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Motion: Truth-Telling

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:13): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for three tenets: Voice, Treaty and Truth;

2. Recognises the importance of truth-telling and the injustices still faced by First Nations people due to unnecessary difficulties in accessing their family histories due to restricted archives; and

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to commit to truth-telling by ensuring access to Aboriginal archives.

This motion notes that this council acknowledges that the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for three tenets: Voice, Treaty and Truth. It also recognises the importance of truth-telling and that the injustices that are still faced by First Nations people due to restricted archives prohibits the full expression of truth. It calls on the Malinauskas government to commit to truth-telling by ensuring that we ensure access to Aboriginal archives kept in various forms by or for this state.

From 27 May to 3 June, as many members would be aware, we celebrated National Reconciliation Week with the theme: Be a Voice for Generations. Reconciliation Week is about visibility, it is about respect, and it is also about how we progress from here as a state and as a nation.

We know that there has been a lot of discussion on the Voice as of late, given our nation-leading reform in South Australia and, of course, the upcoming federal referendum. These conversations and these reforms were all based on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. A call from some 250 First Nations delegates and leaders, the Uluru Statement was a document that implored Australian leaders and Australian people for representation and respect of First Nations Australians.

The Uluru Statement offers a new path, built on continuing cultures, activism, survival, resistance and countless failed policies and interventions. The Uluru Statement is a self-determining document that sets the practical and meaningful groundwork of how to implement, protect and enforce that self-determination through the three key pillars: Voice, Treaty and Truth.

During the dialogues that led to the drafting of the Uluru Statement, each region sought to speak first about their history and its place in our nation's story before they wanted to speak about the constitution. Many made the point that you cannot recognise that which you do not know. There was a desire in each community for there to be more emphasis on truth-telling.

The need for people to know more about Australian and Aboriginal history was repeatedly raised in these dialogues, and across Australia the idea of history and truth-telling emerged as a very strong theme. Torres Strait regional dialogue was quoted as:

Cook did not discover us, because we saw him. We would tell each other with smoke, yet in his diary, he said 'discovered'.

Darwin regional dialogue is recorded as saying:

Australia must acknowledge its history, its true history. Not Captain Cook. What happened all across Australia: the massacres and the wars. If that were taught in schools, we might have one nation where we are all together.

Now is an opportunity for the First Nations to tell the truth about history in our own voices and from our own point of view.

And for mainstream Australians to hear those voices and to reconsider what they know and understand about their nation's history. This will be challenging, but the truth about invasion needs to be told.

We have the opportunity in South Australia to improve the way we listen, the way we acknowledge our nation's true history—a dark history. Libraries and archives around Australia hold many pieces of First Nations documentary heritage. Over the past two decades, the library and information fields have acknowledged the importance of collections for First Nations people and their communities.

Collections held within various state and national libraries and archives hold significant information relating to the history of First Nations Australians by a range of authors, from explorers to missionaries, surveyors to government officials, and private individuals, as well as religious organisations. The collections are vast and, quote:

…documentation of traditional cultural knowledge occurred historically through missionary and anthropological activity.

As a consequence, a significant amount of Indigenous knowledge is stored in collections right across the country. Since the 1990s, Australian libraries and archives have gradually promoted their collections and increased access for First Nations people to their cultural heritage and knowledge.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home Report emphasised the significance of providing access to collections for people adversely affected by these government policies. Access to the documentation of colonial history was fundamental to assist First Nations people in redress issues, including native title claims, stolen generations and stolen wages investigations. Internationally, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples article 13 states that:

Indigenous people have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures…

Despite the efforts of libraries and archives to document, index and make collections available and accessible, there are still considerable barriers for First Nations people to access information. For archives and libraries in particular, the UN declaration has drawn attention to the inherent collective and individual rights of Indigenous peoples to access and participate in the preservation and management of their cultural heritage.

The right of Indigenous self-determination requires that Indigenous peoples should be able to freely access information critical to their history and survival as peoples. Since 2004, South Australian Aboriginal people have been unable to access GRG 52/1, the single most important repository of Aboriginal records in South Australia. GRG 52/1 contains all archived correspondence of the Aborigines Department. These files are the primary resource for understanding the history of the administration of Aboriginal people in South Australia and date back to 1866.

This is the repository that contains detailed personal information about Aboriginal families and the policies that impacted them and is considered the most important group of files for Aboriginal families. We now have an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament agreed as part of our South Australian laws and, indeed, as part of the national agenda of Voice, Treaty, Truth. Yet there can be no proper truth-telling without access to these South Australian state records.

As a contemporary form of gatekeeping, records that have been indexed may now be blocked for release under legal professional privilege by the former state's Attorney-General, and that continues today. Importantly, GRG 52/1 is the only set of state department correspondence files automatically restricted in entirety out of concerns for legal professional privilege. This is a significant issue regarding archival access and transparency for Aboriginal communities.

The process to access records is lengthy and frustrating and subject to obstructionist bureaucratic vetting, and this has been so since 2004 when the Attorney-General, then the Hon. Michael Atkinson, instructed a virtual blanket ban on GRG 52/1. Prior to this blanket ban, applicants could actually request restricted files with a 100-year restriction applied and, once an authorisation letter was provided, browse through related records critical, of course, for archival research. Now, only individual files can be released, if approved, which significantly limits research. Worse still, no record is kept of those files that have been approved for release. Every time someone wants to see a file, it takes months to view—even if it has already been previously approved to access.

The trigger for this blanket ban was the increasing request for community access to records, potentially providing critical evidence to support stolen generations cases and potential claims (of course, another important research area for Aboriginal families). At this time, the GRG 52/1 research was central to the success of the late Bruce Trevorrow's case in 2007. Bruce Trevorrow, a Ngarrindjeri elder, was the first Aboriginal person to win a case against any government in Australia for his forced illegal removal from his family as a child.

He was awarded a substantial compensation payment of some $525,000, and then a further $250,000 in lieu of interest—much more than any of the stolen generations compensation or reparation schemes have offered. This case was in court the year the Attorney-General declared a blanket ban access on GRG 52/1. Is it little wonder we have not seen other cases successfully go through our courts?

Research conducted by Cameron Raynes for his book The Last Protector, which proves the illegal removal of Aboriginal children from their families—that the protector acted outside the advice of the Crown Solicitor with regard to children—is evidenced on these records. While this book was released in 2009, the research was undertaken over many years of work via prior access conditions. In addition, the detailed indexing of the vast records of the Aborigines Protection Board and its associated government departments is incomplete, making it impossible to know what information is available.

The process to obtain access to the correspondence files of the Aboriginal department is quite lengthy and involved. Those files identified as 'missing' or 'access denied' are the files often most revealing and the ones we need to understand—personal stories, our actual state history, our true state history—yet we continue to force individuals and communities to struggle to locate the appropriate records.

On 25 October 2019, the International Council on Archives and National Archives of Australia held the first Indigenous summit, called 'See us, hear us, walk with us: challenging and decolonising the archive'. It was led by the ICA's new Expert Group on Indigenous Matters (EGIM) at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute right here on Kaurna land in Adelaide.

The summit sought to identify key issues faced by Indigenous peoples and archives, examine options to develop a proactive international agenda for preserving Indigenous language and oral history, explore the vital role of archives in supporting truth-telling and reconciliation, and consider approaches to redesigning archives to support decolonisation.

At the summit conclusion, the EGIM presented the Tandanya Adelaide Declaration—the first international archives declaration on Indigenous people and matters—to David Fricker, the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia. The declaration calls on the jurisdictional archives of the world to acknowledge and adopt themes and commitments of the declaration for immediate action. Specifically, the declaration recognised that research and access to archival records is a socially mediated process and a conceptual site of conflict between European and First Nations ways of knowing.

As it stands, very few people understand what happened during colonial times. There is little discussion or recognition of the frontier wars and all the First Nations warriors who lost their lives in those. To quote the International Council on Archives:

Archives are a unique and irreplaceable heritage passed from one generation to another…Open access to archives enriches our knowledge of human society, promotes democracy, protects citizens' rights and enhances the quality of life.

The cost of improving access to our archives for First Nations people is not a cost. It is an investment in equity and better outcomes for First Nations communities. Truth-telling recognises the incredible strength and survival of Aboriginal people, ensuring their voices are heard and respected, and our true history and their true history is known.

We must continue to action all elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Truth-telling is about understanding how yesterday's actions drive the unjust structures we have today. We must continue to work to build new and stronger foundations for a shared future that deliver on better outcomes for all of us. We cannot do such a thing when we restrict people from learning not only their truth but our truth. When that restriction is done needlessly, and in some ways maliciously, surely this is one of the first injustices that the Malinauskas government must now address as part of the 'truth' part of the Uluru dialogue from the heart. With that, I commend the motion.

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