Dodson: Treaty is a marriage not a divorce

[by Damien Stannard]


 Image: ABC

Closing the Gap strategies were a good start but Australia must now be fearless about a truth telling process that will lead the country towards a treaty, according to Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner Mick Dodson AM. 

Professor Dodson was the keynote speaker at the seventh Annual Honourable Barry O’Keefe Memorial Lecture at Australian Catholic University on Wednesday. 

In arguing for the framing of treaty as “a marriage, not a divorce”, Professor Dodson underlined some shortcomings of Closing the Gap strategies while urging Australians not to fear truth telling. 

“As a nation, we are at the crossroads when it comes to bridging the social and economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I believe our country needs to take a different road than the ones we have previously travelled,” he said.   

“To understand we are on the wrong road and to reinforce the inadequacy of past policies, we need to look no further than the Closing the Gap agenda. More than 10 years on, the Prime Minister’s 2019 report advises that only two of the seven targets are ‘on track’.” 

Speaking to an online audience that included Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW, Professor Dodson called for an Australian treaty to address both political and moral views. 

“To cater to the moral imperatives,” he said, “there has to be a recognition and acceptance by governments of two necessary truths: that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies have been injured and harmed throughout the colonisation process, and just recompense is owed. And, (secondly) the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Peoples and the distinctive rights and special status based on prior occupation that flow from that.” 

The former Australian of the Year urged Australians not to fear the unfinished business of truth telling that would set the foundation for the necessary reforms for a more just society. 

“Worldwide there is indisputable evidence that achieving sustainable outcomes for Indigenous peoples occur when they are able, through their own mechanisms to make the decisions that affect them in their daily lives,” he said. 

“If treaties are to be part of the solution, then we should all view them as being nation-building exercises and in the national interest. Treaties are an investment in the future.” 

The Barry O’Keefe Memorial Lecture is an annual event hosted by ACU’s Thomas More Law School, and it is named in honour of the late Hon Barry O'Keefe AM QC DUniv (HonorisCausa) (ACU). 

ACU awarded an honorary doctorate to Justice O’Keefe in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the judiciary, the NSW legal system and to the Church. 

Barry O’Keefe was an Australian judge and lawyer who served as a justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales from 1993 to 2004 and the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption from 1994 until 1999. 

His ethos of service was reflected in his term as an alderman on Mosman Council from 1968 to 1991, as president of the Local Government Association of NSW and the National Trust of Australia, and as a member of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. 


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