Australia is in the midst of a potentially history-making opportunity as it considers recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution, according to Mick Gooda.
Gooda, who is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, made the claim as he launched the first of his Social Justice and Native Title Reports in Sydney on Friday (11 February).
In the initial report, he devotes a chapter to discussion around the possibility of constitutional change.
"The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples provides us with the rare opportunity for nation-building when we, the Australian people, direct the transformation of the nation and its identity," he said.
"Building a nation based on respect for the dignity and humanity of the first peoples of this land is something to which all Australians should strive."
The 2010 Social Justice Report expands on the priorities for his term and also highlights the steps taken by communities of the Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia to address the problems they face, including alcohol abuse, and outlines how this community took action of its own accord.
"Building positive relationships based on trust and mutual respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community is critical to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage," Gooda said.
"From meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia over the last year I have determined that the best focus for my term as Commissioner must be underpinned by the unshakeable and personal commitments of addressing disadvantage still faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and working to achieve a truly reconciled Australia."
The Social Justice Report also makes the case for full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and focuses on the need for stronger and deeper relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community; between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments; and within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities themselves.
"It is quite simple. Governments will be more effective if they develop service delivery models in collaboration with local communities," Gooda said.
The 2010 Native Title Report outlines the practical steps needed to engage in meaningful and effective consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and provides guidance to governments wanting to deliver sustainable and beneficial outcomes for traditional owners.
"Creating a just and fair native title system through law and policy reform requires effective engagement between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," said Gooda.
"There remains an urgent need for governments to improve their engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In relation to native title, this means we've also got to start getting agreement-making in the native title system right."