TODAY is a historic day, not only in the life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but in the life of this nation.
Fifteen years ago today, a prime minister, Paul Keating, in plain language and without qualification, acknowledged the basic wrongness of colonisation and its negative impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
He did it in the heart of an urban Aboriginal community, a site of resistance for Aboriginal Australia, and he called on non-indigenous Australia to imagine what life had become for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in colonised Australia.
It was a beginning point for reconciliation that was never realised, not even by his government.
With the recent change of government and the end of the Howard era of denialism, we have another chance at creating a new relationship between our peoples.
It's as if a fog has lifted — but it still hovers above our heads and continues to threaten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with its toxicity.
What we remain unsure of is whether our rights to self-determination will be realised.
The bipartisan support for the Northern Territory intervention raises the question of whether, for us, there has been any change at all.
Let me be perfectly clear: our fundamental concern is for the safety of our children.
But what makes Australia most unsafe for our children is the racism and cultural abuse that the Northern Territory emergency intervention acts represent. Overriding the Racial Discrimination Act does not make our children safe.
Suspending rights and community control of Aboriginal land does not make our children safe. Disempowering our communities does not make our children safe.
If you are going to tackle the causes of abuse, you must empower people, you must build a response on the basis of people's strengths, not their weaknesses.
If people feel in control over their lives they have a greater sense of the future — beyond the next drink or the next hit or the next sniff of petrol.
That word "empowerment" is the critical one. Unlike the previous federal minister for indigenous affairs, I took seriously the recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred report concerning child abuse in the Northern Territory.
The authors of that report summarised their 97 recommendations in that one word — "empowerment".
They understood that what caused child abuse in Aboriginal communities — as well as the non-indigenous perpetrators the Government ignored in their response — was a lack of self-determination and a sense of despair about the future.
It is clear self-determination requires respectful partnerships and capacity-building processes.
Investments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions must be made so that the community capacity can be restored.
Responses must be informed and led by local Aboriginal communities.
It is only by strengthening the capacity of families and communities to protect and nurture children that the problems will be resolved. Aboriginal ownership and control of land and access to communities are critical to success.
As visiting American trauma expert Dr Bruce Perry pointed out, indigenous communities that are empowered and able to embed culture into their programs are more likely to be effective in dealing with the impact of trans-generational trauma.
Empowerment is all about being treated as self-determining peoples and not client communities.
We need to pressure the Rudd Government to use the financial resources their predecessors committed to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and reshape the intervention to one run by Aboriginal communities and agencies.
We need a new approach to indigenous affairs that is human-rights based and focused on understandings of social inclusion and social investment.
Deep listening is required to heal this nation of the scourge of colonisation.
Deep listening is the way through to curing family dysfunction and child abuse by curing the causes — disconnection from culture and land and the lack of self-determination that feeds into a sense of helplessness.
If we begin with listening we can relight the fire of reconciliation.
But as a young member of my staff at VACCA reminded me — we must not only keep that fire lit, we must keep it burning.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have our many warriors for truth who keep that fire alive in our hearts every day.
Non-indigenous people have the embers of the Redfern speech and the reconciliation walks that need to be relit and not only occasionally warm your faces but become a fire in your hearts too.
Then the road to real reconciliation with its signposts of "sorry" and "treaty" can be travelled by all of us and the re-imagining of a new nation that respects and treasures the sovereignty and self-determination of its first peoples with justice and honour can begin.
Muriel Bamblett is chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency. This is an extract of her speech at the "Self-determination, not Invasion" forum at the Melbourne Town Hall yesterday.