This is brave rhetoric, risking a backlash from some elements of his own party, but a spokeswoman for Mr Wyatt admitted later that whatever he had in mind as a mechanism for truth-telling was “still evolving.”
Truth-telling about Indigenous Australians’ experience of colonisation is not a new idea, says Pat Turner, who heads the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).
“I think our people have been engaged in truth-telling in many different forums over many decades,” she said. “It’s a question of whether there is a willingness in the greater Australian population to come to terms with the history of Indigenous people since colonisation.”
Ms Turner, who along with Mr Wyatt is co-chair of the joint council on Closing the Gap, questioned the Minister’s seeming failure to commit to an Indigenous “Voice” of the kind envisaged in the landmark 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“People want more clarity on what the Minister means when he refers to hearing the ‘voices’ of individuals, families, communities and organisations. What does that mean? The Uluru statement was very clear on having a more formal voice at a national level”, she said.
The Uluru statement also called for a Makarrata Commission to “supervise” treaty-making and truth-telling. Last year’s joint parliamentary committee on constitutional recognition further endorsed the idea of truth-telling, with support from Canberra.
Some have looked to Canada’s long-running Truth and Reconciliation Commission (which was active from 2008 to 2018) as a model. Others cite the example set by the Royal Commission on Institutional responses to Child Sex Abuse.
But the joint select committee found that “a large number of stakeholders agreed that truth-telling is best implemented at local and regional levels” and that this was taking place in many areas.
As one example it cited the Sunshine Coast’s Reconciliation Group, which has been running “shared history” seminars using research undertaken with traditional owners.”
Richard Weston, who heads the Healing Foundation set up in the wake of Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations, says truth-telling helps to address “intergenerational trauma” inflicted on Indigenous families by the policies of that era.
“One of the impacts of that trauma is the growing number of [Indigenous] children in out of home care” he said, adding that on that key measures of health and wellbeing, the 17,000 survivors of the stolen generation and their children “do worse .. than other Aboriginal people and so do their kids”.
Labor’s spokeswoman for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said on Wednesday she was committed to working with Mr Wyatt but that “bipartisanship cannot be a race to the bottom”.
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.