2016 Garma Festival

Garma Festival

2016 August, 4

2016 Garma Festival

Poem addressed to Galarrwuy Yunupingu

We again come to Garma to honor this man, this one leader. Heeding his call and taking strength from his valor dedication and generous spirit. To his Yolngu people and our people the country over this light in the deep soul of old Australia. Kindling the fire and warming the heart in his life's great winter. His brother’s testimony to love, inspiration, and gift of leadership reminding my ears that honor from kin is hardest one but of greatest specie. When from loving lips gratitude’s testimony spills. When one still breathes vital life and love surrounds unfinished life. Oh, Ngathu Yapa, my old brother, tears can wait; for today we have business to attend.

Whilst the fire of your reptile self retains its great and awful power. 400 million years this changeling native survived this land and foolish mankind's passing well may outlast. For 53 thousand years the fusion of your moiety has endured and well may at last 53 more. There is the business of your life at hand and you have summoned us to renewal and never surrender. That cause to which you your life devoted with no unfound fear, with no foolish hope shades of despair but never surrender. And that abiding existential dread for the future. The thorn in your mind's eye troubling your sleep and commanding your waking hours. Whilst the rest sleep in nonchalant peace, mindless to the looming doom. It falls true leaders to face the abyss and chart our dreams to fear a future. I have from your example learned some things these decades past. Poor student of greatness. Rash soldier in common cause united. Poor wisdom in thrall of my mighty general. Let me not from your guiding star stray for we seek immortality in the mortal world.


Let me talk about what I think is the absolute foundation for our people to endure long on this earth. It starts with our children. This is a young girl from the community of Coen. She is four years old and she is reading to her principal on the iPhone of her curriculum coordinator. Please watch it.

Video link: https://youtu.be/yovPoMzfYPY

These are the thrills of my life when I receive text messages like this. She's four years old. She will be reading by the time she is in grade one. Every child that attends the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy in Hope Vale, Aurukun and Coen is on track to read by the time they're in year one. This is Direct Instruction. Much-maligned program, much-maligned academy, and children are on the way to power. No greater power to secure the future than to read. To read Kevin Gilbert, to read Galarrwuy Yunupingu, to read Karl Marx and Adam Smith. The power of reading. Yet I have gone through eight weeks of absolute bureaucratic and political bastardry that seeks to dispossess children like this from their future and not a word of outrage. Not a word of support that children like her, not brought up as my own in a house full of a thousand books, not brought up with privilege and advantage, not brought up in the English language, but she will read and she will gain a great power.

But our outrage is selective. Our outrage is selective. And the media have torn strips off us and they've torn me a new off. And all to no unity in relation to the future of our children.

If we don't soon grasp Warren, the importance of direct instruction and this ridiculous report of the Senate Committee on indigenous affairs rubbishing direct instruction though they saw these children in the flesh. Though they spoke to their parents in the flesh. That committee should hang its heads in shame. Warren from one side of the aisle and Warren from the other.

You want an immortal future for our children? We've got to read. We can't preserve our Indigenous languages and speak the Queen's English. I am a third generation bi-literate, bilingual, I read the Bible and I read my own language as my grandfather did. We are fully capable; we have a hundred and twenty years of that capability proven and yet in Queensland today that mongrel government is tearing down the opportunities for the children at Aurukun and not a word in indigenous Australia in support of that loss.

If we're serious about the future it can't just be about the end stage of our parlous condition. It cannot just be the kids in detention, and the kids in child protection, and the adults in jail, and the short lives, and the chronic disease. It is all that contributes to that situation. What do we have to do to stop our children from getting into protection systems? We have enormous funds of outrage available to us from the rest of the country in relation to the ultimate problems but no support for the solutions. In fact, the same people expressing outrage oppose things like that. It goes against their natural grain. It offends them. They have some kind of ideological objection to it. What? That a child should be able to read by the time they're five? And go on to be Marxist revolutionaries if they so choose? I don't care where they end up. I just want them to have the power, and yet our outrage is completely limited. It is selective in its choice.

Quite frankly, that misery hanging that has gone on behind the doors of detention centers has always been the case. How could it ever be anything other when 60% of our kids are the kids in juvenile detention in Queensland and more than 90 here in the Northern Territory. Of course, this misery has been going on for decades. And we have this enormous fund of sympathy in relation to the problems, but we oppose, we under this tent oppose the very policies that have the best chance of diverting the kids from alienation from their mother’s bosoms.

We've got to support the reconstruction of families and communities that are safe, communities that look after their children, and that are concerned about their future endurance. We are in a completely parlous mess because the white Australians that support us on the one hand oppose us in relation of the policies we need and the people who are indifferent to our fate, well perversely, sometimes they are in favor of the very things that make us strong. It's a completely twisted situation.

And the media - the progressive media, the ABC, the Guardian, the Fairfax Press - they could not be more calculated to our detriment. If they gave conscious thought to it. Every good thing gets torn down. Land rights and welfare reform: that's my policy. You think I like welfare? How dare you try to sell welfare to my people as if that's our fate in our own country. We have a greater fate than that. We have an entitlement to a greater share and a fairer place. We have hit the rock bottom of this debate. Absolute rock bottom because we're now conjuring up mysterious forces as if hungry children don't have irresponsible adults around them. A hungry child is not hungry because of some alien presence. She is hungry because some adult has failed in their responsibility to furnish her with the food with the money that she's given from the shop that's there. We are good at finding ephemeral causes to our misery when in plain sight, we have to take charge of our families, we have to take responsibility for our children just like Kevin Gilbert said: because the white man will never do it. It’s the name of his book: because a white man will never do it unless we do it. Who's going to feed our children other than ourselves? Who's going to ensure their safety?

And we've got a hold government to its account for the things that it needs to do but don't think they're going to save us. Don't for a minute think that these bureaucrats and their programs are going to save us.

We think our parlous condition is completely the consequence of their failure. We've got to look to ourselves and we're going to hold the government to account.

We have reached a complete dead end. I have no belief that the directions being prosecuted by governments all over Australia is going to resolve those incredible statistics, increasing numbers of children in protection. The number is going north in Queensland and it's going north in New South Wales. Quite frankly to our supporters who can't get their heads out from old thinking: your presence is a great stumbling block to us. You've got to get out of the way. If you cling to the old ideas and I've been talking about welfare for three decades. Come on, and you'd be talking about it if it was your kids as well.

Let me briefly now take you through how we might pull together the real business of self-determination and I don't believe self-determination is about us being in a position to kick the government for its failings. If there are failings it will be as much to our account as anybody's. We are letting governments take away the educational chances of that girl. We are the ones doing that because quite frankly we don't care. We don't really care about the details that are involved in a child acquiring the magical ability. What she's doing, she's not looking at the pictures, she has got phonemic awareness and she has had to be taught that explicitly because that is a foreign language to her. If I told you that the word for groper in Guugu Yimithirr is nhinhinhi. I would have to explicitly teach you that, it's foreign to you. Nhinhinhi: groper. And that Aboriginal girl once you explicitly teach her phonemic awareness, then she knows how to decode. And then comprehension will come down the track. And then she will have the power.

For me constitutional reform is about fixing the aboriginal predicament. It is about nothing less than fixing the aboriginal problem and if we have the gumption, we might be able to do it but as likely as not we probably shoot the horse in the middle of the desert and then see if we can survive the walk back home. Our challenge is to build an enabling institutional framework to solve Australia's so-called long-standing Aboriginal problem. Nothing less than this.

And my preliminary point is that constitutional amendment is just a tip of the pyramid. The solution has got to cascade down the pyramid through legislation, agreements, and policies and programs.

One of the great drivers of our predicament is that we are one of perhaps 5,000 or 7,000 distinct peoples on the globe. Anthropologists debate about how many distinct peoples are on the planet. Between five and ten thousandth distinct peoples. But there's only 200 nations. The challenge for the world is how do 7,000 people fit inside only 200 nations, and the question for us is: do we really think that further fragmentation of the nation states or do we need to insist that there are no distinct people and we should all be one nation? Or can we reconcile coexistence of these distinct peoples within the nation state?

That is the challenge, and of course, articulating Australia and the simple idea that we consist of three parts; our indigenous heritage our British institutions and our multicultural triumph? The three parts of Australia.

And can we put those three parts together? You know in the Cape York Institute we try to marry up liberal development with our cultural determination. We think we can have the best of both worlds. We think actually we need both socio-economic strength and cultural determination. Strong cultural determination married up it up with strong economic strength. That is the basis of our survival. But at the moment we're on a trajectory of slowly becoming culturally pauperised because we're not economically strong and notwithstanding our determination we will continue to be pauperised on the road to pauperisation as long as we fail to be economically strong. We don't want assimilation, but the important part is to ensure that we're economically strong and we maintain our culture.

We talked about the Adam Smith Road at the Cape York Institute and the Johann Herder Road. We attach to both in equal measure. And of course, self-determination, our relationship with government. The big elephant of government is winding the clock back on our educational reforms in Cape York. And our struggle as the three-percent mouse against that big ugly clumsy institution of the government. This is the first time I admit defeat. This is the first time that we have been outmaneuvered. We have suffered a massive setback in our plans in Cape York. All at the hands of a bastard government.

We need the equilibrium. We need the fulcrum between us and the government to create a level playing field so that the 3% mouse can deal with the 97% elephant on a basis of dignity and equality of bargaining. And part of the cascade is agreement making. And of course, flowing from that policies and programmes. And the way I think about reconciliation is that at some moment in time we enter into a solemn undertaking. We have an ongoing process and relationship all designed to an end destination of closing the gap on the disparity our people suffer. Three parts; this is a journey. But it's got to start with a clear understanding between us; a settlement. And we need the institutional mechanisms to continue to iteratively close the gap until we reach our goal that the original peoples of the country have a fair place and a fair share of their own country.

And of course, we have to think about the politics of all of this. And it can't just be a 51% strategy where we have a government in power that's willing to back us and fight for something. This is a different challenge. This is a very different political challenge from the traditional ‘can we have the government in power do something good for us and get 51% over the line’. We have got to get 90% of the country on board and we're going to go from right to left. We're going to go to the furthest right of Australian politics and stick a flag in the ground, because if we want constitutional change that's what's involved. Majority of voters in a majority of the states. The challenge is: we have to start from about here and work backwards. Anybody can go left to right. But can we find common ground from the right to make sure we get 90% of the country?

In the history of constitutional reform only eight referendums approved, and once in 1977 62% of the country voted in favor and the referendum was still lost. Still lost because you need a majority of voters in the majority of the states. The window of constitutional opportunity - you've got to try and land the thing somewhere in there. Too ambitious, too unambitious, too much left, too much right. There's a sweet window that you've got to maneuver the proposal through if Australia's Constitution is to be changed. And you need to have an ambition of getting 90% of the country on board. Recognition is a package cascading down from the Constitution to legislation to agreements and programmes.

The idea of a constitutional body has been proposed by some conservatives. They propose a chapter in the Constitution. This is after my argument with them about: ‘well if you're opposed to the propositions that have been put forward in the public debate what would you propose in return? You can't be serious that indigenous people should have no accommodation in Australia's Constitution’. And after that argument constitutional conservatives proposed that there be a provision in the Constitution to enable the First Nations of Australia to advise parliament in relation to laws and policies affecting our people. An Assembly of First Nations. And setting up the institutional and agreement making apparatus to enable First Nations to enter into agreements with governments. This would be predicated on legislation establishing such an Assembly of First Nations. The challenge is we had the Tent Embassy in 1972, we now need the new embassy. We're going to turn the tent to concrete in Canberra so that the First Nations have a voice in Australian national political affairs on behalf of the original peoples. Legislation establishing a commission to supervise agreement making between governments and First Nations. And Makarrata legislation setting out a declaration and principles to guide that agreement making.

There's a series of indigenous conferences planned for various compass points across the country over the next six to nine months and we will discuss these ideas. We will discuss these ideas. It is not just about the technical words of the tip of the pyramid. We have to talk about the whole cascade. Legislation, agreements, policies and programmes. And for us the metaphors that we've been discussing at meetings to date have contrasted two ideas. One of the ideas is that we put a plaque at the top of the pyramid. Some kind of acknowledgement of the original occupation and possession of the country by the indigenous peoples. Well, that is what I call minimal recognition. It would be unacceptable to put a plaque in the Constitution alone. We've got to put a hook off which we can hang a settlement, a national settlement, between us and Australian Governments. So we need a more substantial reform to the Constitution than merely putting a symbolic plaque at the apex of Australia. We've got to put a substantial hook off which we can hang the framework of a national settlement.

My final points: we're recognising the first nations of Australia. In answer to the question what are we recognising? That is my answer: we're recognising the first nations of Australia. We're not recognising that I happen to be a descendant of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, that is not the primary basis of recognition in my view. What is being recognised is the Guugu Yimithirr people and the Kuku Yalandji people of which we are members. That is what we are recognising. The First Nations of Australia.

Secondly, we need to synthesize the treaty and constitutional reform concepts. We need to synthesize treaty and constitutional reform. If we think that somehow, they are separate agendas, this whole agenda will fail. They are complementary agendas and we have to synthesize in the process going forward those two concepts. And my synthesis is simply that constitutional reform provides the hook that enables agreements to be made. And for a Makarrata national settlement to be made, we need to put the hook in the constitution to enable the Makarrata.

Four: we should think in terms of a package, a roadmap and a cascade of reforms. It can't just all happen in the constitution. We put the hook in the Constitution, but all of the other measures cascade out of there. And it will take time for us to roll that out. It may be five or ten years of work once we get the hook into the Constitution. There'll probably be a five or 10-year agenda to build off that framework and for the cascade to be articulated.

And finally, we need to think in terms of pincers left and right. I hunt on the right. There are not many volunteers for hunting on the right. Everybody likes to go and talk to our converted brethren on the left. We need more hunters on the right. We need people at seven o'clock, five o'clock, we need people at eight o'clock and four o'clock. We need people at nine o'clock and three o'clock and of course we need people dead center too, at mid-day. But if we don't pursue a deliberate strategy as unified indigenous Australia in gathering up the country to bring them to a destination which is not just good for us but will be good for them.

This is the thing that the country needs. This parlous situation in which we're in at the moment where we really don't believe the next announcement. We really don't believe that the next set of policies are going to get us there. Who believes it? That's how parlous the situation is. We don't even believe. For us to get out of that mindset and start to chart a course towards the future we believe in and the concept of the settlement that's been proposed by the Yunupingu brothers at Garma 2016 utilising the Yolngu concept of Makarrata, I think can provide the means and the framework for us to really believe that if we put the work in and we show the unity and we have the right pincer and we have the left pincer; we might get there.

Thank you.