So the national debate moves on to the evergreen topic of reconciliation, with Mr Howard, long seen as the chief blocker of both practical and symbolic reconciliation, now offering a bold gesture to Aboriginal Australia – a new preamble to the Constitution. 

But it’s not a one time offer. You can vote for Mr Howard, who will take his new words to the people within 18 months. Or you can vote for his opponent and get the same thing but with a bonus apology thrown in. 

A vote changer? You be the judge. Here’s how the two major parties stack up on reconciliation.


John Howard, 1999 to Kerry O’Brien, The 7.30 Report:

I think what goes to the heart of reconciliation was to get a form of words, which although a lot of people aren’t happy with, can’t be seen as anything other than very generous and going a long way further than we’ve ever gone before.

John Howard, from a speech to Corroboree 2000, the opening ceremony for Reconciliation Week, 27 May 2000:

Reconciliation will mean different things to different people. There is a spiritual component to reconciliation just as there is a practical component to it. And you cannot achieve reconciliation without acknowledging as I do and the Government I lead does, the self-evident fact that the indigenous people of Australia are the most profoundly disadvantaged within our communities. And part of the process of reconciliation is to adopt practical measures to address that disadvantage.

John Howard, ABC Radio, 30 May 2005:

Reconciliation is about rights as well as responsibilities. It is about symbols as well as practical achievement. It is about the past as well as being about the present and the future. But I think we have to recognise that if all we do is focus on symbols, we will have failed. If we focus simply on areas where we may not agree, then we will have failed.

I’m not going to talk about new dawns in reconciliation, we’ve had too many false dawns in the past, and those approaches are always doomed to produce disappointment.

John Howard, in a speech last night to the Sydney Institute:

If re-elected, I will put to the Australian people within 18 months a referendum to formally recognise indigenous Australians in our Constitution: their history as the first inhabitants of our country, their unique heritage of culture and languages, and their special (though not separate) place within a reconciled, indivisible nation.

My goal is to see a new Statement of Reconciliation incorporated into the preamble of the Australian Constitution. If elected, I would commit immediately to working in consultation with indigenous leaders and others on this task. It would reflect my profound sentiment that indigenous Australians should enjoy the full bounty that this country has to offer; that their economic, social and cultural wellbeing should be comparable to that of other Australians


Kevin Rudd and Jenny Macklin, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, last night in response to Howard’s speech:

Federal Labor offers bipartisan support to a commitment for constitutional recognition, regardless of the outcomes of the Federal election

From the ALP’s National Platform and Constitution 2007:

  • Labor is committed to genuine reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We believe that reconciliation is crucial to our capacity to face the world as a united, peaceful and just nation.
  • Labor remains firmly committed to reconciliation and is encouraged by the initiative of the community and corporate sector in driving reconciliation.
  • Labor values the symbolic importance of a national apology and commits to reconciliation as a vehicle for healing and justice in Australian society.
  • Labor believes reconciliation is also essential for improving unacceptable health, education and economic disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians.
  • Labor will implement the recommendations made in 2000 by the Council for Aboriginal
  • Reconciliation and will use the Council’s Australian Declaration towards Reconciliation as a basis for action.
  • Labor will work towards a lasting settlement with Indigenous Australians. Labor will build public support to meet the goal of providing constitutional recognition of the First Nations status of Indigenous Australians and their custodianship of land and waters.

Kevin Rudd, On the future of reconciliation, a speech delivered at Old Parliament House on 27 May 2007:

If reconciliation is to be achieved, we must deal with both its symbolism and its substance.

Let the nation now resolve to transform reconciliation into an Australian reality in an enduring spirit of reciprocal partnership. Let us not be burdened down with the pessimism of the past – a pessimism that seeks to extinguish all hope for the future. Instead, let us have about ourselves a determined and realistic optimism – one that can make a difference for the future. And let it never be said when those who come after us in this place gather again forty years from now, that our generation failed to seize the day.

Symbols are important. They are part of our national life. They embody in an instant who we are as people. What we stand for. What we hold to be true. If we think of our own lives, to build a new relationship, often means reconciling those relationships past. We cannot simply pretend that certain things did not happen.

That is why simply saying you are sorry is such a powerful symbol. Powerful not because it represents some expiation of guilt. Powerful not because it represents any formal legal requirement. But powerful because it makes new beginnings possible simply because it restores respect.

And that is why we will do it – if we are elected to form the next government of Australia.