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ANU Reconciliation Week Lecture 2019: Chancellor's Introduction

Remarks to introduce 2019 Reconciliation Week Lecture, Australian National University, Canberra, 24 May 2019

As I said on this occasion last year, but it simply cannot be repeated enough, of all the many issues that are now preoccupying our country’s policymakers, and the leaders of our most important institutions, including the nation’s universities, I don’t think any is more important than completing the task of reconciliation with our Indigenous Australians – a journey which has begun, and one to which many people of great goodwill on all sides are committed, but which still has a very long way to go before any of us can regard it as completed.

At the national level we can be proud as a nation that we have done some of the big symbolic things:

  • PM Paul Keating’s Redfern address in 1992 acknowledging that it was we – non-Indigenous Australians – who did the dispossessing, committed the murders, practised the discrimination; that it ‘was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us’;
  • PM Kevin Rudd’s incredibly moving apology to the stolen generation in 2008: ‘for the pain, suffering and hurt …for the indignity and degradation [thus] inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry’;
  • We have seen off the indefensible notion that this land was terra nullius, and enacted native title legislation – the proudest moment of my own parliamentary career – which has made, and continues to make, it possible to reunite Indigenous Australians with their traditional lands.

But on so much else at the national policy level we continue to fail. We continue to fail to close the biggest socio-economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. And for all the huge nationwide effort that has gone into finding a way forward on the issue of constitutional recognition and governance reform, the Uluru Statement has –until now at least: hopefully things will change – fallen on profoundly deaf government ears, and consensus on meaningful constitutional change seems as far away as ever.

It is in this context, as well as putting our own internal institutional house in order, that we at the ANU – Australia’s national university – have a particularly crucial role to play. We were established immediately after WWII by an act of Federal Parliament to provide the nation with a centre for research and knowledge that would guide our national future. For more than 70 years, we have been leading the nation, and often the world, in public policy focused research on important international and domestic issues.

We have a responsibility to continue to search for the truth, uphold academic rigour and share our findings with the world. And it is an indispensable part of that responsibility – fully recognized in our current Strategic Plan – to lead research and public policy on social issues, including inequality and discrimination.

We want to be not just passive bystanders or commentators, but to lead the nation in reigniting the debate and designing policies which remove discrimination and forge an equal relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australian.

Of course we know that ANU cannot be a credible standard-bearer for national reconciliation unless our own reconciliation house is in order, and in that context – under the totally committed leadership of our Vice-Chancellor, and with immense support from across the campus – we have been trying very hard to make a difference. We are not yet where we want to be with the development and implementation of our Reconciliation Action Plan, but we are making steps in the right direction.

The University’s vision for reconciliation is to be a place that facilitates learning that respects cultures and diversity: a place where people come together to engage with their chosen discipline, contextualised by an understanding of our shared history. We want to see ANU become the destination of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander intellectual leaders to undertake research and to contribute to policy making. And we want to see ANU become the destination of choice for Indigenous Australians to pursue higher education.

It is now my great pleasure to introduce to you, to deliver our 2019 Reconciliation Week Lecture, an Indigenous Australian who embodies everything we are seeking to achieve in making the ANU the national home of Indigenous education, research and public policy development - Professor Tony Dreise, Professor of Indigenous Policy at ANU and the Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, who is going to talk to us on the subject ‘Who is Australia? Public Policy Imagination and National Identity: Past, Present and Emerging’.

He is a proud descendent of the Guumilaroi and Euahlayi First Nations people of north-west NSW and south-west Queensland, and is recognised as a leader in education policy, evaluation and research. Tony's long policy and research career has included time as a Principal Indigenous Research Fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, as well as roles with the Queensland Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council, the Australian Indigenous Training Advisory Council, and the NSW Department of Education and Training. He is also a former Senior Executive with the Queensland Government. Tony completed his PhD at ANU, at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, where he explored the relationship between Australian philanthropy and Indigenous education.

Please welcome, to give the 2019 Reconciliation Week lecture, Professor Tony Driese.