Archived News Item

What have the last 40 years delivered Indigenous Australians?

Joint media statement issued on behalf of the Sisters of St Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy




Embargoed until 1:00 am Sunday May 27, 2007


Three thousand Catholic nuns across Australia question how it is that so many Indigenous Australians miss out on the benefits of citizenship, enjoyed by many other Australians.  


Forty years ago this week almost 91 per cent of the Australian electorate voted yes to referendum questions which brought about changes to the Australian constitution. The changes meant, in effect, that for the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were acknowledged in the constitution as full citizens of Australia.


Australian citizenship represents our shared values of democracy, equality under the law and equal opportunity for all.


To mark the 40th anniversary of the Referendum the Sisters of St Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy have joined together in their bid to highlight the inequity that still exists between many Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.


Australians might enjoy technical equality, but it takes more than changes to the Constitution to guarantee that the benefits of citizenship will be enjoyed by all.


Citizenship recognises the equal civic worth of every citizen. Democratic values require that every citizen has equal opportunity to participate in these rights and responsibilities. Citizenship does more than just define rights and responsibilities, it helps define the nation.


We have an excellent opportunity this week to reflect on what has happened since the day when the Australian people directed their Commonwealth government to engage in Indigenous affairs.


But successive governments have failed to address gross Indigenous disadvantage. They have failed to protect the rights of Indigenous people and current policies offer little promise for the future. 


Australian citizens have a right to education, health, housing and utilities such as water, sewerage and power.  They also have a right to equal treatment before the law.  These rights do not apply equally to Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.


Unless all Australians enjoy and exercise all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, then citizenship itself, and the nation, lose credibility.


Significant political will from all levels of government is necessary to establish, in consultation with Indigenous People, ongoing and fully funded programs to address, in meaningful ways, Indigenous disadvantage.


We call on the governments of Australia and all people of good will to work with Indigenous Australians and to use every means available to them to ensure that every Australian has, by right, a standard of living commensurate with citizenship in a developed country.


Sister Katrina Brill

Congregational Leadership, Sisters of St Joseph


Sister Karon Donnellon

Leadership Team, Institute of the Sisters of Mercy