The Redfern Address 25 years on: Paul Keating’s landmark speech on Indigenous injustices

Sunday marked 25 years since Paul Keating's famous Redfern Speech.

Sunday marked 25 years since Paul Keating's famous Redfern Speech. Photo: Twitter/ Reconciliation Australia

Indigenous leaders believe Paul Keating’s famous Redfern Speech acknowledging the destruction of colonisation still has a worthy message, 25 years on.

The former prime minister made the landmark speech on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander injustices on December 10, 1992.

It was the first time an Australian political leader admitted the impact white settlement had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“It was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases and the alcohol,” the prime minister told the crowd gathered at Redfern Park.

“We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine that these things could be done to us.”

Aboriginal housing advocacy group AbSec said Mr Keating’s speech was even more relevant today.

“If anything, Keating’s words are even more powerful today because we’ve gone backwards in so many ways,” CEO Tim Ireland told The New Daily.

“Keating spoke about the Aboriginal children who were stolen from their families; but now, across the country, Aboriginal kids are 10 times more likely to be removed from home by statutory authorities than non-Aboriginal children.”

Mr Ireland said attempts to re-dress the wrongs needed to centre Indigenous voices.

“We’ve seen policy after policy enacted upon Aboriginal communities, rather than action being designed in genuine partnership with our peoples.

“I hope Australians use [Sunday’s] anniversary to reflect on the work that’s still to be done to achieve true justice. I hope we can move forward together, empowering Aboriginal communities to take the lead in addressing the continuing crisis in child removal rates, as well as other issues that affect our communities. We have ideas and expertise, but we need trust and resources.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people, advocacy group Change the Record says.

The gap in life expectancy remains at 10.6 years, and Indigenous outcomes continue to be worse across employment, education, child mortality and family violence rates, according to the Closing the Gap report.

In his speech, Mr Keating said the fight would not be over until there was equal outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“We cannot confidently say that we have succeeded, as we would like to have succeeded, if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the Indigenous people of Australia – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people,” he said.

In a joint statement, Labor’s Patrick Dodson, Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy said the anniversary of the Redfern Address was an opportunity to reflect.

“Today, Keating’s words remind us of our collective responsibility to work towards reconciliation in this country.

“The impacts of colonisation and dispossession are challenges which remain for Indigenous Australians.”

Australian Human Rights Commissioner June Oscar said she was disappointed Australia hadn’t followed through on Mr Keating’s speech.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner urged politicians to dedicate the same passion they put in same-sex marriage legislation to achieving equality for Indigenous Australians.

“We have seen courageous leadership from our politicians. We need to see that again,” Ms Oscar told AAP.

“We cannot afford to lose hope. We must continue.”

Mr Keating’s address came six months after the High Court’s Mabo decision on native title, which rejected the doctrine of terra nullius – that no-one owned the land of Australia when European settlers arrived.

His speech also followed a Royal Commission report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Bundjalung man Sol Bellear, an Aboriginal rights activist who hosted the Redfern Address and passed away last month, was remembered in a state funeral on Saturday.

-with AAP

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