Garma festival:Abbott rejects aboriginal constitution recognition

August 3, 2015

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has sparked anger among Aboriginal leaders after rejecting proposals for indigenous conventions ahead of a referendum on Constitutional recognition.This is shocking to me because on September 7th 2013 I celebrated the election of Tony Abbot after he made serious commitments to the aboriginal community during his campaign.Abbot has been severely criticized for his refusal to back Indigenous-led consultations on Aboriginal recognition in the constitution.According to well known Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, Abbot refusal was a setback and likened it the near-catastrophic Apollo 13 moon mission in the 1970s. “If there is consensus around anything I’ve heard this weekend, and I’ve heard in the lead-up to Garma here, is that nobody, there’s no substantial constituency in Indigenous Australia for just some kind of preambular embroidery,” Mr Pearson said.He said conventions “in all corners of Indigenous Australia” were needed to give momentum and direction to the process leading to a recognition referendum.Conventions would be a “crucial part of keeping the recognition referendum alive”, he said.Mr Pearson said Mr Abbott suggested an alternative, but said it was “not in the manner that we proposed” of town hall style meetings to discuss recognition.”God knows what they will be discussing,” he said.

Tony Abbott visited in 2013 when he was Opposition leader and famously pledged to become the prime minister for Indigenous affairs.Mr Pearson said Aboriginal Australians risked being sidelined from the recognition process and he believed the PM harboured a reservation about the idea Aboriginal Australians could reach a consensus position.“The question that is unanswered in his letter, how do we go to town hall style meetings without some clarity about where Indigenous Australia stands in relations to the propositions that have been aired over the last three years,” Mr Pearson said.”Burdened with a history of assumption that our mob can never unite and will never unite… as a result, I think the PM harbours a reservation about the idea we could go through a set of conferences and come up with something that is hard-headed, politically realistic, but also faithful to the history of Indigenous advocacy of recognition that is at least a century old.”Mr Pearson was addressing other Indigenous leaders and policy makers at the Garma Festival in Northeast Arnhem Land,one of Aussie’s premier forums on Indigenous affairs.This year the festival is being held from July 31 to August 3 and has attracted more than 2,500 attendants according to event official website.The costs are $1,000 for four days, including food and accommodation.This year event has attracted more women in their 30s and 40s from Sydney and Melbourne, according to organizers than any other group.This year the tickets sold out two weeks before the start of the festival.

The proposed roadmap for a referendum on recognizing Aboriginal Australians in the constitution has received the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten support, which involves a series of conventions that would allow Indigenous people to develop a consensus position on constitutional change.Aboriginal leaders at the Garma festival also said living on their ancestral homelands is what energizes them and keeps their culture alive.They have been discussing the oppressive policies that still cause aboriginal people pain and make them feel like ‘aliens on their own land’.Former federal Indigenous Affairs minister Fred Chaney said that First Australians are anxious about their very existence, adding that the wider Australian population often finds assimilation an easier option than reconciliation.Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, pushed for a renewed national effort to tackle Indigenous discrimination. Mr Gooda is quoted as saying Australia needs to think about the issue of racism and accept that it is a problem. On Saturday, Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Melbourne.Dr Yunupingu is the chairman of the Yothu Yindi Foundation that organizes the festival.Professor Margaret Sheil, from the University of Melbourne is quoted as saying the Honorary Doctor of Laws award to Dr Yunupingu was to recognize and celebrate the significance of his work for Indigenous rights.”

The Honorary Doctor of Laws is the University’s highest academic honour,” she said in a statement.”Dr Yunupingu’s relentless struggle for land rights and advocacy for the agency of his people have profoundly advanced the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia. Although recognized as the Aussie’s premier forum for discussion of Indigenous affairs, the annual Garma Festival remains largely unknown to the general public but for those of us who’ve aboriginal ancestry can’t afford not to follow up the events irrespective of how many thousands of miles we are.It is held in remote Arnhem Land, on an escarpment about 40KM from the Gove airport and roughly 1,000km from Darwin home of Aussie’s music sensation Jessica Mauboy and it is growing in size and consequence. Jessica Mauboy future looks brighter and has opened a new chapter in aboriginal mainstream entertainment chapter.The first festival was in 1998 and consisted of a “bush barbecue”, according to organizers, but this year’s is more like the “World Economic Forum in Davos”. Aside from the political discussions, Garma celebrates the culture of the area’s traditional owners, the Yolngu people, and is popular with people from Sydney and Melbourne.For many non-Indigenous people attending, Garma is an introduction to Indigenous Australia.Many of the speakers this year are not Yolngu.They’ve included likes of Indigenous leaders Noel Pearson and Pat Dodson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda, Senator Nova Peris, MP Warren Snowdon, and Attorney-General George Brandis.For more about 2015 Garma festival visit official website page.

Contador Harrison