seen this evolving concept of justice across the statutes and policies of the various parliaments and courts of Australia.

Laws to protect people against the degradation of poverty.

Laws to protect the working conditions of all.

Laws to protect the rights and advance the opportunities of all Australians: irrespective of gender; irrespective of age; irrespective of disability; irrespective of sexuality; irrespective of race.

In Australia, the latter has been fundamentally enhanced by the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act which has since underpinned the rights of Indigenous Australians, as well as the vast mosaic of peoples who have come from across the world to make Australia their home.

Today we would regard these laws and policies and the institutions charged with giving them effect, as normal features of a just society, or that we would even call a civilised society.

But this has not always been the case in our history, even in our recent history.

There has been political controversy associated with the adoption of most of these laws, disagreements which at the time were often regarded as fundamental, but with the passage of time, now seen as unremarkable.

Such has been the narrative of most of our national history, with evolving concepts of political, economic and social justice — and the protection of people from the arbitrary actions of the State, or, for that matter, the indifference of the State.

Over time, legislative advances in Australia have been accompanied by the passage of international statutes which seek to take these evolving concepts of justice to the peoples of the world.

Australia has often, but not always, been at the forefront of these international debates.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • The UN Convention on the Protection of Refugees
  • The Geneva Conventions and their Protocols on the proper protection of civilian populations and prisoners of war during armed conflict;
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The ILO Conventions on Decent Work
  • The UN Millennium Declaration on Global Poverty and the Associated Millennium Development Goals; and
  • The emerging doctrine of international humanitarian intervention.

These conventions, declarations and doctrines have given rise to multilateral institutions charged by UN member states to give effect to their provisions — some performing well, others not.

But importantly in terms of Australia’s role, this evolving economic and social mandate of the UN ultimately derives from the political determination and legal drafting of then Australian Foreign Minister Herbert Vere Evatt.

The Great Powers at the San Francisco conference were concerned primarily with the political and security mandate of the UN Charter.

Evatt sought a wider canvas for this new Parliament of Mankind.

And Evatt ultimately prevailed — Evatt himself then personally drafting the relevant chapter of the charter, including the provision for the establishment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Our influence on these evolving norms and institutions has been significant.

The results, of course, have been uneven.

But the alternative, of a minimalist international order that simply turned a blind eye to the economic and social conditions of the peoples of the world, would, in the 21st century be unconscionable.

To be indifferent today, for example, to the peoples of the Horn of Africa, would be unconscionable.

To be incapable of acting through long-established agencies such as the World Food Program, would be unconscionable.

While children are dying as we speak, fewer will die because the international community has resolved to act — and because we believe that every child has a right to a decent life.

Indigenous Peoples

Any discussion of a just society, or for that matter a just international order is impossible if we do not also deal with the Indigenous peoples of Australia — and the 370 million Indigenous peoples of the world.

The history of European engagement of Indigenous Australia has not been good.

This is the statement of a fact.

We all know that Arthur Phillip began with benign intentions, but these did not last.

And here once again I draw on the considerable writings of Frank Brennan SJ, affectionately regarded by many of us in politics, in the great tradition of Thomas A’Beckett, as “that troublesome priest.”

The earliest advisories from the Colonial Office in London was that the fledgling colonial administration had a particular responsibility to the Indigenous people of New South Wales.

This was reflected, for example, in the directions of Sir James Stephen, Permanent Undersecretary of the Colonial Office from 1836 — 1847, Stephen’s father having been a close friend of William Wilberforce and leading campaigner for the abolition of slavery.

While Stephen argued that Colonial officials should enjoy a large measure of freedom and trust on the way to self-government, he insisted that in a growing colony, the mother country had a positive duty to guard the weak.

Not long after Stephen’s retirement, Secretary of State, Earl Grey wrote from London to the Governor of New South Wales:

“I think it essential that it should be generally understood that {pastoral} leases granted for this purpose give the grantees only an exclusive right of pasturage for their cattle and of cultivating such land as they may require within the large limits thus assigned to them, but that these leases were not intended to deprive the natives of their former right to hunt over these districts, or to wander over them in search of subsistence, in the manner to which they have been heretofore accustomed….”

Such sentiments were generally consistent with the original instructions given to the first governors of the new colonies.

Coexistence and due recognition of conflicting claims had long been notions accessible to British officials adapting common law notions of justice and equity to foreign circumstances.

As the Australian colonies became settled, the contested rights of Aboriginal people were considered alongside the questions of convict emancipation and of colonial self-government.

This mixed political agenda of the infant Australian colonies, no less than in other settler societies around the world, was complicated, demanding and uneven in its results.

Aboriginal people, the length and breadth of this land, were denied the rights that were the birth right of an Englishman.

This was a common tale throughout the British Empire, despite the tradition of Magna Carta.

For example in the 1919 Privy Council judgement In Re Southern Rhodesia, Lord Sumner concluded that:

“The estimation of the rights of aboriginal tribes is always inherently difficult. Some tribes are so low in the scale of social organisation that their usages and conceptions of rights and duties are not to be reconciled with the institutions or legal ideas of civilised society. Such a gulf cannot be bridged. It would be idle to impute such people some shadow of the rights known to our law and then to transmute it into the substance of transferrable rights of property as we know them”.

According to the Privy Council, the maintenance of native title rights “was fatally inconsistent with white settlement of the country…with the result that the aboriginal system gave place to another prescribed by the order in Council”.

The Privy Council concluded its consideration of the Rhodesian native title claim by pompously declaring that “whoever now owns the un-alienated lands, the natives do not”.

It seems the spirit of Magna Carta took some time to reach the outer limits of the empire.

Its fruits were not to be enjoyed by indigenous people for the better part of the following century.

Land Rights

South Australia has a proud history having led the nation with the recognition of some aboriginal land rights and with legislation outlawing discrimination of some Aboriginal people.

Don Dunstan was one of the great visionary premiers of our federation.

And he will appropriately always be regarded as such — ahead of his time, yet as a lawyer fully mindful of the widening notion of rights implicit within both the spirit and the law of Magna Carta.

At a national level, Gough Whitlam extended the nation’s hand of friendship and partnership to indigenous people when he flew to Daguragu in August 1975 to hand over the deeds to Vincent Lingiari for the Gurindgi land at Wattie.

None of us can forget the iconic image of Prime Minister Whitlam pouring soil into Lingiari’s hands declaring:

 “…I put in your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you, restore these lands to you and your children forever”.

Lingiari replied with what I believe to be an even greater eloquence when he said: “they took our country away from us, now they have brought it back ceremonially. We are all mates now.”

The passage of the Racial Discrimination Act through the Australian Parliament in late 1975 became a beacon for the recognition of native title by the High Court and a foundation stone for negotiation of native title legislation.

We all now know the history of Mabo and the High Court’s determination that:

“if the international legal notion that inhabited land can be classified as terra nullius no longer commands general support, the doctrines of the common law which depend on the notion that native peoples may be “so low in the scale of social organisation” that it is “idle to impute to such people some shadow of the rights known to our law can hardly be retained. If it was permissible in past centuries to keep the common law in step with international law, it is imperative in today’s world that common law should neither be nor be seen to be frozen in an age of racial discrimination.”

After both the Mabo and the subsequent Wik decisions, our parliament had no alternative but to legislate for native title.

Governments of both persuasions had to wrestle with difficult challenges relating to the law, economic certainty, and social harmony.

But over the course of the last twenty years, as a nation we have abandoned the notion of terra nullius, we have acknowledged the land rights of traditional owners, and we have moved beyond an assimilationist mindset and are now committed to fresh partnerships between Indigenous Australians and those of us who have come to these shores more recently.

Indeed, former Prime Minister Howard himself has stated that he sees nothing unacceptable in the legal conclusions reached in the Mabo decision.

The challenge therefore for the body politic has been to make this new fabric of native title law work in practice across our vast land in a way which benefits Aboriginal people and the nation as a whole.

Constitutional Recognition

The legal processes associated with the establishment of the Australian land rights regime were about the political and economic empowerment of indigenous Australians.

And of course this process of legal recognition continues with our current national dialogue on an appropriate form of constitutional recognition for the first Australians.

Constitutional recognition of itself represents a further and final repudiation of the absurdity of the proposition of terra nullius.

Aboriginal people had lived in this vast land across the millennia.

Constitutional recognition is also a basic matter of human respect.

We should all take pride in the fact that we are privileged to share this land which we call Australia with the peoples of the Dreamtime — representing the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

Once again, the law, the spirit and the tradition of Magna Carta is dynamic, not static.

It is one that evolves to recognise ancient realities — and to embrace new realities as well.

But if the mission which lies before us is to effect a genuine reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, constitutional and legal recognition is but one part of the response.

The Apology

Constitutional and legal reform can only go so far.

The truth is they were not designed to deal with something much deeper — the wounding of the soul and in some cases the breaking of a proud people’s spirit.

That was why it was necessary to take the further step of apologising to the Indigenous peoples of this land — most particularly the Stolen Generations who had been ripped from their mother’s embrace because we Europeans curiously concluded that this was the civilised thing to do.

It was not.

I was privileged to be the Australian Prime Minister who delivered the Apology to the Indigenous people of this land.

Saying sorry can be hard.

However, if genuinely meant, it can be profoundly liberating.

And the truth is, we were already two hundred years overdue.

Importantly, the Apology was adopted with the unanimous support of the Australian Parliament.

And for this I thank the then Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, given the considerable political pressures he faced within his own party at the time.

The Apology was a significant act of national reconciliation.

It also reflected a national commitment to building a new future between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

I said in the Apology that I hoped it would be received by Indigenous Australians in the spirit in which it was offered.

Because until an apology is received, reconciliation does not occur and new beginnings are not possible.

And who could legitimately expect Indigenous Australians to suddenly forgive and forget literally centuries of mistreatment, neglect and degradation?

Other cultures around the world have found such exercises of ethnic, cultural or religious reconciliation much more problematic, if not impossible.

Yet the joy in Australia’s case is that this Apology, offered humbly, was graciously received by those who in normal circumstances would have been perfectly entitled to reject it.

My regret is that at the time there was no Indigenous Australian as a Member of the parliament.

This was an indictment on both our political parties for having failed to preselect Indigenous Australians into winnable seats for the national Parliament.

That changed in 2010 with the election of Ken Wyatt, a Liberal Member of Parliament, the Member for Hasluck.

As the author of the apology, I was deeply moved when I heard Mr Wyatt speak during his first speech to the House of Representatives. In it he said:

“the apology to the stolen generations has been a powerful instrument in the healing of both our people and our nation. The apology was acknowledged and received in the spirit for which it was offered…I shed tears for my mother and her siblings. My mother and her siblings, along with many others, did not live to hear the words delivered in the apology, which would have meant a great deal to them individually. I felt a sense of relief that the pain of the past had been acknowledged and that the healing could begin.”

The work of reconciliation, however, has barely begun in our land.

Constitutional and legal reform is important.

And at a different level, the Apology is also important as we have sought to deal with this great blemish on our nations’ soul.

But as I said at the time, words without deeds are like a clanging gong.

Closing the Gap

That’s why the third pillar of reconciliation must be a very practical one; what I described in the apology as “Closing the Gap’’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians — the appalling gap in life expectancy and maternal and infant mortality: the gap in education; the gap in health; the gap in housing; the gap in employment.

One of the conventions I am pleased to have established since the Apology has been a requirement for the Prime Minister of the day to report formally, on or about each anniversary of the Apology, on the progress, or lack thereof, that has been achieved in the previous year against the targets that we have set for ourselves and the nation across these multiple areas of disadvantage.

The purpose of this convention is to keep us honest as a nation.

To report our successes and to recognise our failures and to do so honestly and transparently.

To acknowledge what has worked and what has failed to work.

In the most recent report, delivered by the Prime Minister in February this year, some progress has been made:

  • Over 6,000 indigenous kids from birth to five, together with their parents, are now taking part in regular indigenous playgroups to improve early childhood education attendance.
  • There has been a six-fold increase in the number of follow up services provided last year by aboriginal heath workers or practice nurses on behalf of a GP — some 3,500 services all told.
  • In 2009-10, nearly 1,150 houses were either completed or refurbished, exceeding that year’s target by nearly a quarter
  • In 2010, over 16,000 Indigenous Australians commenced employment and a further 12,500 commenced training.

But the truth is the challenge remains great.

The gap in life expectancy for indigenous people is still estimated at 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females.

Approximately 70% of the gap in health outcomes is due to chronic diseases.

It is just one example of how the nation must redouble its efforts to make a difference not just in health outcomes for Aboriginal people, but right across education and employment as well.

Sir William Deane has quoted Mick Dodson as saying that white Australians had become inured to the statistics that defined aboriginal disadvantage.

Dodson pointedly noted that;

“a certain kind of industrial deafness has developed. The meaning of these figures is not heard or felt. The statistics of infant and peri-natal fatality are our babies and our children who die in our arms… The statistics of shortened life expectancy are our mothers and fathers, uncles, aunties and elders who lived diminished lives and died before their gifts of knowledge and experience are passed on. We die silently under these statistics”.

I remain haunted by these remarks Mick Dodson made more than a decade and a half ago.

The Process of Reconciliation

Closing the Gap, therefore, is very much a national work in progress, and much work remains to be done.

The Apology was not the beginning and the end of it.

The Apology was barely the beginning.

Fifteen years ago, the then Governor General, Sir William Deane addressed the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation on what he described as signposts for reconciliation.

He described these as:

  • an acknowledgement of the past;
  • the recognition of the need for redress;
  • An aboriginal right of choice;
  • Going forward as friends and equals;
  • Appropriate representation for Aboriginal people;
  • A recognition that a general consensus much be reached about the minimum that must be done to put past wrongs to right.
  • A recognition that reconciliation can be achieved notwithstanding the fact that there is much still to do, so long as there is a plan to do it.
  • And in incorporating all of the above, the importance of ceremony in the overall process of reconciliation.

There is much wisdom in what Sir William Deane said back then.

He quoted approvingly William Faulkner who once wrote that “the past is not dead and gone; it isn’t even past”.

Sir William went on to say that “the past is not fully gone; it is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape who we are and what we do.’

Others will make their judgements as to what progress we have made fifteen years later against Sir William’s signposts of reconciliation Sir William foreshadowed back then it would not be easy.

The truth is progress is being made.

But equally progress will falter if we fail to sustain the level of national commitment necessary to bring about real change.

And as Noel Pearson and others have reminded us, there is a need for Indigenous Australians increasingly to take their own destiny into their own hands; to shape and determine their own futures and ultimately to free themselves from what Pearson describes as the dependency culture of the past.

When this vision for Australia’s Indigenous peoples is finally realised, we might then just conclude that the process of reconciliation is complete.

The Indigenous Peoples of the World

And so what if anything do we in Australia have to say on the treatment of the indigenous peoples of the world?

We should be modest enough in this country to say very little — given the centuries of mistreatment of indigenous people in our own country.

There are barely half a million indigenous Australians.

Yet there are some 370 million indigenous peoples across the world spread across some 90 of the 193 countries that make up the UN General Assembly.

The challenge for the world is large.

We should also be deeply conscious of the fact that the international community over many decades has been deeply concerned about the plight of Indigenous Australia.

And these are still early days as together we chart our new course towards national reconciliation.

As I have said often in this lecture, there is still much, much more work to be done.

Nonetheless, there is growing international interest, including among the indigenous communities of the world, in what we are seeking to do here in Australia.

First there is the Apology itself.

The Canadian Parliament followed suit several months later with its own apology to Indigenous Canadians.

And a number of communities around the world have been using the text of the Apology as part of their own domestic reconciliation processes.

Second, there is our commitment to the hard measurement of outcomes under ‘Closing the Gap’.

Whether we succeed or fail in closing the gap will to a large extent determine the credibility, or lack thereof, with which we can speak to the world at large.

But telling our Indigenous story, warts and all, of itself commands a certain respect.

Because the truth is that the condition of many Indigenous peoples around the world is often quietly swept beneath the carpet, and sometimes these people themselves are violently suppressed.

Third, our challenge and opportunity is to have more and more Indigenous Australians speaking of their Australian experience to the world at large.

This week at the UN in New York, a young man by the name of Benson Saulo is participating in a High Level Meeting on Youth as Australia’s youth representative.

He is the first Australian youth representative who is an Indigenous Australian.

Benson is a 23 year old man who grew up in Gomileroi country in Tamworth, New South Wales.

I’m confident he’ll do us proud.

Fourth, the time has well and truly come for the Australian foreign service to appoint our first Indigenous Australian as an ambassador abroad.

I’m proud of the fact that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, well prior to my becoming its minister, has had a strong program of encouraging indigenous employment within our foreign service.

That is why I have resolved that during the course of the current parliament, I’ll appoint our first indigenous Australian as an ambassador abroad.

Fifth, we intend to do the same with Australia’s aid program and with the new Australian Volunteers for International Development that I launched earlier this year.

AusAID is actively promoting the recruitment and participation of Indigenous volunteers — in partnership with a domestic NGO entitled Indigenous Community Volunteers.

Sixth, earlier this year in Geneva, the Australian Mission to the UN hosted a roundtable discussion focussing on our experience combating racism in sport.

Once widely accepted, Australians in recent years have made great strides to stamp out racism from our major football codes.

Think of the leadership shown by Nicky Winmar from St Kilda. Michael Long from Essendon. The growth of the AFL: indigenous all-stars match. The equivalent match in the National Rugby League. One of this town’s all time great players, Andrew McLeod from the Adelaide Crows was the keynote speaker in the discussion in Geneva. Andrew’s great grandmother was part of the stolen generation. At the UN, he spoke passionately about her life experience and the work of the AFL to eliminate racism from the game. Next year we intend to build on Andrew’s presentation and take our story on racism in sport direct to the UN headquarters in New York.

Seventh, there is the international promotion of Australian Indigenous art, already acknowledged as one of the world’s great art movements.

In recent years, we have organised major international exhibitions in Washington and Tokyo. In Tokyo, as Prime Minister, Thérèse and I visited the Emily Kame Kngwarreye exhibition which was universally reviewed in the Japanese press as a blockbuster — viewed by over 130,000 people including the Empress of Japan. Australia, both governmentally and privately, must do more to promote our Indigenous arts on the international stage.

It is a good thing that Australia’s Indigenous tradition is increasingly being incorporated into international understandings of the modern Australian identity.

And this is causing the world to see Australia through a new creative, dynamic and compassionate lens for the benefit of us all.

Eight, Australia is not just about showcasing Indigenous art or indigenous dance, important as they are.

Indigenous knowledge can create economic opportunities. We are committed to helping Indigenous communities make the most of their intellectual property.

In 2010, the government produced landmark guidelines called Nanga Mai Arung — roughly translated as “dream shield”.

These guidelines show governments, businesses, civil society and individuals how best to promote and protect the intellectual property and traditional knowledge of traditional peoples.

So that indigenous people get a fair return for their innovation, their originality and their vision.

Dream Shield has now been showcased to the World Intellectual Property Organisation(WIPO).

Australia is also committed to working within WIPO towards a text of an international legal instrument on intellectual property to ensure the effective protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.

In support of this, Australia will make a contribution to a WIPO fund in support of effective Indigenous participation in the negotiations towards an international instrument in this area.

Ninth, Australia recognises the value of Indigenous knowledge, and that Indigenous communities are entitled to benefit from the use of their knowledge and traditions.

This is also recognised under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which encourages “the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of such knowledge, innovation and practices.”

The Australian legislation to implement the access and benefit sharing obligations under the CBD is recognised as world best practice in this area.

The Government will support capacity building for developing countries to assist them with their own ‘access and benefit sharing’ regimes, as provided for under the CBD.

We will also share with developing countries Australian best practice in the participation of Indigenous communities in the management of natural resources.

Finally, Australia has become increasingly engaged on a formal level with the global indigenous policy agenda.

In 2007 the UN adopted the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People.

Twenty five years in the making, the Declaration is the most thorough statement of principles ever drafted which enshrines the rights of indigenous people worldwide.

Back in 2007, 144 countries voted in favour of it.

Australia was among a group of only four countries that voted against — along with the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

In 2009, this government rectified that by announcing our support for the Declaration.

The other three countries have since followed suit.

In 2014 there will be a landmark world conference on indigenous peoples at the UN in New York, to review just how far the world has come in relation to the principles of the Declaration.

Australia, like 89 other countries, will be under close scrutiny.

We will be measured against our own benchmarks, including most importantly closing the gap.

And this is as it should be.

In fact it is not widely known that Australian diplomats at the UN have worked closely with their counterparts from Bolivia and elsewhere to secure international agreement last year that this conference take place.

This is also as it should be.

Because my vision is that the resources and energy of Australian diplomatic and aid policy should also be channelled into the pursuit of a forward leaning international indigenous policy agenda.

Consistent with the overriding objective of Australian diplomacy, our objective is to make a difference, including for the Indigenous peoples of the world.

Conclusion

This lecture is entitled the Magna Carta lecture.

I have further entitled it “Tjukurrpa: for the Indigenous peoples of the world.”

I have sought to explain the concept of Magna Carta in the modern world — the concept of the rights of subjects against the sovereign; the rights of citizens against the state; the evolutionary nature of those rights throughout history.

I have also sought to emphasise that this idea of rights and freedoms is applicable not just to the common law world, but also to the wider family of democracies and in in fact to the fundamental idea of the West.

I’ve also argued how in Australia this evolution of the concept of the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all has unfolded across the two centuries of our settled history.

And I’ve focussed in particular on the evolution of the rights and opportunities of Australia’s indigenous peoples and what we may credibly say as a result to the indigenous peoples of the world.

And so some may ask what then is Tjukurrpa.

Tjukurrpa is the name of the 200 square metre granite mosaic in the forecourt of our new Parliament House in Canberra.

The mosaic depicts the dreamtime, the time of creation, when ancestral beings were created in the world together with the world laws and moral systems.

Seeing the new parliament house as the meeting place of the different cultures of this land, the artist, Michael Nelson Tjakamarra said that he had designed the mosaic “for good purpose, for both black and white”. Tjakamarra is a Papunya artist who provided the design for the mosaic to be crafted from thousands of pieces of granite by Franco Colussi, Aldo Rossi and William McKintosh.

So this combined artistic effort therefore of an indigenous Australian, a Scottish Australian and two Italian Australians, but all Australians together, became this meeting place for cultures from all over the world.

In other words, this Tjukurrpa is a meeting place, just as our Parliament is meeting place, a place for reaching agreement, a place for discovering the law, and a place for imagining a better future for all the peoples of our nation — and all the peoples of the world including the indigenous peoples of the world.

We Australians are therefore proud to share this combined heritage of both Magna Carta and Tjukurrpa — a meeting place that enshrines our rights, our respect for one another and the continuing challenge and the great opportunity, offered by the reality of reconciliation once finally achieved, for this great land of ours, Australia.

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