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John Howard’s Address to Corroboree 2000: ‘Towards Reconciliation’

This is the text of the speech John Howard made today to Corroboree 2000, the opening ceremony for Reconciliation Week.

During the speech, Howard was heckled and many delegates turned their backs on him.

Text of Prime Minister John Howard’s speech to Corroboree 2000.

HowardFirst may I acknowledge that I speak to you on the traditional lands of the Eora people. I pay my respects to them and thank them for the warmth of their welcome. To the many distinguished guests here today, Your Excellencies, State Premiers, Chief Ministers, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, the Leader of the Australian Democrats, to Evelyn Scott and Geoff Clarke.

I think all of us, whatever perspective we bring to this very special and moving occasion, I think all of us recognise the debt we owe to the tremendously hard work of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation over the last ten years. And may I specially pay a personal, and I am sure a representative tribute to you Evelyn for the grace and the dignity and the leadership and the strength of character that you have brought to this very important position.

It has been a long journey and I know it has been difficult and I know there have been areas of disagreement and it is naïve of any of us to pretend that some do not remain. But let all of us try this weekend, and for my part I pledge that I will in what I say, is to focus on those things that unite us and bind us together as Australians in the cause of healing the wounds and the divisions of the past and of moving forward in a united and harmonious fashion.

It is quite impossible for anybody to attend a gathering such as this without being captured and moved by its symbolism and the speciality of the occasion. I think it is an expression of a desire of all Australians to go forward, not to forget or ignore or fail to express sorrow or regret for the pain of the past. It is impossible to understand the difficulty and the reality of today and to move forward effectively without understanding and acknowledging the pain that was inflicted by the injustices of the past. And it is not possible, it is not possible for any of us, for any of us to reflect upon the desirability of moving forward without acknowledging the impact that European civilisation had on the indigenous people of this country and the cultures of the indigenous people.

This weekend is an occasion for all Australians to honour the contribution of the indigenous people of Australia to the life of this country. It is an occasion to honour the special character of their cultures. It is an occasion to thank them for the generosity of their spirit and it is an occasion to recognise the richness that their cultures bring to modern Australian life.

As the Council’s declaration says, we are a nation of many origins. We are a nation of many cultures and the 60,000 years of human habitation which has produced the cultures of the indigenous people has so much to offer to all of us. And we can together respect the speciality of those cultures and also draw tremendous inspiration from what we have built together. To recognise and acknowledge and express regret for the pain of the mistakes and the injustices of the past, but also hopefully my friends to draw some inspiration from what we have achieved together.

And so much of what, so much of what the Council has endeavoured to do has been to focus on those things that do keep us together, those things that we can draw inspiration in common. So my fellow Australians, this is an occasion, it is a weekend to frankly acknowledge the tragedies and the sadness and the pain and the hurt and the cruelty of the past. To accept the ongoing trauma of that. But it is also my friends, it is also my friends an occasion to celebrate and rejoice in those things that we have achieved together.

And very importantly it is an occasion for all of us to resolve to continue the process of reconciliation. As the Council so rightly said in its document, there are many paths to reconciliation, ultimately they reach the one destination. And each of us brings our own perspective to the process of reconciliation and the one requirement that we should bring to that is the sincerity of the view that we hold on how reconciliation might be achieved.

Reconciliation will mean different things to different people. There is a spiritual component to reconciliation just as there is a practical component to it. And you cannot achieve reconciliation without acknowledging as I do and the Government I lead does, the self-evident fact that the indigenous people of Australia are the most profoundly disadvantaged within our communities. And part of the process of reconciliation is to adopt practical measures to address that disadvantage.

I want to say in response to both Geoff Clarke and to Evelyn Scott that I have appreciated on a personal basis, and I know I speak for my ministerial colleagues, the integrity and commitment that both of them bring to their responsibilities within the indigenous community. The Government does remain firmly committed to the ongoing process of reconciliation. We may have differences as to how that may be achieved, we may have points of departure, but the common goal of achieving reconciliation is very sincerely held by all members of the Government. And it will be our desire and our wish to support and help and assist any ongoing reconciliation trust that emerges independent of government and is an expression of the desire of all of the Australian people to continue the process of reconciliation.

Evelyn Scott has quite correctly said that reconciliation is a people’s movement. And in the end how people feel in their hearts about reconciliation and relations between the different groups of the Australian people will determine the success or otherwise of reconciliation. I thank all of those associated with this remarkable event in the life of our nation, I compliment Evelyn and the members of the Reconciliation Council and I wish out of this weekend that all the participants will draw strength, will draw inspiration and will be renewed in their resolve to continue the process of reconciliation amongst all of the Australian people.

Thank you.

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