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Moment of Truth

With special guest:

  • Prof Mark McKenna
    … in conversation with Bill Kable

In the Quarterly Essay Moment of Truth: History and Australia’s Future Professor Mark McKenna presents a significant contribution to the general debate and he is our respected guest in today’s program. At a time when Australians are searching for their national identity on Anzac Day and there is talk of a Republic once again Professor McKenna asks why has a dispute arisen regarding Australia Day?

Professor McKenna has noted that at major events such as the Commonwealth Games, and before that the Olympic Games, the opening ceremony featured our Indigenous culture but the words of Advance Australia Fair talk about a young free country which is not what our Indigenous people have experienced. Our flag has the English flag prominently in the corner displaying our heritage of the last 230 years but ignoring the previous 60,000 years.

Our guest in today’s program argues that Australia has reached a moment of truth, a crossroads where we make the country stronger and more complete through an honest reckoning with the past or we effectively unmake the nation by clinging to triumphant narratives in which the violence inherent in the nation’s foundation is trivialised. Some of the signs we see from our politicians are not good.

In August 2017 the annual Garma Festival took place three months after the release of the Uluru Statement and only weeks after the Referendum Council’s final report which endorsed the Uluru recommendations. The central theme of the gathering was “Makarrata” a Yolngu word for “healing” or “coming together after a struggle” and at its heart is truth telling. The Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition were there. Hopes were high.

Yet on 26 October the Prime Minister released his Government’s response to the Referendum Council’s Report. Not in an address to the nation, not in a press conference, it was done by press release and the answer was rejection. And the grounds were spurious to put it mildly.

Where is the sense of urgency? The understanding that this issue is central to the nation’s legitimacy, its international standing, its integrity and its dignity? Where is the Prime Minister who will do what is required and make the case for constitutional justice as a matter of national importance?

Professor McKenna points out that the Indigenous people have been monumentally patient over so many years but others who are perhaps not so patient are now joining in the push to come to an acknowledgement beyond the Kevin Rudd apology, perhaps to the so-called Compact that Bob Hawke could not deliver. Unlike every other Commonwealth country there never was a treaty, no compensation just the politically convenient Terra Nullius doctrine so insulting to our First People.

We have to acknowledge our past in order to go forward. The reconciliation with our Indigenous population is more important than severing the few remaining links we have to the British Royal family in order to advance to a republic. Our guest sets out what we should be working on and how we can advance as a modern country in this essential program where we cover a range of serious and sensitive issues.

Prof Mark McKenna

Mark McKenna is one of Australia’s leading historians, based at the University of Sydney. He is the author of several prize-winning books, most recently a biography of historian Manning Clark, An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark, which won the Prime Minister’s award for non-fiction and the Victorian, NSW and South Australian premiers’ non-fiction awards.

Song selections by our guest: Real Real Gone by Van Morrison and Alexandra Leaving by Leonard Cohen

Note: This program is an encore presentation of the one aired on 3 May 2018

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