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UN International Day of Peace 2012: Stronger Futures for Australia’s Indigenous People

The UN theme, “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future”, emphasises that everyone is responsible for achieving environmental sustainability and social justice.

At 8am on Friday 21st September, 2012 the Sydney Peace Foundation, with the United Nations Information Centre, hosted a unique Breakfast Forum at Sydney’s Customs House to discuss the ideals of a common good and how to achieve them, focusing on the critical topic of “Stronger Futures for Australia’s Indigenous People”.

UN International Day of Peace 2012: Sydney Peace Foundation Breakfast Forum from Sydney Peace Foundation on Vimeo.

You can also read Mr Tukaki’s speech which made a compelling case for the increased role of big business in ensuring and promoting universal access to our inalienable human rights. To download the PDF click here


8:10am Welcome and UN Secretary General’s message: Christopher Woodthorpe, Director of the United Nations Information Centre for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

8:15am Opening Address: Matthew Tukaki, Australian representative UN Global Compact, current CEO of Sustain Group and former Head of Drake Australia, speaking on ‘Business Needs Human Rights, Human Rights Needs Business’.

8:35am Panel Discussion: Chaired by Kuranda Seyit, Councillor, Sydney Peace Foundation, on ‘Stronger Futures for Australia’s Indigenous People’:

(a) Contribution from Arts & the Media:

Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, Director Museum of Contemporary Art
Karla Grant, Founder and Presenter of SBS TV’s ‘Living Black’

(b) Social Justice Priorities for Indigenous People:

Jeff McMullen AM, veteran Australian journalist and long time campaigner for Indigenous rights
Jack Manning Bancroft, CEO Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)

9:15-9:55am Q & A from the audience and informal discussion
9:55am Thanks and close: Dr. Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, Director, Sydney Peace Foundation

To view a photo album click here. Photos taken by Melissa McCullough.


“There can be no sustainable future without a sustainable peace.”[1]

Stuart Rees opened with recognition of traditional owners of the land where we stand, and introduced the speakers.


Before reading the Secretary General’s message, Christopher Woodthorpe reflected on the suffering in the world, and the great need for culture of peace. From the riots in Syria and across the world, he said, “there is no justification for the violence and killing going on around the world.” While all have a fundamental right to freedom of expression, there is also a responsibility not to feed the anger. There is a need for calm responses from a place of reason. The economic crisis has spurred xenophobia, human rights abuse, violence against women, human trafficking, and still trillions are spent on war rather than farming. He pointed to the projection showing slides from the UN Global Children Art for Peace Project. Access to justice is a very real issue in both industrialised and non-industrialised countries, particularly for indigenous peoples. If there were such a thing as a one-word answer to culture of peace, that word would be education.

Christopher shared the Secretary General’s message:

“United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon’s message for the International Day of Peace, on the 21st September, 2012. It is in the context of this year Rio+20 Conference that “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future” is the theme chosen for this year’s observance of the International day of Peace. There can be no sustainable future without a sustainable peace. Sustainable peace must be built on sustainable development. The root causes of many conflicts are directly related to or fuelled by valuable natural resources, such as diamonds, gold, oil, timber or water. Addressing the ownership, control and management of natural resources is crucial to maintaining security and restoring the economy in post-conflict countries. Good natural resource management can play a central role in building sustainable peace in post-conflict societies. The International Day of Peace offers people globally a shared date to think about how, individually, they can contribute to ensuring that natural resources are managed in a sustainable manner, thus reducing potential for disputes, and paving the road to a sustainable future, the “Future We Want”.”[2]

Stuart introduced Matthew Tukaki and the topic of “Business needs human rights and human rights needs business.”


Matthew Tukaki started with recognition of landand mentioned the “Story of Barangaroo”, noting it is worth Googling if you don’t yet know the story. He thanked Aron Wakil for coming to the forum, and noted the work in Sierra Leone before him. He acknowledged the presence of David Folkes and Peter Kelly – on board of the Global Compact.

Matthew spoke of peace as one of humanity’s most precious needs. He described what the UN Global Compact does: embracing, supporting and enacting human rights and environmental practices; encouraging the role of business in a world that is increasingly fragile; connecting over 8500 signatories from all over the world. The Global Compact is the largest of the Corporate Citizenship Initiatives, taking a stand for human rights, anticorruption, labour, among many other social and environmental issues.

Dealing with poverty requires dealing with the economy. Environment and social justice require not subservience but independence. We cannot achieve lasting peace unless deal with fundamental issues at the core of conflicts around the world. Matthew described Rio+20 earlier this year as a success, bringing together the social, environmental and economic, stressing the need for commitment and action from citizens in all areas of society. Business has a key role play in addressing all the big issues. Business needs to make a case for a social license to operate. Governments, customers, shareholders, employees and business executives – all want this to happen. It is about developing a partnership of equity and equality, which would be a win for both business and society. Sustainable peace must be built on sustainable development. Business must be a leader in human rights – from supply chains to employees at home. Business must respect the environment, and fight against corruption in all forms. In executing our social license to operate one must be not separate to profit, but subservient to our profit. “World peace is an inside job.”

Matthew acknowledged a number of companies and projects empowering women, for example through micro-finance, and working toward other social, economic and environmental goals. He said he don’t want to be known as a “usual suspect”. Today is a starting day; striving toward a common purpose and a common narrative. By increasing dialogue, financial literacy and education in all areas, he shared the vision of an Australia with Indigenous person as Prime Minister or Governor General. For this to happen there is a need for aspirations, investment and coordination of the sector. Working to addressing the causes of the issues and looking to prevent violence rather than just resolve it. “Business executives like me can and do make a difference.”

Matthew closed with a Māori proverb (or whakataukī), “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!” that is,  “What is the most important thing in the world? It is people. It is people. It is the people.” We are all partners in that respect; no matter colour or language. When we see that all people are important, we can start to work toward sustainable peace.

Stuart thanked Matthew and noted he is an “unusual suspect”, conducting a “first rate inside job for peace.” Stuart introduced Kuranda to Chair the panel.


Kuranda Seyit invited the panellists to the stage, and noted the importance on increasing the life chances and life expectancy of Indigenous people. Kuranda shared the voice of Amelia from Alice Springs: “the card controls what you spend and how you spend it; transactions take longer; I feel frustrated and really ashamed. I hear people muttering under their breath. By the time I turn 30 I will have lived under 15 years of intervention… No doubt that a future government will have to make an apology for the intervention.”


Kuranda introduced the first topic for the panel: “Arts and the Media and Stronger Futures.”


Elizabeth Ann McGregor opened by reflecting on her surprise on how many cultures are in Sydney, and her shock to learn about the conditions Indigenous people are living. Education and mutual understanding are essential in developing positive relationships. Investment in education is integral in building the future of all Australians. Art is a particular type of education that cannot be found anywhere else. When someone explores and experiences art, they escape the categories that dominate our lives. It opens a space to expand our minds. It is a glimpse of something outside of the familiar. Art helps us celebrate difference while connecting ties, it points out the dominance of certain narratives at the cost of others. We must recognise the wisdom of Indigenous Australia, the narratives that have been supressed. We have much to learn from them. MCA builds connections; learning from the communities from Darwin to Redfern. It is from them we gain a vision of how sustainable and economic futures might be.

Dynamic education programs in art are a powerful way to transform lives. For example the Geraldy program. “Geraldy” means “to grow” in Sydney Indigenous language. Art is one way to build role models and a hope and possibility of a different kind of future. The linear approach doesn’t work. Artists ask questions that others don’t think of. Art encourages multilayered interpretation. Such an approach is important given the complexity of our relationship to history. There is a need to break open our conceptions and misconceptions about who we are today. We must reflect on land, listen and respond to the needs of aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders rather than taking a one-way path. We need to explore those complex histories.

Elizabeth said she was proud of the work being produced by Indigenous artists in all media, and also proud to be associated with museum that displays the work they do. The lives of Australians can be enriched by this art and help us work together to come up with new solutions.


Carla Grant acknowledged the traditional landowners; and all the Indigenous nations in the Sydney region. Carla reflected on her 17 years at SBS, working up the ranks indigenous news and current affairs to become the Executive Producer of the Walkley Award-winning program ICAM, SBS’s first Indigenous current affairs show, and Living Black [every Sunday 4:30pm SBS1]. NITV has recently joined the SBS family; and she is proud to be a part of this move. SBS puts much effort into heightening awareness of Indigenous people.

Carla recapped her beginnings in Adelaide, SA, where she saw first hand how family and friends had been treated by authorities and the stereotypical portrayal on media. She saw how this shaped people’s perceptions, and she wanted to change the attitudes and share the plight of her people.

She studied, worked in community radio, then had a break in a private company; and was involved in a national “Aboriginal Australia” program that allowed her to travel around Australia. She saw how Indigenous people might advance their own communities, and she saw the power of media and how it shapes views. Through Living Black – education and create a better understanding. She has witnessed the improvement of relationships between black and white in Australia, and reports on stories of such achievements. Simultaneously debt and custody, juvenile injustice, unemployment, intervention, incarceration—are real issues facing indigenous people in this country. We have a responsibility to put these issues on the national agenda, so that politicians can be accountable and take action on those issues with Indigenous people to create positive change. There is a need to draw out the contemporary issues of concern to Indigenous people, to highlight those issues and their plight.

There is a need for white and black Australians to have equal seats at the table, for Aboriginal children to have the same opportunities as white Australian children, for meaningful employment, for housing that is not short of 3rd world conditions. Indigenous Australians have a basic human right to live the life they want to live—on their homeland if they want, with access to drinking water, food, and basic services of other Australians. The media have a leading role to play in the futures of Indigenous Australians: to put the issues on agenda, provide a platform and voice that they don’t otherwise have.


Kuranda paused for a quick question: Why do you think other stations/programs focus on these issues?

Carla: I think because indigenous stories don’t rate. Not particularly happy stories; commercial stations often don’t want to cover it.

Kuranda introduced the second topic for the panel: “Social Justice Priorities for Indigenous People.”


Jeff McMullen honoured all those who working toward remedying the assault on the rights of the rightful owners of the land we are on. He described a continuing delusion and denial that runs through the history of black and white Australia. The government is in retreat from the rights of the owners of the land, living in a constant state of guilt and weakness, incapable of listening to those who know the ways forward. There is a lack of will for changing the constitution—to address its racist and discriminatory elements. Such a change is about commonplace common sense recognition, yet many ignore it. We have witnessed the obliteration of a culture and their land. We are still delusional. The federal, state and local governments continue on with horrific policies regarding Indigenous issues today. The constitution inflicts discrimination—official discrimination, on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

In moving along a journey toward sustainable peace and justice, we have to acknowledge government is enforcing official discrimination. There is a great lack in public awareness and will to move forward on the constitution. There isn’t even the will to recognise the racism that endures today. We must begin by listening and understanding the indigenous expression. Indigenous voices say: “I don’t want you to talk about solidarity on a day like this… I want you to feel the pain and then take action to change the system that is oppressing the aboriginal people.” These are deep seeded conflicts, standing in the way of the unity of purpose necessary to move towards peace. It is a sad history but there is enormous reason to be hopeful. The resilience of aboriginal people defy two centuries of believe that they would just go away, die off or be assimilated. This is part of the delusion and denial. Aboriginals and Torres Straight Islanders are not going anywhere.

There is a common ground in our humanity: we are human—whatever religion, race, language as Matthew Tukaki said earlier. This common ground transcends more generations of the human story than we really know, far longer than anywhere else on earth. One can watch the movie Saffires and learn more from any government initiative. In a celebration of humanity people think: “yes we can go forward.” But you can see why aboriginal people shake their heads. On one hand we keep apologising, yet we do it over and over again. There is a multiple personality disorder at the core of Australian attitude to Indigenous people. On one hand we support indigenous language, on the other we drive them away from it and force English onto them as part of assimilation. We support the declaration on the UN Rights of Indigenous People; but we don’t implement it. We trample Indigenous people by carrying out on the assault on the dignity of the people. The “NT Emergency Response” will now following another 10 years—branding those people as different and not entitled to the same rights. This disempowers them. It’s the schitzoid of Australia. We need to address this or else there’s no chance of peace. Understanding the custodianship is necessary to bring all together into a unity of purpose. We need to learn what it is to live in an aboriginal country. Whether it is through the empowerment of Indigenous people in business, education, media, art; it is their right to express in their cultural way what it means to be here. This also shows us the way to sustainable peace.

Begin by asking federal politicians and those who are part of the change process not to abandon or delay or to come up with tokenistic words. They need to look at what is happening today and address it. The deep discrimination that remains and is continuing in NT today must be addressed. By listening to all Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders we will begin to see a way to peace.


Jack Manning Bancroft provided an optimistic insight into his work with the next generation; giving great hope at what we can do. The positives already on the ground. Eight/nine years ago he started the mentoring program AIME, linking first year university students with year 9 Indigenous high school students. The learning is two-way: providing a vision for the year nine students, and providing a memorable experience for the university students who are likely to go to become the future decision makers, business, media and government people. When he started the 8-week program, he was conscious not for it to turn into another smiley face program— but university students to walk away knowing it has changed these kids lives. AIME currently has 1000 university students providing mentoring to 1000 high school kids, putting in 17-hours of time during their university degree. AIME provides a vision for Indigenous children to see how they can “play in both worlds.” With an Indigenous mother and non-Indigenous father, Jack is an example of this vision.

Jack described the process like baking a cake—from age 5 mixing the ingredients, begins to take shape between 12 and 18, which by 25 you’ll struggle to change, unless you break it. He stressed the importance of formative years in at how people view the world. AIME shows that to be Indigenous means to be successful. It doesn’t mean to be a criminal, or any of the stereotypes they see being branded. He said it’s amazing to see the lights flick on in the child’s mind. The rate of year 9 transition to university is one indication of the effectiveness of the program. While 30% of non-indigenous in year 9 go to university, in the past only 3% of Indigenous kids made it through. Now 24% of Indigenous children who have participated in the mentoring program go through to university. AIME provides the framework to be good. They set a vision of the right ideas and right expectations, and then get out the way and let them step up themselves.

Consider the ripple effect when thousands of university students, connect with thousands of young persons. These are the future decision makers, feeling a stronger connection and sense of identity that integrates with Torres Straight Islanderss and Australian Indigenous people.

AIME is going to take the model of university students and apply in High Schools – with children year 12 mentoring Indigenous students in year 6. In Western Sydney there are 45,000 Indigenous people, and here a gap in standards of living makes no sense. These are genuinely talented, gifted children, who have a right to choose their future. Media is usually 5-10 years behind the story. The bar is raising for high expectations for Indigenous people. Jack is excited and happy to be part of this change in Australia.

Key points recorded by Juliet Bennett.

[1] Secretary General’s message on the United Nations International Day of Peace 2012.

[2] Taken off the UN website rather than from the notes I took at the time. See: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/international-day-of-peace-2012-secretary-general-message/1847403155001#full-text