Intelligence Squared Debate: True Reconciliation Requires a Treaty
Terra nullius was long ago exposed as a myth – and this was enshrined in law with the Mabo case in 1992. But if we acknowledge that Australia was colonised on a lie, then what should we do about it? How do we compensate for that centuries-old theft? It’s too late to reverse, but official recognition of the sovereign rights of Indigenous Australians is well overdue.
True reconciliation between Indigenous and immigrant Australians is impossible without addressing past wrongs – you can’t heal a wound without treating it. But how do we do that?
Many believe that a treaty is essential – our neighbour New Zealand and contemporary Canada have established treaties, recognised by the UN. Others think it’s enough to implement constitutional change that recognises indigenous cultures, languages and peoples.
In this video, our panel debates the need for a treaty – and the way to achieve true reconciliation. Chaired by Wheeler Centre director Michael Williams, with speakers George Williams, Mark Yettica-Paulson, Mick Dodson, Peter Sutton, Tony Birch and Gregory Phillips.
To skip to the results of the debate, click here.
Gregory Phillips is from the Waanyi and Jaru peoples, and comes from Cloncurry and Mount Isa. He is a medical anthropologist, with thirty years’ experience in leading change in cultural safety, healing and decolonisation.
Gregory is Chief Executive Officer of ABSTARR Consulting, is a Professor of First People’s Health, and serves on several boards and committees, including chairing the Ebony Institute, the Cathy Freeman Foundation and AHPRA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health strategy group.
George Williams AO is one of Australia’s leading constitutional lawyers and public commentators. He is a professor of law at the University of New South Wales and has written and edited 34 books on Australian government and the Constitution, including Everything You Need to Know about the Referendum to Recognise Indigenous Australians.
Mark Yettica-Paulson is an Australian Indigenous man from southeast Queensland and northeast New South Wales. Mark is the founder and director of The Yettica Group, specialising in Indigenous leadership and intercultural facilitation.
Professor Mick Dodson is a member of the Yawuru peoples – the traditional owners of land and waters in the Broome area of the southern Kimberley region of Western Australia. He is director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University and professor of law at the ANU College of Law.
Peter Sutton is an author, anthropologist and linguist, and an Affiliate Professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide, and the Division of Anthropology at the South Australian Museum.
Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier's Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Prize; Ghost River, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing, and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. He is also the author of Shadowboxing, and three short story collections – Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People.
In 2017 Tony was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award. In 2021 he will release two new books, a poetry collection, Whisper Songs, and a new short story collection, Dark as Last Night. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist.
Michael Williams is the Director of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne. He has worked at the Wheeler Centre since inception in 2009, when he was hired as the Head of Programming before being appointed as Director in September 2011.
He has hosted Blueprint for Living (2015–2016), then Talkfest (2017–2019), on ABC RN. He remains a regular guest on ABC Radio and TV. Michael has also worked as a Breakfast presenter for Melbourne’s 3RRR, as a member of the Australia Council’s Literature Board, in publishing and has written extensively for the Guardian, the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian and elsewhere.