- Professor Sarah Maddison (University of Melbourne)
- Dr Julia Hurst (University of Melbourne)
- Associate Professor Sheryl Lightfoot (University of British Columbia)
- Professor David MacDonald (University of Guelph)
Truth-telling is emerging as a central political dynamic in Australia. As treaty processes take shape in several Australian jurisdictions it is clear that truth commissions are going to be at the heart of future treaty negotiations. Victoria has already created the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, with the mission to ‘investigate both historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation’, while Queensland and the Northern Territory have also signalled that truth-telling will play a significant role in their emerging treaty processes and Tasmania has committed to finding a pathway towards treaty and reconciliation. These new processes build on the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which made an explicit recommendation for a Makarrata Commissionthat would ‘supervise agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history’ (Referendum Council 2017). As Appleby and Davis (2018) contend, the demand for truth in Australia is explicitly linked to the hope for political transformation. Truth, it is hoped, will offer a way to understand what is at stake in future relations between First Nations and the Australian settler state. Linking truth-telling to treaty only emphasises such aspirations. As the Yoo-rrook Justice Commissioners have collectively argued, ‘There can be no Treaty without truth’ (Walter et al 2021).
Yet even as this new commitment to truth-telling emerges it is not clear that there is shared understanding of what truth might offer, and Australia has attempted to follow a treaty pathway before. International experience suggests that truth-telling rarely lives up to its promise. If Australia seeks to avoid such disappointment then there are questions to be asked. This paper explores some of the challenges and opportunities that truth-telling in Australia suggests, to ask the fundamental question: how should we tell the truth about Australia?