NACCHO Aboriginal Health and the Referendum #Ulurustatement : PM rejects ‘#Indigenousvoice’ to parliament

 ” The Referendum Council said the Voice to Parliament was a “take it or leave it” proposal for the Parliament and the Australian people. We do not agree.

The Council’s proposal for an Indigenous representative assembly, or Voice, is new to the discussion about constitutional change, and dismissed the extensive and valuable work done over the past decade – largely with bipartisan support.

We are confident that we can build on that work and develop Constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only.”

Prime Ministers Press Release Response to Referendum Council’s report on Constitutional Recognition see in full Part 3 Below or Download HERE

PM response

“Yet again after a decade of discussions and millions of dollars spent on Constitutional Recognition it is unfortunate we have come to this. We have come to a point where seemingly no action will be taken.”

The Prime Minister already understands that a minimalist approach will not satisfy many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The Uluru Statement Working Group (USWG) is clearly disappointed about the news of the Turnbull Cabinet rejecting the Referendum Council’s blueprint.  says USWG Co-Chair Josephine Crawshaw See full release Part 2

‘The Prime Minister is still committed to recognition within the constitution.

‘We are not at a point of despair, it is a point of opportunity that still prevails and will still exist in options that are available to both the government and the opposition that recognises Aboriginal people as being a part of the history of this nation.’

Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt told Sky News a voice for Indigenous Australians is still feasible within other ways and means

 

” We are pleased to release the Final Report of the Referendum Council, a body established in 2015 to provide guidance on constitutional change to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

This is an issue of importance to all Australians, and one that deserves careful and thorough consideration.”

Malcolm Turnbull  and Bill Shorten Joint Press Release (see separate comments below part 2 and 3 ) July 17

Download Here  Referendum_Council_Final_Report

Part 1 Media Coverage ABC

The Prime Minister has dashed hopes for a referendum to establish a new Indigenous advisory body, saying the idea is neither “desirable or capable of winning acceptance”.

The decision has been met by anger among Indigenous people from across the country who endorsed the landmark Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Uluru proposal was rejected at Cabinet five months on from the historic constitutional summit in Central Australia.

The Government has now formally rejected the key recommendation of the Referendum Council — a report it commissioned to consult widely with Indigenous people on constitutional change.

Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday said in a statement a new advisory body “would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of Parliament”.

“Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights, all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national Parliament — the House of Representatives and the Senate,” the statement said.

“A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.”

Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt denied the Government had been cowardly.

“It’s a pragmatic level of thinking about the reality of what will fly with the Australian people and what won’t,” he said.

“That’s a real kick in the guts for the Referendum Council and certainly a slap in the face of those proponents,” shadow assistant minister Pat Dodson said.

Senator Dodson said he hoped the Uluru convention’s other main proposal — for a treaties commission outside of the constitution — was not junked.

He pointed to reports earlier this decade that called for racial sections of the constitution to be removed, along with a statement acknowledging First Peoples.

Senator Dodson co-chaired an expert panel, which in 2012 suggested repealing a section that allows Parliament to make laws for racial groups, and scrapping another part that contemplates excluding specific races from voting.

Timing on Uluru anniversary ‘unfortunate’, Minister concedes

The Government’s announcement it would reject the proposal came on the 32nd anniversary of Uluru being handed over to its traditional owners.

Indigenous Affair Minister Nigel Scullion said the timing was unfortunate and was only because information was leaked to the media.

He said Cabinet had no choice but to block the proposal.

“We know it would have absolutely zero chance of success … the only other alternative would be death by process,” Mr Scullion said.

“I don’t need evidence … we have done a lot of polling, not on this particular is matter, but on other matters.

“Evidence is a long string, I’m not going to point that we do or don’t have. It’s our instincts.”

‘Turnbull has broken our hearts’

Mr Turnbull said he would establish a joint parliamentary committee with the Opposition to examine alternative proposals for constitutional change to benefit Indigenous people.

But the Referendum Council’s Noel Pearson described the decision as devastating for the Indigenous community.

“I think Malcolm Turnbull has broken the First Nations hearts of this country, expressed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” Mr Pearson said.

“He accused John Howard of doing that in 1999 and he has done the same thing in relation to recognition of Indigenous Australians.”

Victoria’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins said the Federal Government had turned its back on Aboriginal people.

“To have gone to the lengths of setting up an advisory council and then totally rejecting what has come forward, it just makes you wonder where their commitment to Aboriginal Australians is,” she said.

Joe Morrison from the Northern Land Council said the Government had taken a step backwards.

“I think the Parliament’s failed the nation in terms of providing the requisite level of leadership here, and I think Prime Minister Turnbull needs to explain himself,” he said.

“The proposal that was created out of Uluru was … a key part but there was also the truth and justice-telling. But they were also laying the foundations for the substantial changes to the constitution.”

Josie Crawshaw, a child protection advocate and a delegate at Uluru, said she was deeply disappointed.

“While our children are languishing in the jails and our communities are poverty-stricken, they’ve just wasted 10 years of a conversation, and tens of millions of dollars, to shelve this,” she said.

Rod Little, co-chairman of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been let down once again.”

Part 2 The Uluru Statement Working Group (USWG) is clearly disappointed about the news of the Turnbull Cabinet rejecting the Referendum Councils blueprint.

USWG Co-Chair Josephine Crawshaw expressed a sense of this situation being like ground hog day for the First Nations People. That disappointment is shared by USWG Co-Chair Suzanne Thompson, although Thompson said that “her people were patient people.”

“Yet again,” Crawshaw said “after a decade of discussions and millions of dollars spent on Constitutional Recognition it is unfortunate we have come to this. We have come to a point where seemingly no action will be taken.”

The Prime Minister already understands that a minimalist approach will not satisfy many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Kirribilli Statement made this abundantly clear in past years.

Our aspirations are high, but the Prime Minister appears to believe that the Australian people will not support these aspirations. This is a very unfortunate view for the Prime Minister to hold, particularly when he has the highest platform to inspire all Australians to achieve great things for this country and for all its people.

The Uluru Statement Working Group has a mandate. This mandate came from 250 delegates that participated in a comprehensive series of dialogues around the country. These delegates have entrusted the USWG with ensuring that the government does not overlook what they have asked.

The Referendum Council may have finished it’s task, but the USWG certainly has not. We fight on to ensure that the aspirations in the Uluru Statement from the Heart be progressed. USWG seeks to establish a Makaratta Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

Thompson points out how lopsided many of the current Governments priorities and funding commitments appear to be at present. “When looking at the other big issues, such a Marriage Equality,” Thompson stated, “it seems that considerable time, money and effort can be found by the current government.”

In contrast, a commitment to address the fundamental issue of Constitutional recognition appears to be waning. Worse still, political “leaders” are not taking onboard the ideas and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are being pushed aside, time and time again.

Part 3 Press Release

Prime Minister – The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP

Attorney General – Senator The Hon. George Brandis QC

Minister for Indigenous Affairs – Senator The Hon. Nigel Scullion

The Turnbull Government has carefully considered the Referendum Council’s call to amend the Constitution to provide for a national Indigenous representative assembly to constitute a “Voice to Parliament”.

The Government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.

Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national parliament – the House of Representatives and the Senate.

A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.

It would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of Parliament. The Referendum Council noted the concerns that the proposed body would have insufficient power if its constitutional function was advisory only.

The Referendum Council provided no guidance as to how this new representative assembly would be elected or how the diversity of Indigenous circumstance and experience could be fairly or democratically represented.

Moreover, the Government does not believe such a radical change to our constitution’s representative institutions has any realistic prospect of being supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of States.

The Government believes that any proposal for constitutional change should conform to the principles laid down by the 2012 Expert Panel, namely that any proposal should “be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums”.

The Referendum Council said the Voice to Parliament was a “take it or leave it” proposal for the Parliament and the Australian people. We do not agree.

The Council’s proposal for an Indigenous representative assembly, or Voice, is new to the discussion about constitutional change, and dismissed the extensive and valuable work done over the past decade – largely with bipartisan support.

We are confident that we can build on that work and develop Constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only.

The challenge remains to find a Constitutional amendment that will succeed, and which does not undermine the universal principles of unity, equality and “one person one vote”.

We have listened to the arguments put forward by proponents of the Voice, and both understand and recognise the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to have a greater say in their own affairs.

We acknowledge the values and the aspirations which lie at the heart of the Uluru Statement. People who ask for a voice feel voiceless or feel like they’re not being heard. We remain committed to finding effective ways to develop stronger local voices and empowerment of local people.

Our goal should be to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians serving in the House and the Senate – members of a Parliament which is elected by all Australians.

The Government has written in response to Mr Shorten’s call for a Joint Select Committee, and have asked that the committee considers the recommendations of the existing bodies of work developed by the Expert Panel (2012), the Joint Select Committee on Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2015) and the Referendum Council report (2017).

The Coalition continues to aim to work in a bipartisan way to support Constitutional recognition.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #Ulurustatement #COAG : Pat Anderson expresses dismay over political silence on #Ulurustatement

As a health professional it beggars belief that COAG can meet on this yet the Referendum Council work and Uluru outcome ‘Voice Treaty Truth’ is not raised,

It highlights that politicians and policy makers do not understand Closing the Gap is inextricably linked to Voice Treaty Truth.

Structural reform is the missing ingredient in addressing disadvantage and the fact that no one at COAG acknowledged that shows they have no idea what they are doing.”

Ms Anderson will use the ­annual Charles Perkins oration ­tonight (October 25 ) to say the ­almost complete silence from government — five months after the Uluru constitutional convention recommended the advisory body — proves its urgent need.

See NACCHO Uluru Statement earlier this year

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #treaty : #Uluru Summit calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution

Establishing a proposed Indigenous parliamentary advisory body would mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were “at last in the main building, not in the demountable out the back”, a frustrated Lowitja Institute chair Pat Anderson will say.

From todays Australian

Her address will come on the heels of Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson furiously lashing out at white Australia’s failure “to take responsibility for your country” on the issue. “I’m angry about the intransigence and the lack of responsibility taken, angry that our people are constantly seeking the sentiment of Australia and not getting a response,” Mr Pearson told a packed Sydney Institute gathering on Monday.

Ms Anderson will question why a COAG meeting this week specifically addressing indigenous issues, including recalibrating the Closing the Gap targets, failed to address constitutional reform.

See our NACCHO post for COAG Communique earlier this week

Aboriginal Health #COAG #ClosetheGap :’Historic’: Sweeping overhaul of #Indigenous #ClosingtheGap strategy welcomed

She­ ­co-chaired the council appointed by Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to make concrete proposals. The ‘Voice Treaty Truth’ slogan refers to the three key issues identified in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, formalised at the end of the three-day convention in May.

They were the constitutionally enshrined body to provide an indigenous “voice” to parliament, as well as formal treaty-making and truth-telling processes.

The Law Council of Australia yesterday threw its “full and unqualified support” behind the call for a parliamentary body, which would have no veto powers and would not constitute an extra chamber of parliament, but whose role would be merely to advise governments.

“We are calling for genuine commitment from all parliamentarians to implement the Referendum Council’s recommendations swiftly,” Law Council president Fiona McLeod SC said. “The Law Council considers (them) to be a necessary and important step towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ self-determination.”

Referendum Council member and East Arnhem Land leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu warned Mr Turnbull at the Garma cultural festival in August that he would press him to act on the Referendum Council recommendations. Mr Turnbull has questioned whether the plan was delivered with enough detail, but Ms Anderson will say tonight that “the details of how to establish such a body would need to be carefully negotiated with the parliament once its establishment was agreed through referendum”.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health : Pat Anderson AO 17 th Vincent Lingiari Lecture ” Our Hope for the Future: Voice. Treaty. Truth “

 

” When delegates from the Dialogues assembled at Uluru in May this year, the exhaustive deliberations and informed participation through the Regional Dialogues led to a broad consensus, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart which was adopted by the Convention.

Specifically, Australia’s First Peoples overwhelmingly rejected any purely symbolic changes to the Constitution, such as through a ‘statement of recognition’.

……..Dialogue participants and the Uluru Convention showed significant agreement.

There was overwhelming consensus around three proposals.

First, for a constitutionally established representative body that would give First Nations a Voice directly to the Federal Parliament.

Second, for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise the making of Treaties with us.

Third, for a process of local and regional Truth-telling which could form the basis for genuine reconciliation.”

Ms Pat Anderson AO  delivered the 17th Annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture at Charles Darwin University on Wednesday, 16 August.Full Text and video below

The lecture commemorated the historic walk-off from Wave Hill Station by Indigenous stockmen and their families, planting the seeds for Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

For her lecture titled: “Our Hope for the Future:  Voice. Treaty. Truth” Ms Anderson reflected on her personal history and experience as an advocate for social justice during the last half-century of struggle for the recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Chair of the Lowitja Institute and co-chair of the former Prime Minister’s Referendum Council, former Chair of NACCHO and CEO of Danila Dilba ACCHO and AMSANT ,  Ms Anderson is a campaigner for advancing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in education, health, early childhood development, and violence against women and children. She is an Aboriginal advocate for social justice and winner of the 2016 Human Rights Medal.

Watch NACCHO TV Video of full speech

Or full speech transcript download in 16 Page PDF or read below

patanderson-lingiari-lecture-final2-16-august-2017

Ms Pat Anderson AO delivered the 17th Annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture at Charles Darwin University on Wednesday, 16 August, which commemorated the historic walk-off from Wave Hill Station by Indigenous stockmen and their families, planting the seeds for Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

Good evening everyone,

I acknowledge and pay respects to the Larrakia people, traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting tonight.

I want to thank Charles Darwin University for asking me to deliver this Lecture. This is huge honour for me. It’s always hard presenting in your home town.

I was feeling a bit anxious about that because you all know everything about me.

I would like to acknowledge Wendy Ludwick who I think put my name forward for this honour.

We are here to honour the memory of Vincent Lingiari and his leadership in the 1966 Wave Hill strike.

I will return to that story, and to the place of the Gurindji in the contemporary struggle for the rights of Australia’s First Peoples shortly.

But first, I’d like to share another story with you, a personal story.

This story is from the 1950s, a decade before the Wave Hill Walk Off, and is set at Parap Camp a few miles from here (in the suburb now called Stuart Park), where I and my sisters grew up with our mum and dad.

For those who don’t know the history, Parap Camp was home to many Aboriginal and some Torres Strait Islander families in those harsh post-War years.

Many of those families had a Stolen Generations heritage, with the parents of Parap camp families having grown up in the nearby Kahlin Compound. Kids were rounded up from all over the Territory.

My mother was one of those, taken as a young girl sometime in the 1930s by white men on horseback from her Alyawarre family north east of Alice Springs.

She was brought here to the Compound, fifteen hundred kilometres away.

After growing up at Kahlin, she was sent to work as a young teenager on a farm on the other side of the Darwin harbour, near Belyuen.

Later, she met my dad, a Swedish merchant seaman who had jumped ship in Fremantle, and made his way to Darwin.

They married and settled at Parap Camp.

My story is from when I was about 9 or 10 years old, when I was in Grade 3 or 4 – like almost all children from Parap Camp, I and my sisters attended school without fail.

School attendance was non-negotiable in those days – we all just went.

Every year the class would have a Christmas Party at the end of the final term, and the idea was that all the kids would bring food from home for the party.

I was excited because I knew my mum made the best sponge cakes ever: great high, fluffy things.

I pictured myself taking one of these cakes into school – I was a bit vain, and wanted to show off what a great cook mum was.

But when I asked her to make the cake, she flatly refused.

No matter what I said, how I nagged at her, she just said no.

Finally, in frustration, I just burst out: “But why mum? Why won’t you make one of your cakes and let me take it to the school party?”.

She hesitated for a moment.

And then she said quietly: “I don’t like white people eating my food”.

I knew immediately from the way she said it that not only was this the end of the argument, but also that she was telling me something more.

I can still see her face and hear her voice.

I haven’t forgotten this: although I didn’t understand how at the time, it was clearly important.

And so I had to trudge off to my Christmas party with a packet of store bought biscuits, while all the other kids brought scones, cakes and biscuits baked by their mothers – none of which, I might add, were as good as what my mum could have made.

This sounds like an ordinary domestic, family event.

And it is.

But like so many stories that are part of every Aboriginal family in this country, there is a lot packed into this little scenario.

For a start, how did my mum get to be so good a cook?

I see now that her skill with cooking was something she had learnt from the white women she worked for as domestic, unpaid labour.

Her ability to cook a beautiful sponge cake was a direct consequence of the policy of assimilation by which all Australian governments aimed to eradicate us as distinct cultural groups.

At the same time, there were other skills that were withheld from her and so many other Stolen Generations.

Most importantly, growing up in Kahlin Compound she was never taught to read or write.

Despite the rhetoric about Aboriginal children being taken away to improve their chances in life, literacy was one skill that the administration clearly thought was of no use to a young Aboriginal woman.

That much is clear from our history.

However, on a personal level, much about my mother’s motivations in the story about the cake remains curious to me.

Did she not want white people to eat her food as an act of defiance?

Was it a reluctance – or a refusal – to place herself in a situation of being judged by them?

Was it her own brand of passive resistance?

I don’t know.

However, I do know it was a profound moment in our relationship as she revealed something of herself to me.

This moment has stayed with me over all these years.

And I believe this little incident points to the great gulf in experience between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

It points towards an experience carried by so many of our families: the experience of having been treated unjustly, but of that injustice not being acknowledged.

This experience has been analysed by Jill Stauffer in her 2015 book, Ethical loneliness: the injustice of not being heard1.

Stauffer describes the profound isolation and loneliness that arises as a consequence of such an experience.

Calling it ‘ethical loneliness’ she says that it is a condition undergone by persons who have been unjustly treated … who emerge from that injustice only to find that the surrounding world will not listen to or cannot properly hear their testimony. … ethical loneliness is the experience of having been abandoned by humanity, compounded by the experience of not being heard.

There is something of this ethical loneliness in my mother’s experience, and even in the story of the cake she would not make.

I believe that experience is common to many if not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

It stems from the complex, often damaged and damaging relationship between our First Nations and those who colonised this place from 1788 onwards.

Much of that damage remains embedded in the relationship between black and white Australia.

This nation has never properly dealt with that damage.

It has never properly acknowledged it, and acted upon that acknowledgement.

I believe we now, in 2017, all of us over the age of 18, this generation, have an historic opportunity to do that, to begin the process of repair, to re-set that relationship on a foundation of equality, justice and truth.

That opportunity is presented by the prospect of genuine and substantive reform to the Australian Constitution, and that is the topic I want to talk to you about this evening.

I would like to take you on the journey that I have been recently on as a member of the Referendum Council, which was tasked with making recommendations to the Federal Government on constitutional reform.

I would like to share with you our experience of the unique regional Dialogues with First Peoples and communities, and what we heard in them, culminating in the National Convention of First peoples at Uluru in May this year, and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

And most importantly I want to describe the three essential demands to come from this process, which I summarise with these three words:

Voice.

Treaty.

Truth.

Before we trace that journey from the world of the Parap Camp in the 1950s, to where we stand today in 2017, I would like to acknowledge the importance of the Wave Hill Walk Off in 1966 in our history.

Mr Lingiari and the other Gurindji men and women first walked off their jobs on the Wave Hill station to demand fair pay and conditions, but ended up sitting down at Wattie Creek and demanding the return of their traditional lands.

They were demanding proper acknowledgment of the injustice done to them, and proper restitution of the harms done.

In doing so, they began the modern land rights movement.

But they were also re-asserting the struggle for self-determination, as summed up so elegantly by Mr Lingiari himself when he said:

“We want to live on our land, our way”

In those nine words, he captured the essence of what have been and continue to be the central demands of our First Nations since 1788.

First, recognition of our sovereignty, never ceded, of the land, of Country.

Second, acceptance of our right to continue in our unique and diverse cultures.

The Gurindji and Mr Lingiari powerfully re-asserted those demands, just as our First Nations have done since the beginning of the colonisation of Australia, and just as we have continued to do since.

This year, 2017, is a year of anniversaries of events which built upon and extended the rights of First Peoples as so clearly stated by the Gurindji.

It is

• 50 years since the 1967 Referendum;

• 25 years since the Mabo decision overturned the lie of ‘terra nullius’ in 1992; and

• 20 years since the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997.

It is also, crucially, 10 years since the Intervention was unleashed on our communities here in the Northern Territory.

The Intervention was the counter-revolution, the attempt to turn back the clock to the times before the Gurindji and Wave Hill, and the 1967 Referendum, and all the other achievements.

The Intervention was the attempt to take us back to the world of Parap Camp in the 1950s, when the powers of the nation-state reached into every aspect of how we lived our lives.

Now, ten years on, it is clear how profoundly and utterly the Intervention and the thinking behind it has failed.

It continues, however, to create much heartache and pain.

As John Lawrence in his recent Castan Centre Address3 has stated, tem years on, the Northern Territory gaols more people per capita than any country in the world.

The overwhelming majority of those incarcerated are Aboriginal.

The number of children being removed from their families is soaring: it rose by an average of 16% per year between 2011 and 2015.

This frightening increase is entirely due to the removal of Aboriginal children from their families4.

Family violence is out of control.

These figures – which many of you will know – are profoundly disturbing.

They demonstrate the tsunami of anger, frustration, despair and sadness that is engulfing our communities and families.

These type of figures are echoed across the country.

They reflect the kind of Intervention-thinking that has informed policy making over the last ten years, based on the idea that the nation-state knows best what is good for us.

Let us remember that the Intervention was trumpeted by its instigators as necessary to protect Aboriginal women and children.

It marked a shift in policy-making not just here but across the country.

Intervention-thinking sees self-determination as a failed idea, and blames us for the situation in which we find ourselves.

It believes that we do not have anything to offer, that we are at best ‘risks’ to be managed.

It ignores or condones or covers up the abuse of young people in detention, or our lack of housing or access to education.

I say again: it has utterly failed.

We can see this through the statistics, but more importantly through visiting many of our communities and listening to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over these last few months.

I’ve been working in this field all of my adult life, and I can say honestly say that I have never seen things so bad.

This has to change.

We now sit in 2017 at what I believe is a critical junction in our history, not just for the First Nations of this country, but for the nation-state as a whole.

Six weeks ago, the Referendum Council of which I was Co-Chair handed a report to the Prime Minister, recommending what constitutional change should look like if it is to be acceptable to our First Peoples.

The report documents what we were told in a series of regional dialogues with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities across the country.

Going out and talking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was our first priority under our terms of reference.

These twelve regional Dialogues were held from Thursday Island to Hobart, from Perth, to Ross River outside Alice Springs, to Sydney and Melbourne. People from across the regions came to these centres.

We also held a one-day information session in Canberra.

Each Dialogue was attended by around one hundred people, including Traditional Owners, representatives of local organisations, and individuals.

Each was held over three days to allow full consideration of a number of proposals for Constitutional reform. It was the same format and same agenda for each Dialogue. We needed a methodology which could, in some way, be empirically measured.

The reforms that each Dialogue considered had been inherited by the Referendum Council from the work of the Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution (co-chaired by Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler) and the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (co-chaired by Senators Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris).

They were:

• first, a statement acknowledging us as the First Australians, either inside or outside the Constitution;

• second, amending or deleting that part of the Constitution which empowers the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

• third, inserting a guarantee against racial discrimination into the Constitution; and

• fourth, deleting that part of the Constitution which contemplates the possibility of a state government excluding some Australians from voting on the basis of their race.

The Dialogues also considered a fifth option, that of a First Peoples’ Voice to be heard by Parliament, and the right to be consulted on legislation and policies that affects us.

The Dialogue process was unprecedented in Australia’s history: never before have we as First Nations sat down across the nation in such an intensive, structured manner to deliberate on constitutional matters.

It was a passionate process.

Delegates grappled with the technical and legal implications of these proposals, as well as with their political viability.

There were disagreements, there were even arguments: how could it be otherwise when 1,200 people from all the diversity of our Nations were brought together to talk about matters so closely connected with the experiences and history of their families, clans and communities?

But there was also an extraordinary level of agreement on some matters.

When delegates from the Dialogues assembled at Uluru in May this year, the exhaustive deliberations and informed participation through the Regional Dialogues led to a broad consensus, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart which was adopted by the Convention.

Specifically, Australia’s First Peoples overwhelmingly rejected any purely symbolic changes to the Constitution, such as through a ‘statement of recognition’.

There were two reasons behind the rejection of this narrow model of Constitutional recognition.

First, there was a concern that formal recognition in the Constitution might interfere with sovereignty – and all Dialogues were steadfast in asserting the fact that we as First Nations had never ceded our sovereignty.

In re-asserting the fact of sovereignty, the delegates echoed the conclusions of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples five years ago, which stated that5:

The … occupation of the country … proceeded on the fiction of terra nullius. It follows that ultimately the basis of settlement in Australia is and always has been the exertion of force by and on behalf of the British Crown. No-one asked permission to settle. No-one consented, no-one ceded. Sovereignty was not passed from the Aboriginal peoples by any actions of legal significance voluntarily taken by or on behalf of them.

Second, and more simply, participants in the Dialogues and at Uluru simply did not trust the likely process for drafting a constitutional statement of recognition

The concern was that by the time the lawyers were through with it, such a statement would end up being so bland as to be incompatible with the duty to recognise the difficult truths of Australia’s past.

Instead, our mob wanted substantive change, structural reform, for their communities on the ground.

And if it didn’t fit that criteria, they weren’t interested.

And this is where Dialogue participants and the Uluru Convention showed significant agreement.

There was overwhelming consensus around three proposals.

First, for a constitutionally established representative body that would give First Nations a Voice directly to the Federal Parliament.

Second, for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise the making of Treaties with us.

Third, for a process of local and regional Truth-telling which could form the basis for genuine reconciliation.

These three things – Voice – Treaty – Truth – were the key consensus demands that arose from the Dialogues, were captured in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and form the core of the Referendum Council’s report.

I’d now like to turn to each of these three crucial concepts and unpack them, give you my view why they are important, what they might mean, and how they might provide a pathway out of our current situation.

These are not abstract notions, or intellectual constructs.

Changing the Constitution, many of us believe, is the only place left for us to go.

We have sat on the Committees, we have set up our own organisations, we have changed national policy agendas, but we still haven’t been able to achieve the substantive change demanded by our communities.

As Marcia Langton said at Garma recently, we have been Royal Commission-ed out, we have been committee-ed out, and we have been panel-ed out.

We still have to rely on other people’s good will.

And that is not good enough anymore.

We need more than that.

We need once and for all for our sovereignty to be recognised and our voices to be heard.

The recommendation for substantive constitutional change was for the establishment of a “representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament”.

We believed – following the consensus at Uluru – that this is the only constitutional reform which would accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Why is this important?

Establishing such a body in the Constitution has both substantive and symbolic value.

Symbolically, it recognises the unique place of First Peoples in Australian history and in contemporary Australian society.

It formally acknowledges our place here.

In asking Australians to vote ‘yes’ to such a proposal we would be asking us all to reflect on who we are, on what values and principles we hold dearest.

It would establish a significant national narrative about working together – about a genuine two-way conversation.

But such a body will also provide substantive benefits.

A constitutionally entrenched Voice to Parliament could address Australia’s poor history of consultation with our Peoples by government.

All too often we have been excluded from the key decisions that are made about our lives.

The Intervention itself is a key example, designed over three days6, in some offices in Canberra by people who took little account of the evidence, had no understanding of the realities of our lives and most significantly didn’t talk to any of us.

(No wonder it has failed!)

The Voice to Parliament would ensure we have input at the highest level into the policy-making that affects us.

It could also play a valuable monitoring role.

Properly resourced, it could hold Government to account, regularly reviewing and reporting on the implementation of recommendations from the host of inquiries and reports from the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody onwards.

It could also monitor the use of the Constitution’s ‘race power’ or attempts to suspend racial discrimination legislation so that measures like the Intervention could be properly scrutinised before their implementation.

Embedding the establishment of the Voice to Parliament in the Constitution is vital because the body’s existence would not then be at the whim of whichever government was in power in Canberra.

You know, every time there is a change of government, or a new Minister, or even a Head of Department, we all have to troop down to Canberra yet again and justify our existence. Pretty much, start all over again.

The Voice to Parliament would be a permanent and enduring feature of the nation’s body-politic.

It could only be abolished by going back to you, the people, in a new referendum.

To date, all our national organisations have disappeared with the stroke of a Minister’s pen.

We would be, at last, in the main building, not in the demountable out the back.

Of course, the details of how to establish such a body would need to be carefully negotiated with Parliament once its establishment was agreed through Referendum.

My vision – and that of many people we spoke to during the dialogues and at Uluru – is for a body that include representation from all the diversity of First Nations across Australia.

It would be a place for dialogue, a meeting place for us and with us.

And in my opinion, it is this diversity that would enrich the body-politic.

After 65,000 years or more on this continent, with all our different languages, histories and cultures, I think we would have something powerful and unique to offer the nation-state through such a body.

Let me turn to second proposal to come from the Dialogues and from Uluru: Treaty.

Australia is one of the few liberal democracies around the world which still does not have a treaty or treaties or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its Indigenous minorities.

It is something we have demanded since at least the mid-nineteenth century.

Despite the hard-won gains, such as through the Land Rights Act following the Gurindji Walk Off, and the Native Title Act sparked by Eddie Mabo, there is unfinished business that we need to resolve.

We used the word ‘Makaratta’ to describe this process of agreement or Treaty-making.

Makaratta is the process that guides the Yolngu Nation in North East Arnhem Land through difficult disputes, and its workings have been recently described by Galarrwuy Yunupingu in this way7:

… each party, led by their elders, must speak carefully and calmly about the dispute. They must put the facts on the table and air their grievances … The leaders must always seek a full understanding of the dispute: what lies behind it; who is responsible; what each party wants, and all things that are normal to peacemaking efforts. When that understanding is arrived at, then a settlement can be agreed upon.

Following the Uluru Statement, this means the establishment of a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to set up a national Framework and principles for negotiating treaties, and a possible a national settlement document.

A Treaty is a pathway to the recognition of sovereignty and to the achievement of self-determination.

It is an agreement between equals.

Such treaties could be regional or State-wide, and it would be the Makarrata Commission’s job to provide a national framework for, and supervise, these two-way processes.

Critically, treaties are inseparable from the third demand from the Dialogues and Uluru: Truth.

You cannot make a lasting and effective agreement unless you have a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the history, of how we got to where we stand.

The true story of colonisation must be told, must be heard, must be acknowledged.

Because, this is still not the case.

This is difficult and painful territory – for us as well as for mainstream Australia.

It can be hard to hear.

As Jill Stauffer says in her book ‘Ethical Loneliness’ that I quoted from at the beginning of tonight:

Responding well to others, especially survivors of wrongdoing, may require that we open ourselves to hearing something other than what we expect or want to hear

But hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides..

I was reminded of this just last month when I read media stories about an online digital map of more than 150 massacres developed by Professor Lyndall Ryan at the University of Newcastle8.

Through meticulous examination of the records, the map seeks to provide the evidence for those who still question whether massacres happened.

Professor Ryan has started documenting these facts for the eastern coast of Australia but plans to extend this to the rest of the country.

This is important work.

But I question how it is that we have had to wait until 2017 for this?

Why is this not part of the national conversation?

Our communities know about the massacres.

Our families know about the children being forcibly removed from their families.

But it seems that there is a need for many in mainstream Australia to pretend that all this didn’t happen, that it’s all just part of a ‘black armband’ view of history, made up to make you feel guilty.

One of the most moving episodes in the regional dialogues for me personally came at Ross River near Alice Springs.

There the Elders spoke of the distress they felt at the recent placement of a statue of the explorer John McDouall Stuart in Alice Springs to mark the the 150th anniversary of his attempt to reach the Top End from Adelaide.

The statue was shown holding a gun.

The Elders felt legitimately that this showed a painful lack of respect, given the fact that Stuart’s journey led directly to a series of massacres in the region as control of the land was wrested from the traditional owners.

Let me be clear: this process of truth–telling is not about guilt.

Guilt is a debilitating emotion that stops us moving forward or doing anything.

What I’m talking about is respect and acknowledgment.

As one participant in the Regional Dialogues in Broome said:

[We are] people who worked as stockmen for no pay, who have survived a history full of massacres and pain. We deserve respect.

And of course, this is not just the history of our First Peoples – it is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it.

Then we can move forward together.

The Dialogues opted for the development of a ‘Declaration of Recognition’ to be passed by all Australian Parliaments.

This declaration – outside the Constitution – would be free to articulate that difficult shared history.

It could provide a unifying statement about the three waves of people who make up the Australian story:

• our ancient First Peoples (65,000 years or more),

• those people who came in 1788 and after,

• the peoples who have come from out of Europe and Asia and who continue to try to come us today, often fleeing persecution and seeking a better life.

Three waves of people.

So, this where we stand now in 2017.

The unprecedented process of deliberation by Australia’s First peoples, through the regional Dialogues and at Uluru, led to the formulation of three clear demands:

Voice.

Treaty.

Truth.

Some commentators and others have expressed concern that these are new proposals, the examination of which will need yet more new processes to consider.

I respectfully disagree.

None of these issues are new.

We have been talking about these things for a long time.

Other commentators believe that these are impractical, left-field proposals.

Again, I respectfully disagree.

I believe these changes are challenging but achievable, and are proportionate to the level of distress, anger and powerlessness being felt in our communities.

In the international landscape of recognising Indigenous peoples, what we are asking for is modest, conservative even.

Many of our First Nation communities and families are plagued by a myriad of challenges including poverty, suicide, youth detention, family breakdown, and all kinds of health problems.

Worse, in my view, than any of this, is that too many of us feel hopeless.

To reverse this and to take our rightful place in this country, we need to create new places, new ways by which we can speak and get things done to deal with our complicated 21st century lives.

At the same time we will strongly and even fiercely guard who we are and our right to be different.

We need to create a future when we, and our children and grandchildren, are recognised as having something powerful and unique to offer this nation.

This needs to happen now, and not just for us as First Nations.

This is about the social and emotional wellbeing of the country as a whole.

It is a time of reflection, a time for all Australians to consider what kind of a society we are today, what are our values and our principles.

Surely, we are not the same people as we were in 1901 when the Constitution was drawn up.

Eventually we will have to sit down together, black and white in this nation, and deal with this.

For the truth is that this is our place.

We, the First Nations, are not going anywhere.

They can put it off for another ten years, twenty years fifty years.

But eventually you will have to sit down with as respectful equals and sort out this relationship.

But right now, we have an opportunity, a roadmap for doing that.

Simply this:

Voice.

Treaty.

Truth.

And I want to add:

Justice.

Hear us. Acknowledge us.

Thank you all for coming.

 

Aboriginal Health #Garma2017 : #Makarrata ,canoes and the #UluruStatement @TurnbullMalcolm @billshortenmp Full Speech transcripts

 ” Djapiri said Bill and I are in the same canoe and on this issue we certainly are – but we are not alone, we are not alone in the canoe. We are in the same canoe with all of you as well and we need to steer it wisely to achieve our goal, to achieve that goal of Makarrata.

Beyond Constitutional Recognition, that work continues every day. I reflect on the Makarrata discussion of the late 70’s and 80’s. A list of demands was sent to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1981. It called for rights to land and resources, compensation, the creation of Aboriginal schools, medical centres and an Aboriginal bank.

Despite a final agreement not being reached at the time, we have achieved some of the policies called for. The Commonwealth provided $433 million to 137 Aboriginal Medical Services across the country last financial year.

As Prime Minister I will continue to do all I can to ensure that being an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian means to be successful, to achieve, to have big dreams and high hopes, and to draw strength from your identity as an Indigenous person in this great country.

That’s why, as we renegotiate the Closing the Gap targets with the various state and territory jurisdictions later this year, my Government has insisted on a strengths based approach.

Indigenous people are not a problem to be solved.

You are our fellow Australians. Your cultures are a gift to our nation.”

Selected extracts from the full Prime Minister Speech 5 August Garma see Part 2 Full Speech

Download full copy Garma 2017 PM full Speech

” Djapirri said, she told me of a dream of a canoe, paddled by the Prime Minister and myself.

That in itself is an arresting image. Two captains. But in all seriousness, we appreciated I think the power of that illusion, the power of that dream.

Here at Garma, on the lands of the Gumatj, we gather to talk about a Yolngu word. Makarrata.

It is not just now a Yolngu word – I put it to you it’s a national test.

Coming together, after a struggle.

And for the first Australians, it has been a very long struggle indeed.

– A struggle against dispossession and discrimination, exclusion and inequality.

– A struggle against violence and poverty, disease and diminished opportunity.

– A struggle for better health, for better housing, for safer communities, more jobs, for longer lives.

– A struggle against injustice and racism: from the sporting field to the courts of our land.

Above all, a struggle for a better future for their children: a struggle to be counted, to be heard, to be recognised.

At Uluru, you gave us the statement from the heart.

A call for:

– A voice enshrined in the Constitution

– A declaration to be passed by all parliaments, acknowledging the unique place of the first nations in Australian history, their culture, their connection.

And a Makarrata Commission to oversee a process of agreement-making and truth-telling.

All three of these objectives speak to the long-held and legitimate aspirations of our First Australians:

– A proper acknowledgment of Aboriginal histories and the dispossession that followed upon the arrival of the Europeans

– A bigger say in the issues which affect you – no more ‘solutions’ imposed without consultation or consent

And a more lasting settlement, a new way forward, a new pathway including through treaties.

These ideas are not new – but the Uluru statement did articulate these with new clarity, a new passion, a new sense of truth and purpose “

Selected extracts The Hon Bill Shorten speech  Garma 5 August 2017 see in full Part 3 Below

Download full speech Garma 2017 PM full Speech

Part 1 Media Coverage

View NITV Media coverage

When it comes to Aboriginal constitutional reform, picture Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten sitting in a canoe – and the opposition leader thinks he’s the only one paddling.

The Labor leader has backed a referendum question on an indigenous voice to parliament, while the prime minister has failed to commit bipartisan support.

The two politicians are moving together downstream, struggling to balance the boat to achieve reconciliation, Gumatj leader Djapirri Mununggirritj has told Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land.

Mr Shorten called it an “arresting image” but said he was disappointed Mr Turnbull dismissed his end of year referendum question deadline as “very ambitious”.

“We support a declaration by all parliaments, we support a truth telling commission, we are not confronted by the notion of treaties with our first Australians,” he said.

Mr Turnbull acknowledged many Aboriginal leaders were disappointed the government didn’t give “instant fulfilment” to the Referendum Council’s recommendations.

He described the Yolgnu elder’s canoe analogy as apt, saying his cabinet will give the matter careful consideration to keep the aspiration of Makarrata, or coming together after a struggle, from capsizing.

An “all or nothing approach” to constitutional change risks rocking the boat, resulting in a failed referendum, and Mr Turnbull called for time to develop a winnable question to put to Australian voters.

“We are not alone in the canoe, we are in the canoe with all of you and we need to steer it wisely to achieve that goal of Makarrata,” he said.

Mr Turnbull said there’s still many practical questions about what shape the advisory body would take, whether it would be elected or appointed and how it would affect Aboriginal people around the country.

Specifically, he questioned what impact the voice to parliament would have on issues like child protection and justice, which are largely the legislative domain of state and territory governments.

But Mr Shorten said debate over Aboriginal recognition in the nation’s founding document has dragged on for the past decade.

“I can lead Mr Turnbull and the Liberal party to water but I can’t make them drink,” he said.

Having led the failed 1999 republic referendum campaign, Mr Turnbull warned that Australians are “constitutionally conservative”, with just eight out of 44 successful since federation.

But Mr Shorten said “Aboriginal Australians do not need a balanda [white person] lecture about the difficulty of changing the constitution”.

Mr Shorten’s proposal of a joint parliamentary committee to finalise a referendum question has been met with cynicism by indigenous leaders.

The Above AAP

 

 Part 2 PRIME MINISTER Garma SPEECH :

Ngarra buku-wurrpan bukmak nah! Nhuma’lanah.

Ngarra Prime Minister numalagu djal Ngarra yurru wanganharra’wu nhumalangu bukmak’gu marrigithirri.

Ngarra ga nhungu dharok ga manikay’ ngali djaka wanga’wu yirralka.

I acknowledge and pay respect to your country, and your elders.

As Prime Minister, I’m here to talk to you and learn from you.

I acknowledge and respect your language, your song lines, your dances, your culture, your caring for country, and your estates.

I pay my respects to the Gumatj people and traditional owners past, present and future, on whose land we are gathered.

I also acknowledge other Yolngu people, First Peoples from across the country and balanda here today including Bill Shorten, Nigel Scullion and all other Parliamentary colleagues but above all I acknowledge our Parliamentary colleagues, Indigenous Parliamentary colleagues. Truly, voices of First Australians in the Parliament. Thank you for being here today and for the wisdom you give us, you together with my dear friend Ken, so much wisdom in the Parliament.

I offer my deep respect and gratitude to the Chairman of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu for hosting Lucy and me with your family. It was lovely to camp here last night and the last music was beautiful, serene and like a lullaby sending us all off to our dreams. Thank you. Emily was the last singer – beautiful.  And of course we woke here to the beautiful sounds of Gulkala.

I again as I did yesterday extend our deep condolences to the family of Dr G Yunupingu at this very sad time. He brought the Yolngu language to the people of Australia and his music will be with us forever.

I’ve come here to North East Arnhem Land to learn, participate respectfully and can I thank everyone so far I’ve had the chance to talk with. I am filled with optimism about our future together as a reconciled Australia.

Last month scientists and researchers revealed new evidence that our First Australians have been here in this land for 65,000 years.

These findings show that Indigenous people were living at the Madjedbebe rock shelter in Mirarr Country, at Kakadu east of Darwin, 18,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Among the middens, rock paintings, remains, plants and ochre, was the world’s oldest-known ground-edge axe head.

These findings place Australia on centre stage in the story of human origin, including mankind’s first long-distance maritime voyage – from Southeast Asia to the Australian continent.

Our First Peoples are shown as artistically, as technologically advanced, and at the cutting edge of technology in every respect.

Importantly, they confirm what Aboriginal people have always known and we have known – that your connection, your intimate connection to the land and sea are deep, abiding, ancient, and yet modern.

This news is a point of great pride for our nation. We rejoice in it, as we celebrate your Indigenous cultures and heritage as our culture and heritage – uniquely Australian.

As Galarrwuy said yesterday as he spoke in Yolngu, he said: “I am speaking in Australian.” Sharing, what a generosity, what a love, what a bigness he showed there as he does throughout his life and his leadership.

I want to pay tribute to the work of so many of you here today, who are leading the healing in communities, building bridges between the old and new, and looking for ways to ensure families and communities are not just surviving, but thriving.

Particularly the Indigenous leaders who every day wear many hats, walk in both worlds, and yet give tirelessly for their families and their communities. You often carry a very heavy load, and we thank you.

Where western astronomers look up at the sky and look for the light, Yolngu astronomers look also deep into the dark, using the black space to uncover further information, to unravel further mysteries.

So while we are both looking at the night sky, we are often looking at different parts. And yet through mutual respect, sharing of knowledge and an openness to learning, together we can see and appreciate the whole sky.

Those same principles are guiding us toward Constitutional Recognition.

The final Referendum Council report was delivered, as you know, on the 30th of June. Bill Shorten and I were briefed by the Referendum Council two weeks ago. The report was a long time coming and I know some would like an instant fulfillment of its recommendations.

Let me say, I respect deeply the work of the Referendum Council and all of those who contributed to it, and I respect it by considering it very carefully and the Government is doing so, in the first instance with my colleagues, including Ken Wyatt the first Indigenous Australian to be a Federal Minister, and together we consider it with our Cabinet. That is our way, that is our process, that is how we give respect to serious recommendations on serious matters.

And I do look forward to working closely and in a bipartisan way with the Opposition as we have done to date.

Djapiri said Bill and I are in the same canoe and on this issue we certainly are – but we are not alone, we are not alone in the canoe. We are in the same canoe with all of you as well and we need to steer it wisely to achieve our goal, to achieve that goal of Makarrata. Thank you again Galarrwuy for that word.

We share a sense of the significance of words. I love words and language. There is a great definition. What is the difference between poetry and prose? The best definition of poetry that I have ever found is that which cannot be translated, it can only be felt.

The Referendum Council’s report as Marcia reminded us is the fourth major report since that time and it adds immensely to the depth of knowledge. It gave us the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and I congratulate all those who attended on reaching an agreement. That was no small task.

It tells us that the priority for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is to resolve the powerlessness and lack of self-determination experienced – not by all, but certainly by too many.

I have been discussing it with leaders, the leaders of our First Australians and will continue to do so as we develop the next steps.

But there are still many questions:

What would the practical expression of the voice look like? What would the voice look like here for the Yolngu people? What would it look like for the people of Western Sydney, who are the largest population of Aboriginal peoples in Australia?

Is our highest aspiration to have Indigenous people outside the Parliament, providing advice to the Parliament? Or is it to have as many Indigenous voices, elected, within our Parliament?

What impact would the voice have on issues like child protection and justice, where the legislation and responsibility largely rest with state and territory governments?

These are important questions that require careful consideration. But the answers are not beyond us.

And I acknowledge that Indigenous Australians want deeper engagement with government and their fellow Australians, and to be much better consulted, and represented in the political, social and economic life of this nation.

We can’t be weighed down by the past, but we can learn from it.

Australians are constitutionally conservative. The bar is surmountable, you can get over it but it is a high bar. That’s why the Constitution has often been described as a frozen document.

Now many people talk about referendums, very few have experienced leading a campaign. The 1999 campaign for a Republic – believe me, now, one of the few subjects on which I have special knowledge – the 1999 campaign for a Republic has given me a very keen insight into what it will take to win, how hard it is to win, how much harder is the road for the advocate for change than that of those who resist change. I offer this experience today in the hope that together, we can achieve a different outcome to 1999. A successful referendum.

Compulsory voting has many benefits, but one negative aspect is that those who for one reason or another are not interested in an issue or familiar with it, are much more likely to vote no – it reinforces an already conservative constitutional context.

Another critical difference today is the rise of social media, which has changed the nature of media dramatically, in a decade or two we have a media environment which is no longer curated by editors and producers – but freewheeling, viral and unconstrained.

The question posed in a referendum must have minimal opposition and be clearly understood.

A vital ingredient of success is popular ownership. After all, the Constitution does not belong to the Government, or the Parliament, or the Judges. It belongs to the people.

It is Parliament’s duty to propose changes to the Constitution but the Constitution cannot be changed by Parliament. Only the Australian people can do that.

No political deal, no cross party compromise, no leaders’ handshake can deliver constitutional change.

Bipartisanship is a necessary but far from a sufficient condition of successful constitutional reform.

To date, again as Marcia described much of the discussion has been about removing the racially discriminatory provisions in the Constitution and recognising our First Australians in our nation’s founding document.

However, the Referendum Council has told us that a voice to Parliament is the only option they advise us to put to the Australian people. We have heard this, and we will work with you to find a way forward.

Though not a new concept, the voice is relatively new to the national conversation about constitutional change.

To win, we must all work together to build a high level of interest and familiarity with the concept of a voice, and how this would be different, or the same, as iterations of the past like the National Aboriginal Conference or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

We also need to look to the experience of other countries, as we seek to develop the best model for Australia.

The historic 1967 Referendum was the most successful in our history because of its simplicity and clarity. The injustices were clearly laid out – Indigenous people were not enjoying the rights and freedoms of other citizens. The question was clearly understood – that the Commonwealth needed to have powers to make laws for Indigenous Australians. And the answer seemed obvious – vote yes to ensure the Commonwealth gave Indigenous people equal rights.

To succeed this time around, we need to develop enough detail so that the problem, the solution and therefore the question at the ballot box are simple, easily understood and overwhelmingly embraced.

One of the toughest lessons I learnt from the Referendum campaign of ‘99 was that an ‘all or nothing’ approach sometimes results in nothing. During the campaign, those who disagreed with the model that was proposed urged a “no” vote, arguing that we could all vote for a different Republic model in a few years. I warned that a “no” vote meant no republic for a very long time.

Now, regrettably, my prediction 18 years ago was correct. We must avoid a rejection at a referendum if we want to avoid setting Makarrata reconciliation back.

We recognise that the Uluru statement is powerful because it comes from an Indigenous-designed and led process. And because it comes from the heart, we must accept that it is grounded in wisdom and truth.

It is both a lament and a yearning. It is poetry.

The challenge now is to turn this poetry that speaks so eloquently of your aspiration into prose that will enable its realisation and be embraced by all Australians.

This is hard and complex work. And we need to take care of each other as we continue on this journey. We need to take care of each other in the canoe, lest we tip out of it.

Yesterday afternoon was a powerful show of humanity. As we stood together holding hands – Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – we stood together as Australians. As equals.

And we will have the best chance of success by working together. This cannot be a take it or leave it proposal. We have to come to the table and negotiate in good faith, and I am committed to working with you to find a way forward.

Galarrwuy – you gave us your fire words yesterday, thank you again. We will draw on them as we look to light the path forward for our nation.

And when considering how to do that, we are inspired by the success of the Uluru process. The statement that emerged from Uluru was designed and led by Indigenous Australians and the next steps should be too.

To go to a referendum there must be an understanding between all parties that the proposal will meet the expectations of the very people it claims it will represent.

Now we have five Aboriginal members of our Parliament. They will be vital in shaping and shepherding any legislation through the Parliament. They too are bridge builders, walking in both worlds, and their contribution to the Parliament enriches us all.

The Australian Parliament and the nation’s people – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – must be engaged as we work together to find the maximum possible overlap between what Indigenous people are seeking, what the Australian community overall will embrace and what the Parliament will authorise.

I have been learning that the word Makarrata means the ‘coming together after a struggle’— Galarrwuy told us a beautiful story this morning about a Makarrata here in this country. And a Makarrata is seen as necessary, naturally, if we are to continue our path to reconciliation.

But just like the night sky, reconciliation means different things to different people. This complexity convinces me that our nation cannot be reconciled in one step, in one great leap. We will only be reconciled when we take a number of actions, both practical and symbolic.

Beyond Constitutional Recognition, that work continues every day. I reflect on the Makarrata discussion of the late 70’s and 80’s. A list of demands was sent to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1981. It called for rights to land and resources, compensation, the creation of Aboriginal schools, medical centres and an Aboriginal bank.

Despite a final agreement not being reached at the time, we have achieved some of the policies called for. The Commonwealth provided $433 million to 137 Aboriginal Medical Services across the country last financial year. Indigenous Business Australia provides low interest loans to help Indigenous Australians secure economic opportunities including home ownership with 544 new housing loans made last year. The Aboriginal Benefits Account supports Northern Territory Land Councils and provides grants for the benefit of Aboriginal people living in the Territory.

We now spend $4.9 billion on the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

And we are empowering communities through our Indigenous Procurement policy.

I am pleased to announce today the Commonwealth has officially surpassed half a billion dollars in spending with Indigenous businesses all over Australia. I am looking forward to sharing the full two-year results in October. This is a spectacular increase from just $6.2 million being won by Indigenous businesses only a few years ago under former policies.

Since 2008 the Commonwealth has been helping improve remote housing and bring down rates of overcrowding, with $5.4 billion to build thousands of better homes over ten years.

And the land is returning to its traditional owners.

More than 2.5 million square kilometres of land, or about 34 per cent of Australia’s land mass is today recognised under Native Title. Another 24 per cent is covered by registered claims and by 2025, our ambition is to finalise all current Native Title claims.

So we are standing here on Aboriginal land – land that has been rightfully acknowledged as yours and returned to you. And we are standing here near the birthplace of the land rights movement. A movement of which the Yolngu people were at the forefront.

As a nation we’ve come a long way.

In the Northern Territory, more than 50 per cent of the land is now Aboriginal land, recognised as Aboriginal land.

Just like the land at Kenbi which, on behalf of our nation, I returned to the traditional owners, the Larrakia people last year.

Earlier this year I appointed June Oscar AO, who has been acknowledged earlier, as the first female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, who has agreed to report on the issues affecting Indigenous women and girls’ success and safety.

And all of that work contributes to a better future for our First Australians.

But there is much more to be done in not just what we do, but how we do it – as we work with our First Australians. We are doing things with our First Australians, not to them.

Now Galarrwuy – I have read and read again your essay Rom Watungu. It too is a story from the heart, of your father, of his life and when his time came, how he handed his authority to you, the embodiment of continuity, the bearer of a name that means “the rock that stands against time”

But rocks that stand against time, ancient cultures and lore, these are the strong foundations on which new achievements are built, from which new horizons can be seen – the tallest towers are built on the oldest rocks.

You, Galarrwuy, ask Australians to let Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders breathe and be free, be who you are and ask that we see your songs and languages, the land and the ceremonies as a gift.

As Prime Minister I will continue to do all I can to ensure that being an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian means to be successful, to achieve, to have big dreams and high hopes, and to draw strength from your identity as an Indigenous person in this great country.

That’s why, as we renegotiate the Closing the Gap targets with the various state and territory jurisdictions later this year, my Government has insisted on a strengths based approach. Indigenous people are not a problem to be solved. You are our fellow Australians. Your cultures are a gift to our nation.

There’s so much more work to be done.

But in doing so, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all Australians, continue to connect with pride and optimism – with mabu liyan, in Pat’s language from the Yawuru people – the wellbeing that comes with a reconciled harmony with you, our First Australians, our shared history truthfully told and a deeper understanding of the most ancient human cultures on earth, and the First Australians to whom we have so much to thank for sharing them with us.

Thank you so much.

Part 3 Opposition Leader’s Garma Speech

Good morning everybody.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

I recognise that I stand on what is, was and always will be Aboriginal land.

I acknowledge the Prime Minister and his wife Lucy.

I wish to thank Gallarwuy and the Gumatj for hosting us – and on behalf of my Labor team who are here, Senator Pat Dodson, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, the Hon Linda Burney, the Hon Kyam Maher, supported also by local Members of Parliament the Hon Warren Snowden and Luke Gosling, and Territory Minister Eva Lawler.

We are very grateful to be part of this gathering.

Also Clementine my daughter asked me to thank you for letting her join in the bunggul yesterday afternoon, she loved it.

At the opening yesterday, we were privileged, all of us, to be at a powerful ceremony, where we remembered Dr G Yunupingu, a man who was born blind – but helped Australians see.

From his island, his words and his music touched the world.

But I also understand that the words of our host were about setting us a test, reminding all of us privileged to be here that there is serious business to be done.

Here at Garma, on the lands of the Gumatj, we gather to talk about a Yolngu word. Makarrata.

It is not just now a Yolngu word – I put it to you it’s a national test.

Coming together, after a struggle.

And for the first Australians, it has been a very long struggle indeed.

– A struggle against dispossession and discrimination, exclusion and inequality.

– A struggle against violence and poverty, disease and diminished opportunity.

– A struggle for better health, for better housing, for safer communities, more jobs, for longer lives.

– A struggle against injustice and racism: from the sporting field to the courts of our land.

Above all, a struggle for a better future for their children: a struggle to be counted, to be heard, to be recognised.

In 2015, the Referendum Council was created with a very clear mission.

To consult on what form Constitutional Recognition should take – how it should work.

To listen to Aboriginal people and to be guided by their aspirations.

And to finally give them a say in a document from which too long they been excluded.

Since then, thousands of the first Australians have explained to the rest us what

Recognition means – for all of us, for our children and indeed for all of our futures.

We asked for your views, we sought your counsel – and, in large numbers, it was answered.

At Uluru, you gave us the statement from the heart.

A call for:

– A voice enshrined in the Constitution

– A declaration to be passed by all parliaments, acknowledging the unique place of the first nations in Australian history, their culture, their connection.

– And a Makarrata Commission to oversee a process of agreement-making and truth-telling.

All three of these objectives speak to the long-held and legitimate aspirations of our

First Australians:

– A proper acknowledgment of Aboriginal histories and the dispossession that

followed upon the arrival of the Europeans

– A bigger say in the issues which affect you – no more ‘solutions’ imposed without consultation or consent

– And a more lasting settlement, a new way forward, a new pathway including through treaties.

These ideas are not new – but the Uluru statement did articulate these with new clarity, a new passion, a new sense of truth and purpose.

And let me speak truthfully on behalf of Labor, the Opposition.

I cannot be any more clear than this: Labor supports a voice for Aboriginal people in our Constitution, we support a declaration by all parliaments, we support a truth-telling commission.

We are not confronted by the notion of treaties with our first Australians.

For us the question is not whether we do these things, the question is not if we should do these things but when and how.

The Parliament needs to be engaged.

The Parliament needs to be engaged now.

The Parliament needs to start the process of engaging with the people of Australia now.

It does not come as a surprise to me, that following upon a report of the

Referendum Council, the Parliament’s next step must be to consider this report.

And in doing so, we must carry its message from the heart of Australia into our hearts as parliamentarians. With optimism, with understanding, not with a desire to find what is wrong, but to find the desire to make these concepts work in the interests of all.

If we were all gathered here now, back in 1891 and 1894 and 1897 to write the Constitution, we would never dream of excluding Aboriginal people from the Census.

But in 1901, they did.

If we were starting the Constitution from scratch, we would not diminish the independence of Aboriginal people – with racist powers.

But in 1901, they did.

And if we were starting on an empty piece of paper, we would, without question, recognise the First Australians’ right to a genuine, empowered voice in the decisions that govern their lives.

Now as you know, we cannot unmake history. We do not get the change to start all over again – but it doesn’t mean that we are forever chained to the prejudices of the past.

The Prime Minister’s observations though are correct about the difficulties of constitutional change. But I ask also that we cannot let the failure of 1999 govern our future on this question.

Voting for a constitutional voice is our chance to bring our Constitution home, to make it better, more equal and more Australian.

A document that doesn’t just pay respect to the weight of a foreign crown, but also recognises the power and value of the world’s oldest living culture, recognises that

Aboriginal people were here first.

And of course, let us reject those who say that symbolic change is irrelevant because dealing with these questions does not mean walking away from the real problems of inequality and disadvantage.

– Talking about enshrining a voice does not reduce our determination to eradicate family violence

– It doesn’t stop us creating good local jobs, training apprentices, treating trachoma or supporting rangers on country.

– It doesn’t distract us from the crisis in out-of-home care, youth suicide or the shocking, growing number of Aboriginal people incarcerated for not much better reason than the colour of their skin.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples don’t have to choose between historical justice and real justice, you don’t have to choose between equality in society and equality in the Constitution – you have an equal right to both.

The Uluru Statement has given us a map of the way forward – and today I finally want to talk about how we follow it, how we take the next step.

Not the obstacles ahead, not the problems, real as they are.

Aboriginal Australians don’t need a balanda lecture about the difficulty of changing the Constitution, our inspiration friends, should not be the 1999 referendum, it should be the 1967 referendum.

You have lived that struggle, every day.

Let me be very clear. In my study of our history, in my experience, nothing has ever been given to Aboriginal people – everything that is obtained has been fought for, has been argued for, has been won and built by Aboriginal people.

Think of the Freedom Riders

Think of the Bark Petition, which Gallarwuy was witness to

Think of the Gurindji at Wave Hill

Eddie Mabo and his fight for justice

Nothing was ever sorted by simply waiting until someone came along said let me do it for you. It is not the way the world is organised.

Every bit of progress has been driven by pride, by persistence by that stubborn refusal to not take no for an answer when it comes to the pursuit of equality.

Now making the case for change and encouraging Australians to vote yes for a recognition, reconciliation, and truth – this is not easy.

But before we can do that we surely must agree on the referendum question that has to be the long overdue next step.

I have written to our Prime Minister, we’ve proposed a joint parliamentary committee – which they’re taking on board, having a look at – to be made up of Government, the Opposition and crossbench MPs – to work with Aboriginal leaders right across Australia.

This committee will have two key responsibilities.

One – advising the Parliament on how to set-up a Makarrata Commission and create a framework for truth-telling and agreement making, including treaties.

Two – what would a voice look like. Whilst there are many questions, none of these are insurmountable.

And three, as a matter of overdue recognition – to endeavour to finalise a referendum question in a timely fashion. There’s no reason why that couldn’t be done by the end of this year.

The issues have been traversed for a decade.

Now friends this is not a committee for the sake of a committee, it’s not another mechanism for delay. It is the necessary process of engagement of the Parliament.

But we have had ten years plus of good intentions, but it is time now perhaps, for more action.

The Parliament does have a key role to play here, in setting the question.

The Parliament could agree on the question this year if we all work together so that the people could vote not long after that.

Voting to enshrine a voice in a standalone Referendum – free from the shadow of an election, or the politics of other questions.

It may seem very hard to imagine, it may seem very hard to contemplate.

But it is possible to imagine a great day, a unifying day, a famous victory, a Makaratta for all.

As I said yesterday, we’ve heard plenty of speeches, there are many fine words… but perhaps people have a right to be impatient after ten years – indeed after 117 years.

So the test I set isn’t what we say here, in this beautiful place.

It’s what we do when we leave.

It’s the honesty of admitting that after the event, what is it that we do.

The test I set for myself is can I come here at future Garmas and look you in the eye and say I have done everything I can, because if I cannot say to you that I have done everything I that I can, then I can’t be truthful with my heart.

Yesterday Gallarwuy spoke with a tongue of fire, he told a powerful truth.

He said that for more than two centuries we had been two peoples – living side-by-side, but not united.

I think that is the challenge for politics too.

Djapirri who just spoke up before me, she’s talked about hope. There is the hope that you refer to, you have the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. We are here side-by-side, and now we need to be united, not to kick the can down the road, but united on a process that says this parliament will respect what we have heard from Aboriginal people.

Not just at Uluru, but for decades.

In 1967, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were counted. In 2017, you are being heard.

There is no reason why we can’t enshrine a voice for Aboriginal people in our Constitution.

Djapirri said, she told me of a dream of a canoe, paddled by the Prime Minister and myself. That in itself is an arresting image. Two captains. But in all seriousness, we appreciated I think the power of that illusion, the power of that dream.

My party is ready.

I think Australia is ready.

The fine words that we heard at the opening yesterday, they remind me of the fire dreaming symbol, which is in the front of the Parliament of Australia.

Fire.

That fire dreaming symbol is from central Australia but it is connected isn’t it, by the word of Djapirri yesterday.

Again, that spirit of fire it is a gift from Indigenous people to all Australians and I sincerely will endeavor to make sure that spirit of fire infuses our Parliament.

NACCHO Aboriginal News Alerts : Download Referendum Council’s Final Report on constitutional recognition

 

 ” We are pleased to release the Final Report of the Referendum Council, a body established in 2015 to provide guidance on constitutional change to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

This is an issue of importance to all Australians, and one that deserves careful and thorough consideration.”

Malcolm Turnbull  and Bill Shorten Joint Press Release (see separate comments below part 2 and 3 )

Download Here  Referendum_Council_Final_Report

Today is another important step on the path to constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Council undertook a significant consultation process, seeking the views of all Australians through hosting a digital engagement platform and conducting regional dialogues with First Australians across the nation.

This historic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consultation process culminated in the landmark First Nations National Constitutional Convention held in Uluru in May, and the adoption of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Today we met with the Referendum Council to discuss the recommendations presented in the final report in greater detail. We will now take the time to consider the recommendations and the best way forward.

We wish to thank the Referendum Council, led by Co-Chairs Ms Pat Anderson AO and Mr Mark Leibler AC, for their dedication and commitment.

Image Buzzfeed

 

Part 2 Remarks to the Indigenous Referendum Council

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much.

Can I just add to Linda’s remarks before we get on to the business of the meeting, that we are here on Gadigal country as Linda said – and we thank you for that beautiful Acknowledgement of Country.

And of course we have just a few kilometres from us what is now called La Perouse. Continuous

Aboriginal settlement. Extraordinary. The Aboriginal community of La Perouse, resilient in the middle of the biggest city in Australia. Their ancestors saw the ships come, saw Captain Cook, Captain Phillip, and through all of those, the oppression and the injustice, have maintained that extraordinary spirit.

It is I think emblematic of the extraordinary resilience of the First Australians so that is I think a positive note of resilience and optimism that we should bear in mind here, as you acknowledged Linda, on Gadigal country.

Thank you Pat and Mark and all of the Council for the report. We are very pleased to receive it after 18 months of your work.

We’re not here of course to make a decision. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss with you the recommendation that you’ve made.

As you know, it follows a proposal, many proposals – but in particular the most recent lineage, it follows a proposal of Prime Minister Howard in 2007 that we should recognise our first Australians in the Constitution.

This report that you’ve presented us with is the fourth major report on the issue.

There was the 2012 expert panel report that was commissioned by Prime Minister Gillard, the 2014 Act of Recognition Review Panel and of course the 2015 Joint Select Committee Report provided to Prime Minister Abbott.

Of course many of you were on one or more of those panels.

The fact that Bill and I are here today demonstrates the bipartisan spirit with which the Parliament, each Parliament has approached this issue and which I hope will continue as we examine the recommendations.

It is wonderful that we are here together with First Australians who are Members of the Parliament,

Malarndirri and Pat and Ken and Linda of course, who gave the acknowledgement right at the beginning.

You four are of course are indeed powerful voices in the Parliament of Australia and I thank you for the guidance you’ve offered us.

This also shows that the discussion about recognition has been going on for some time and that’s not just because we like talking about these big issues, but because it’s very complex.

We started the process with five options and we note that your advice has not provided a shortlist and it has, in fact, while it has considered the work of the Expert Panel and the Select Committee, very thorough work, it has essentially rejected the recommendations that those two groups and other groups has made.

Its simply recommended one constitutional change which on any view is a relatively new concept in the Australian debate about recognition.

It is a latecomer in that respect.

So what we’re being presented with in your report, and indeed all Australians will be presented with, if this was to go to a referendum, would be one option which is a constitutionally entrenched advisory body – a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to the Australian Parliament.

It is clearly, as we know, its Parliament’s duty and Parliament’s duty alone to propose changes to the Constitution but the Constitution cannot be changed by Parliament. Only the Australian people can do that.

There’s no political deal, no cross-party compromise, no leader’s handshake, even between leaders as amicable as Bill and myself, can deliver constitutional change.

To do that a constitutionally conservative nation has to be persuaded that the amendments respect the fundamental values of the Constitution and will deliver precise changes clearly understood that would benefit all Australians.

And we do not want to embark – I’m sure none of us do – in some sort of exercise in heroic failure. I have some considerable experience in trying to change the Constitution and know better than most how hard it is.

We need to ensure that any changes that are proposed are ones that meet both the expectations of First Australians but also will bring together all Australians because this is a vote of all Australians.

We are looking forward to having a frank discussion about that now, and to understand how you’ve reached your conclusions.

In particular, to understand why the recommendations of the previous panels and committees that you were asked to consider where set to one side in favour of the new proposal.

And also I’ll just add finally that we acknowledge the recommendation related to a Declaration of Recognition, which would be enacted by legislation as a symbolic statement bringing together historic recognition of our First Australians, our British institutions on which modem Australia was founded and of course our, today, 21st century multicultural nation.

We look forward to discussing all of that as well.

Thank you very much for your work.

It is very short on detail, couldn’t be shorter on detail in fact, but it is a very big idea. It is a very big new idea, so it’s worthy of considerable discussion here today.

Part 3 Bill Shorten remarks

Thank you, Malcolm and thank you, Linda for welcoming us.

I think that the delegates at Uluru in May said ‘in ’67 we were counted and in 2017, we seek to be heard’.

And that informs the approach that the Labor Party is taking in terms of today’s meeting. I want to thank the Referendum Council members, in particular the Chair but all the members, from Mark Liebler and Pat Anderson and all members of the Council.

It’s been hard work and we appreciate your wise counsel.

Hundreds of people, indeed thousands of people have participated in the Referendum Council’s dialogue and made submissions about what recognition and reconciliation means to them.

It builds upon previous work which has been done, including the work of the expert panel and the Parliamentary Committee.

We took that work seriously and obviously, we take the work of the Referendum Council

very seriously too.

Labor acknowledges the objectives of this report, including a stronger voice to the Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a process for treaty and agreement making.

These are legitimate aspirations – it is the key recommendation of this report and we can’t shy away from that fact.

They are big changes, as the Prime Minister has said.

I do not believe they are beyond us.

My party is ready to work with all of the political parties, Indigenous leaders and the broader community in terms of final proposals for constitutional change.

As I said at the start, the delegates at Uluru said ‘in ’67 we were counted and now in 2017, we seek to be heard’.

It is a fact that for constitutional change to be successful, there can be no doubt that a bipartisan approach is the best path forward.

Without that, it is a much steeper climb.

Our task is now to hear your message.

Our task is to take the collective wisdom of the Council, turn it into awareness and support for change across the country.

I’ll be meeting this week and subsequent weeks with my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Caucus, and with the broader Caucus, to talk about our next steps.

But I can assure all of you who have worked so hard on this, we are taking this very seriously and we understand the clear, unequivocal message of the Referendum Council that a voice is the option which the Referendum Council has come down with.

There is a lot more work to do.

We want to have a good discussion today.

This is an important milestone; it is not the last stop but it is certainly the next stage towards true reconciliation and recognition.

Thank you very much for the work you have done.

 

 

Aboriginal Health #IVoiceUluru Referendum : Federal Government to receive ultimatum on Indigenous ­recog­nition today

 ” Malcolm Turnbull will be delivered an ultimatum today on indigenous constitutional recog­nition, with the Referendum Council report he and Bill Shorten commissioned 18 months ago making clear that nothing less than an advisory body to parliament and a separate treaty process will be ­acceptable.”

Report from the Australian

 ” We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish.

They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle.

It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination “

The Uluru Statement from the heart in full part 2

“In 1988 I came to Sydney to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survival. We made an impact at the Centenary, and the Government promised a National Treaty with First Nations at Barunga in response to the Barunga Statement.”

“Like many times before and since the Barunga Statement, the promise for National Treaty was broken. The Uluru Statement from the Heart seeks to correct that.”

Press release  from the Uluru Statement Working Group see Part 3

Part 1 The Australian

The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader will have to decide how much political risk they are prepared to take in their own partyrooms on the proposals, after an outbreak of opposition from both sides to last month’s “Uluru statement from the heart” on which the report is based.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten have consistently said any referendum question must have the support of indigenous Australia, and Referendum Council co-chairman Mark Leibler has said he would not support recommending a course of action “unless it’s got good prospects for success”.

Focus will next turn to the annual Garma cultural festival in northeast Arnhem Land, where key players will spend time in Aug­ust thrashing out details.

The council, comprising six indigenous and eight non-indigenous members, has backed the full Uluru Statement, which was the result of 12 nationwide dialogues leading up to a constitutional convention at Uluru.

The statement’s preamble, which includes the call for a “First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution” and the establishment of a “Makarrata commission to supervise agreement-making … and truth-telling about our history”, was the only part publicly released after the Uluru convention last month.

However, the Uluru meeting focused in much more detail on how the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander place in Australian history should be viewed, how the document’s recommendations were ­arrived at and how they could be implemented.

About 250 participants at the Uluru convention helped craft a narrative tracing a seven-part trajectory under the rubric of “our story”, beginning with an explanation of the pre-European system of law that bound together hundreds of language groups or nations.

They noted that in many indigenous groups these laws remained strong, such as the Meriam people’s “Malo’s law” — one of the features in the High Court’s Mabo judgment that dispelled terra nullius and led to the creation of native title legislation.

Uluru participants discussed a series of “guiding principles” to inform the council’s report, which included the need to involve “substantive, structural reform”, to “tell the truth of history” and to make sure they provided “a mechanism for First Nations agreement-making”.

Part 2 ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART

We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.

This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors.

This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.

They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem.

This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish.

They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle.

It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country.

We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

ULURU REPS CALL FOR URGENT VOICE PROGRESS

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across Australia travelled to Sydney for the inaugural Uluru Statement working group meeting.

The meeting with representatives from 13 regions across the entirety of the country reaffirmed the determination to see a constitutional voice to parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Over the weekend, they publicly announced that they propose that the proposed voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be representative, embedded within the Constitution, and such that it provides greater self-determination. They further report that a roadmap will be proposed to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader that includes the timing for the constitutional process and then legislative development for the body and the Makarrata Commission.

During the historic two day meeting, the group gathered at the site of the 1938 Day of Mourning protest, reflecting on the brave and unrelenting efforts of their Indigenous forebears of the struggle.

Newly elected Co-Chair Josie Crawshaw, one of three Co-Chairs for the 29 strong work group reflected on her lifetime involvement in activism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.

Ms Crawshaw is from the Northern Territory, she reflected that “In 1988 I came to Sydney to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survival. We made an impact at the Centenary, and the Government promised a National Treaty with First Nations at Barunga in response to the Barunga Statement.”

“Like many times before and since the Barunga Statement, the promise for National Treaty was broken. The Uluru Statement from the Heart seeks to correct that.” Ms Crawshaw said.

Suzanne Thompson, another of the Co-Chairs is from Barcaldine, a place known for early struggles for the great Australian “fair go”. She expressed the need for continuing bi-partisan support and engagement with the proposals in the statement. “We need all organisations, left, right, and indifferent to join us in saying it is time to settle this unfinished business so that our country, with its most ancient and unique culture, can reconcile our past and look to our future.

Ms Crawshaw and Ms Thompson join Thomas Mayor as Co-Chairs. They on behalf of the group are calling for a national movement of all Australians to join the #1VoiceUluru movement.

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health :@IPAAACT After 50 years of #Indigenous affairs, ‘We need to do better’

 

” 50 years on from the referendum that made Indigenous affairs a Commonwealth concern, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s new deputy secretary, Professor Ian Anderson, sets out a clear and comprehensive vision of a better way forward.

The 50th anniversary of the referendum that made Indigenous affairs a federal policy concern has prompted a lot of reflection on what governments have done with that role and, more importantly, consideration of how policymakers and public servants can do better.”

From Stephen Easton journalist at The Mandarin 

In the view of Australian Public Service head Martin Parkinson, the 90.77% affirmative vote both “provided opportunities for us to begin to right the wrongs” caused by British colonisation and assured the prime minister that nearly every citizen wanted the national government to try and do so.

“We may have created the opportunity in ’67 but we haven’t actually delivered on it,” Parkinson added on Friday, opening a public administration seminar at Old Parliament House marking half a century of Indigenous policy.

The keynote address came from his new deputy secretary for Indigenous affairs, Ian Anderson, an Aboriginal University of Melbourne professor who became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) last week for “distinguished service to the Indigenous community” as a doctor, health researcher and role model.

Ian Anderson

Anderson was brought in to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in February to lead a “root and branch” review of Closing the Gap targets, replacing Richard Eccles, who quietly moved across to the Department of Communications and the Arts.

“There is a shared sense among Indigenous leaders, governments and the wider community that despite the significant progress in some areas, we need to do better,” said Anderson.

He sees enough progress to prove solutions do exist, but also consistent themes behind the failures: too many “one size fits all” approaches, “chopping and changing” goals, and governments “overreaching” in terms of what is realistic, while failing to “significantly” engage with Indigenous communities.

The highly regarded professor is seen as a brilliant quiet achiever who has led by example rather than taking to the barricades. He acknowledged “the activist generation” who fought for their rights and built a robust Indigenous-led community sector “from the ground up” but also pointed out Aboriginal society had changed.

“We now have an Indigenous middle class, working at all levels of government, the private sector, universities, and of course continuing to lead in the community sector,” said Anderson, who thinks this group will play a key role in the future of their people.

He also sees a role for new joined-up approaches to public administration, but believes “wicked problems” like Indigenous disadvantage can’t be solved by government alone; they require “the active participation of citizens” as well.

“We, as the Australian Public Service, have to do a damn sight better than we’re doing now.”

“We, as the Australian Public Service, have to do a damn sight better than we’re doing now.”

“The key to Indigenous disadvantage is not just what governments do, but what Indigenous people and communities do,” Anderson said, arguing public servants must create “an environment that helps solutions be found by a much wider range of actors”.

Regional planning in healthcare and the Empowered Communities initiative supported by PM&C were both good examples, he said. Government agencies would need to keep working collaboratively with Indigenous Australia “at a scale and depth we haven’t seen before” — and learn to share leadership and accountability in new ways that might be uncomfortable at first.

A new joined-up vision

Invoking the principle of subsidiarity, Anderson displayed his deep knowledge of the challenges of Indigenous affairs and set out a clear and comprehensive vision for how the federal and state governments could improve outcomes.

“The current approach to building the public sector Indigenous workforce is well past its use-by date,” he added later.

“It’s focusing only on entry-level programs and assumes a sort of trickle-up model that looks increasingly constrained, given the growing numbers of skilled and experienced Indigenous professionals working across … many sectors outside government.”

Martin Parkinson

The newly recruited deputy secretary, who will have a hand in a $10 million per year evaluation program, also spoke for the importance of rigorous evidence-based policy, using “high quality, granular data” to empower better regional and governmental decision-making.

“In the past, we have tended to rely too heavily on gut-feel and ideas that sound good but don’t have anything to back them up beyond their ability to generate enthusiasm,” said Anderson.

He thinks Australia has “one of the best Indigenous data collection systems in the world” but said data quality issues were common, especially for areas where Indigenous people are a tiny minority. Much of this is “not collated transparently, burying important information about Indigenous outcomes in population-wide trends and averages”.

In his admittedly “ambitious” vision for the future, the operating model is a “collaborative partnership” with Indigenous Australia, “founded on robust, accountable and professional working relationships” that feature shared decision-making and mutual accountability as core principles.

“At the same time, higher quality and more transparent data platforms will give us better tools for understanding the problems in our communities and Indigenous cohorts, measuring our successes and our failures and keeping ourselves accountable,” Anderson said.

“And on these foundations and the new capabilities and insight that will give, we will build an Indigenous policy system that is much more dynamic, much more responsive to diversity and innovation, and much better able to negotiate a place-based context, and create solutions with authority and with buy-in.”

‘Fire in the belly’

Anderson was followed by National Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisation CEO Patricia Turner, who in some ways represented the activist generation.

Pat Turner

Having worked in senior APS roles herself, she believes Aboriginal public servants still need a bit of “fire in the belly” and should constantly advocate for their people within the administration — because support for Closing the Gap within mainstream Australia is not guaranteed.

Indigenous affairs is not a top-order political issue among the general population, judging by its absence from recent debates. Turner reminded the audience that the Redfern Statement she helped launch during the last election was a direct response to this.

Turner argued for more targeted public service recruitment and mentoring to increase Indigenous representation at senior level, better engagement with Indigenous-led groups like NACCHO, and more collaboration between departments. She criticised the lack of progress towards Closing the Gap targets, questioning why they are not an explicit concern of every cabinet submission and calling on individual public servants to think about how they personally could contribute to achieving them.

Turner was followed by the architect of the Close the Gap targets, University of Canberra professor Tom Calma, who spent 45 years in the APS. Calma said the media often obscured the role of governments in Indigenous policy failures and suggested they were the fault of communities themselves.

Tom Calma

“Now this is not the case, and we need a better understanding of the role and effectiveness of the APS in Australian Indigenous affairs, and their consistent contribution to failure,” he said.

Calma also pointed to the financial and opportunity costs of machinery of government changes, pointing out there have been 21 different ministers for the portfolio in the past 50 years and 10 different administrative structures — nine of those within the past 30 years.

This had led to the same old ideas being recycled with little learning from the mistakes of the past, he said, fuelling a destructive cynicism and lethargy among those who had watched the government spin its bureaucratic wheels through several policy and MOG changes.

The full speeches — and the panel’s responses to pre-written questions asked by Department of Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell, ACT Public Service head Kathy Leigh and Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews — are all worth listening to in the full video of the two-hour event.

A flurry of discussion, but where will it lead?

Held in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration Australia (ACT Division), the event was just one of many ways PM&C, as the current home of Indigenous affairs, is actively encouraging a discussion about the way forward. The department’s Indigenous affairs group has also partnered with the Australia New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) to deliver several more academic forums and publications this year.

The first, a discussion paper that also came out on Friday, considers “two constant underlying problems” that have persisted ever since the Commonwealth first set up an Indigenous affairs bureaucracy in 1967.

“They had to ask what government structure or instrument would be best suited to this effort,” Parkinson explained. “And they had to ask how best to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the national decision-making process.”

“They” were the original Council for Aboriginal Affairs set up shortly after the referendum, comprising inaugural Reserve Bank governor Herbert Cole “Nugget” Coombs, senior diplomat Barrie Dexter and the famous anthropologist William Stanner.

“50 years after Coombs’ original questions, I think those questions are as salient today as they were then,” said the PM&C secretary.

The event was also a moment to admit that in many ways, federal policymakers have struggled to work out what to do and where to stand with regard to Indigenous Australians for most of that 50 years.

“We, as PM&C, have to do better. But we, as the Australian Public Service, have to do a damn sight better than we’re doing now,” said Parkinson.

While the IA group in his department plays a leading a role, he said it only spends about 7% of funding for services directed to Indigenous Australians.

“The vast bulk of monies spent in this country actually rest in your hands and the hands of states and territories,” Parkinson said, with a line of federal secretaries seated front and centre.

“And ask yourself a question: do you pay enough attention to the impact of the policies that you design and you implement and you deliver on Indigenous Australians?

“And I think if you ask that question and you’re honest with yourself, the answer is pretty clear.”

Going back to first principles

Much of the progress that has occurred has come through protest, grass-roots activism and community organisations built by Indigenous people, as Turner reminded the audience. The years before the referendum were much darker times for Aborigines and, she recalled, the outcome of the vote was a joyous occasion.

“However, we have always had to fight for our basic rights as Aboriginal people, the original owners and occupiers of this land for some 60,000 years,” she added.

Turner had high praise for some of the past “giants of the APS” whose frank, impartial advice led to big nation-building projects and successful responses to national crises — and for the “bold vision of the future” set out by Coombs, Dexter and Stanner.

“Those three wise, white men did so much for my people in a short space of time,” she said, suggesting there might be value in revisiting some of the CAA”s “seminal” report.

“Today we can bear witness to the fact that very few professional public servants seek an entire career at the coal-face of Indigenous policy advice.”

It is up to all public servants, she said, to make sure their ministers hear “frank and fearless” advice on the “political hot potato” of Indigenous affairs that reflects the views of Aboriginal people “about the decisions made in government for them” and comes through their own representative organisations.

“In the past, we have tended to rely too heavily on gut-feel.”

“In the past, we have tended to rely too heavily on gut-feel.”

Turner believes in Indigenous self-determination and public servants using their positions to advocate for their people, in line with cultural expectations. She said doing this made her an “unusual” public servant who often challenged her superiors — but encouraged current public servants with an Indigenous background to do more or less the same.

Current policy targets a certain level of Indigenous representation in the APS generally, as a sign of fairness and diversity reflecting the population, while initiatives like special mentoring networks are being revived, but it’s not clear if or how public service leaders expect this to translate into more consideration of Indigenous perspectives, in a practical sense.

Meanwhile, the PM&C discussion paper reminds us that conservative views remain and, across the whole population, not everyone agrees that there should even be Indigenous-specific arms of government — or affirmative action to reverse “the lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in the government executive and administration” for that matter.

Going all the way back to the questions Coombs wrestled with in 1967, the paper explains the other view is that governments should demand better outcomes for Indigenous Australians from all mainstream agencies as part of their normal work — not cast Indigenous people as a special class of citizens with special policies and special public servants to administer them.

“We may have created the opportunity in ’67 but we haven’t actually delivered on it.”

“We may have created the opportunity in ’67 but we haven’t actually delivered on it.”

As wise as those white men of the CAA were, it was also their view that Indigenous people should call the tune through their own organisations as soon as practical. 50 years later, it is still up to APS to figure out “the structural challenge that Nugget Coombs outlined” decades ago, according to Parkinson.

“One thing I am absolutely sure of is that setting the agenda for how we approach the second 50 years of Commonwealth public administration in Indigenous affairs is going to test our values,” he added.

“It’s going to test our technical expertise, and it’s going to test, importantly, our leadership — both our capacity to lead but more importantly, our willingness to lead. There’s no question; we have to do things differently.”

Parkinson’s closing comments reflect the current policy mantra to do things “with” Aboriginal people, not “to” them. But it is much easier to put this principle into words than into practice, although in Anderson, the department seems to have found someone who truly understands the challenges and can plot a realistic path forward.

“We will be asking Indigenous communities to step up, to take on leadership and to hold themselves accountable, but we, as public servants, also then have to let go,” Parkinson said.

Top image: Department of the Environment and Energy secretary and IPAA ACT president Gordon De Brouwer with the panellists and Martin Parkinson. All images by RLDI.

From #Mabo25 to #UluruStatement and #Treaty : Mabo Commemoration Oration : Senator Patrick Dodson

 ” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to call for a treaty and a strong Indigenous voice if nothing is done.

These calls only highlight the need for constitutional reform.

Australia cannot move forward while our founding document, our birth certificate, embodies our racist past. The stubborn stains in our racist Constitution must be erased.

  • Eddie Koiki Mabo would expect nothing less.
  • Eddie Koiki Mabo was a great Australian.

We can find the Mabo spirit within each of us, and work together to build a great Australia, free from racism, honorable and just.”

Part 2

 “Last month at Uluru, in the spirit of constitutional conventions from which we had previously been excluded, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gathered.

Their one page document, Uluru Statement from the Heart, issues a series of challenges to the Parliament and the people of Australia.

  • It calls for constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.
  • It calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
  • It calls for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

A treaty or agreement, whether one or many, would be an acknowledgment flowing from the Mabo decision that terra nullius is a discredited, outmoded legal fiction and that this land was taken from Aboriginal people.”

Senator Patrick Dodson on June 16 delivered  this year’s 2017 ANU Mabo Commemoration Oration at University House. The Mabo Commemoration Oration was held to recognise the 25th anniversary of the Mabo ruling.

In June 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised that a group of Torres Strait Islanders, led by Eddie Mabo, held ownership of Mer (Murray Island). In acknowledging the traditional rights of the Meriam people to their land, the Court also held that native title existed for all Indigenous people. This landmark decision gave rise to important native title legislation the following year and rendered terra nullius a legal fiction.

Senator Patrick Dodson is a Yawuru man from Broome in Western Australia. He has dedicated his life work to being an advocate for constructive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples based on mutual respect, understanding and dialogue. He is a recipient of the Sydney International Peace prize

Image above : On display at Parliament House Canberra in a careful hand with coloured pencils, Eddie Mabo drew this map in the shape of the Island of Mer, noting the family names associated with tracts of the Island, including his own family name.

Full Oration

Thank you very much Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt and thank you for the Welcome to Country. I too join in the appreciation of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people for their welcome to their lands.

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Australian National University tonight to deliver a speech in honour of the late Eddie Koiki Mabo.

  • Mr Mabo was a man of history.
  • He celebrated his Mer and Torres Strait Islander history.
  • He made Australian history.

So it is to history that I will turn to start my remarks.

On 26 January 1788, the British flag was raised at Botany Bay.

The land, now part of the City of Sydney, was the territorial property of the Gadigal and Bidigal people of the Eora nation. It was held and looked after by them, for countless generations.

With a cheer and a tot of rum, to the sounds of fife and drums, the colony of New South Wales was proclaimed.

Over time, other colonies were established in other parts of Australia or by separation of their territory from New South Wales.

• Queensland was one of those.

Over time, the boundaries of the Queensland colony were stretched to include offshore northern islands around 1859.

The lines on the map between Papua New Guinea and Australia included the Murray Islands, the largest of which is Murray Island or Mer.

  • In 1912, the Island of Mer was declared a Reserve under the Land Act 1910 (Qld).
  • In 1936, Eddie Mabo was born in Mer.
  • In 1982, Eddie Koiki Mabo and four other Murray Islanders commenced proceedings against the State of Queensland.

They claimed ownership of parcels of land on Mer as the holders of native title under their customary law.

This litigation, bearing the name of the man we commemorate tonight, transformed the modern Australian common law.

• The case changed our History.

• For the good. On the first floor of our Parliament, I walk past a display of foundation documents of  Australia’s law and society.

This week I watched a group of school children walk through the area on their tours of Parliament House, under a banner that reads, “Parliament is the law-making body which determines the rules of the society by which people live.”

A couple of young boys were looking at a case where a page out of an old-school notebook was on display.

In a careful hand with coloured pencils, Eddie Mabo had drawn the shape of the Island of Mer, noting the family names associated with tracts of the Island, including his own family name.

On the same floor, there are other important documents and paintings on display: The Yirrkala bark petition, the Barunga petition, the Kevin Rudd apology.

Each of these artefacts talks to our most significant national historical challenge.

How can we recognise and acknowledge the fact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prior ownership of this land we now call Australia?

Mr Mabo’s map and the petitions call for all of us to recognise and acknowledge the fact  of occupation.

• to re-think the received colonial settler narrative. They remind us of the exertion of force by and on behalf of the British authorities.

  • The fact is: the British did not ask permission to settle.
  • The fact is: no-one consented, no-one ceded.
  • The fact is: the judiciary and the legislature have become less generous since The Mabo ruling.
  • The fact is: we need an agreement or treaty to settle not only the ongoing legacy of terra nullius but also the legacy of its existence.

The first peoples were in this land as owners and governors of their respective countries before and when the colonists ‘arrived’ and began to gradually occupy their territories and rule over them. Today those native title holders under the Native Title Act are evidence of their descent from their ancestors and are the living testimony of their prior occupation of their lands and waters.

They and their people proclaim continuing occupation. This land was not, and is not, terra nullius.

The only thing that threatens this is the application of extinguishment written into the Native Title Act. It is more sinister than its existence as a legal mechanism, because in most cases it requires the consent of the very people that hold the Native Title.

This is neither honourable, nor generous.

This is treachery and brings shame to the Mabo name. It belittles the vision and motives of Mr Mabo and the other families who fought and won a seminal victory in the High Court.

The Chief Justice of Australia who heard the Mabo case, Justice Sir Gerard Brennan made this determination on 3rd June 1992 :

  • The common law of Australia rejects the notion that, when the Crown acquired sovereignty over territory which is now part of Australia it thereby acquired the absolute beneficial ownership of the land therein, and
  • accepts that the antecedent rights and interests in land possessed by the indigenous inhabitants of the territory survived the change in sovereignty.
  • Those antecedent rights and interests thus constitute a burden on the radical title of the Crown.

His decision in the Mabo case ruled that:

• the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the island of Mer.

Rejecting the notion of “terra nullius”, native title was found to have survived the acquisition of sovereignty.

Of course the High Court as an instrument of our Constitution cannot rule on the issue of sovereignty.

It took ten long years to resolve the Mabo claim. It is a poignant tragedy that Koiki Mabo did not live long enough to hear the decision of the High Court.

  • To celebrate the recognition of what he knew in his heart and mind to be the truth
  • His country was in Mer.

From our viewpoint in history, we see the Case that bears his name as a major landmark, a signpost for our future. But the road is long and at times the travelling is hard going.

The Mabo decision led to an eruption of controversy and alarm, in much of mainstream Australia.

Mabo was an affront to the security provided by the lie of terra nullius.

The Commonwealth Parliament, in 1993, under the Labor Government of Paul Keating, enacted the Native Title Act.

The Act sought to build on the common law as defined in the Mabo case.The integrity around this today raises serious questions.

In my own State of Western Australia, in which more than half of the land was legally unalienated and mineral rich, the Government objected. The State Parliament in Perth passed a law to extinguish native title from the moment of colonisation and challenged the Commonwealth Act.

The High Court upheld the validity of the Native Title Act and found the Western Australian law to be invalid.

On a personal note, that decision enabled the Yawuru people to pursue our own native title interests and reclaim our country. My brother Mick and I have good reason to be forever grateful to Koiki Mabo and his pioneering vision and courage.

Another major milestone took place in 1996. The High Court in the Wik case found that Native Title and pastoral leases could co-exist.

The pastoral leases were a feature of the colonial period, trying to reign in the peacocking of the best lands by squatters.

  • There was at least some consideration by the Colonial authorities of the rights of Aboriginal people to travel over the leases.
  • Such rights themselves became caveats on the pastoral lease until gradually modified.

The Wik case was a simple matter of concurrent and co-existing rights but with the Native Title rights yielding to the leaseholder if there is a conflict. The public reaction by some sectors was ill informed and disgraceful.

So the generosity of the Court already had begun to harden somewhat in the qualification they put on the notion of “concurrent and coexistent” rights.

The Government of Prime Minister John Howard, could have used this decision as a positive step, as an opportunity for advancing reconciliation.

The Howard “Ten Point Plan” led to the 1996 amendments to the Native Title Act, and in the words of his Deputy Tim Fischer, delivered ‘bucket-loads of extinguishment’.

That legislation was in my view intended to reinstate terra nullius or to remove what Justice Brennan called the ‘burden on the radical title of the Crown’.

As a sweetener they also delivered opportunity previously denied except under a statutory land rights Act.

They opened the opportunity for Agreement Making, which unfortunately is too often structurally tied to extinguishment. Indigenous Land Use Agreements could be negotiated under the Act whereby Native Title Holders and other parties could agree on the use of Native Title lands, for mutual benefit and economic development.

Far too often, the price of that opportunity has been too high, in my view, leading to the extinguishment of Native Title, forever and a day, leaving a lingering burden on the shoulders of the native title holders.

Nevertheless, hundreds of agreements have been negotiated and signed across the nation, especially in Queensland, but also in my state of Western Australia, where an ILUA Agreement for the Noongar people, had been hailed as a major landmark, a Treaty in all but name for the people of the South West.

In the Senate this week, the validation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements has been under debate. There is a tension between law-making in the Parliament, the decisions of the Courts and the aspirations of Aboriginal people to negotiate agreements that retain their rights.

The concept of separation of powers is not always empathetic to the sense of justice held by Aboriginal people.

The Noongar agreement came unstuck with the McGlade decision. With the recent amendments in the Parliament this Agreement will go back to the process of registration, for the Noongars to settle.

At every step, the Labor Party has pushed for consultation on these Bills, through a Senate Committee, through submissions and through consultations with representatives of the Native Title Representative bodies.

At every step, we have remembered the legacy of Koiki Mabo and understand the fact that Native Title rights, now recognised in the common law, should not be changed, extinguished or modified at the whim of Government.

They do not exist as a gift of the Parliament, or an act of largesse by the Government of the day.

Native Title rights are ongoing rights, with deep roots into our common law held exclusively by Native Title holders. Amending legislation should always require the ‘free, prior and informed consent of Native Title holders.

The Native Title Act, much amended over time, has evolved in complexity and function. Koiki Mabo would probably have some difficulty understanding how his vision has become brutalised by Parliament.

The Australian Law Reform Commission, in its 2015 review, Connection to Country, has identified key areas of reform that are yet to be implemented by the Government. Indeed, we still await a formal response from the Government to its recommendations.

From my own perspective, as a native title holder, and now as a legislator, I see five key areas where the functioning of the Act requires rework, not least to better align it to the vision of Eddie Koiki Mabo. These are, in summary:

  • The need to rethink the presumption that an Agreement for alternative uses of native title land requires extinguishment of native title rights;
  • The need to rethink the decision-making process required under the Act;
  • The need to improve the fungibility for native title land without needing extinguishment or loss of communal title;
  • The need to address the rights of compensation for the loss of enjoyment, access and use of Native Title lands.
  • The need to change the onus of proof burden from native title applicants to the Crown
  • The Native Title Act can be refashioned to shift the point of balance towards the ongoing rights, interest, needs and concerns of Indigenous Australians. Doing so would restore the Act to its fundamental purpose: to recognise and protect native title, in the interests of Indigenous Australians, and our shared national future.

Last month at Uluru, in the spirit of constitutional conventions from which we had previously been excluded, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gathered.

They set out to deliberate and report back to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, through the Referendum Council, on Constitutional recognition.

Their one page document, Uluru Statement from the Heart, issues a series of challenges to the Parliament and the people of Australia.

  • It calls for constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.
  • It calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
  • It calls for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

From a Parliamentary perspective, we look forward to the report on those consultations from the Referendum Council at the end of the month. Hopefully working through these issues in the Parliament, in the time ahead, will take place in the spirit of constructive optimism.

To formulate a successful referendum outcome, especially in the next year a bipartisan, indeed, cross party consensus will need to be carefully shaped.

In my personal view, Constitutional reform, a treaty and a strong Indigenous voice have never been mutually exclusive—one does not come at the expense of the others.

• Of course I support an Agreement making process

A treaty or agreement, whether one or many, would be an acknowledgment flowing from the Mabo decision that terra nullius is a discredited, outmoded legal fiction and that this land was taken from Aboriginal people.

It would also pick up the opportunity that was lost when the Native Title negotiations focused solely upon land tenure.

I have never held the view that Mabo was only about land tenure. In fact when my views clashed with the then negotiators I was asked to discontinue any involvement in the process and dutifully left it to those who settled the issues with Prime Minister Keating.

There was no treaty when this land was colonized. In the future a treaty will be a strong step for a mature and harmonious nation. The work of Labor Governments in our States of Victoria and South Australia show it can be done.

Of course we need a strong Indigenous voice.

For too long Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been denied a voice, excluded from decision making processes about their own lives.

Indigenous people want to reset our relationship with government.

  • We want to be heard.
  • We have been calling for this for a long time.

Working to make a Voice effective within the processes of Parliament and capable of support from the whole Australian population in a referendum is a key challenge. A challenge Labor will consider carefully.

We look forward to more information on how the idea of an entrenched Voice can become a systemic, secure and successful legislative reality.

• We need to address the systemic racism that exists in our nation’s founding document, Australia’s Constitution.

We want our past to be acknowledged and we want to be involved in decisions about our future.

The Uluru Statement called for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First nations and truth-telling about our history.

Many rejected the  idea of any ‘symbolic’ acknowledgement in what they saw as a racist document, the  Constitution.

This may well have been a statement from the heart.

It is time we acknowledged that Indigenous people were not included in the Constitutional Conventions that were held all over Australia in the lead up to Federation.

The Australian Constitution was written by people who thought Indigenous people were lesser beings; a dying race with no sense of land use and development.

  • The dynamic of racism in Australia is institutional and it is structural.
  • The foundations of racism are entrenched, persistent, in this nation’s founding  document.

The question we need to work through is not about choosing between a treaty, a voice or constitutional recognition.

The question is whether Australia is able to move forward towards reconciliation —be that in the form of a Treaty, or an Indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution —while the nation’s foundation document remains, in its DNA, a flawed and racist document.

I understand this because I was a member of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians, which was tasked to report to the Government on possible options for constitutional change to give effect to indigenous constitutional recognition and to assess any legal consequence that might flow.

In 2012, the Expert Panel delivered our report , which made a series of recommendations including:

  • a statement of acknowledgment in the Constitution, relevant to the lawmaking power in indigenous affairs (new Section 51 A);
  • a modification to the wording of the Commonwealth’s lawmaking power in

Indigenous affairs (s 51 (26);

  • a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination (new S 116A); and
  • the removal of a provision that contemplates states disqualifying people from voting based on their race (s 25).

These recommendations recognise that the Government has the power to make laws about Indigenous people, but the laws must be beneficial and give the Parliament guidance.

It would be a mistake to consider this constitutional reform as merely ‘symbolic’.

Nothing about our Constitution is symbolic. There is not even a preamble that could point us to something symbolic.

The words in the Constitution reference powers that the Parliament uses to make laws.

They are words with real power. They are words that guide the Parliament in making laws and the Courts when they judge the validity of those laws.

Changing powers in the Constitution and giving clarification around how such powers can be used is not mere symbolism, “pretty words”.

Having an Indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution, without amending the Constitution to remove racially entrenched ideologies, is puzzling.

It seems to assume that an Indigenous voice in the Constitution could be strong enough to challenge the entrenched structural racism which shapes the policies and laws that affect the lives of Aboriginal people without removing the racist elements of the Constitution.

We know these policies and laws. They are the policies of assimilation, of forced social and cultural change. These are the policies that continue to remove Aboriginal people from their families, country and culture.

These are the policies that have caused Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to  make up approximately one quarter of Australia’s prison population, despite making up  just 3 per cent of the total population.

These are the policies which have led to Indigenous Australians dying a decade earlier than non-Indigenous Australians.

  • Policies that repeatedly fail Aboriginal people.
  • Policies that Koiki Mabo challenged with his life and would do so today if he were alive.

It is no coincidence that these policies exist alongside a constitution that is the legacy of a colonial settler narrative, a narrative that saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people as lesser beings and Australia as a land belonging to nobody. If we are going to clean up the mess that racism has made in Australia, in the hope that we might one day achieve reconciliation, we have to do it properly and honorably.

The report of the Referendum Council at the end of this month deserves and requires weighty consideration. If the Referendum Council’s recommendations do not get broad parliamentary support it will fail and there will be no referendum.

If there is broad support then, it requires careful consideration of a Bill and Explanatory Memorandum that can pass through this challenging and complicated parliament.

It requires a question that can be put to the Australian people that will pass the high bar of a referendum.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to call for a treaty and a strong Indigenous voice if nothing is done.

These calls only highlight the need for constitutional reform.

Australia cannot move forward while our founding document, our birth certificate, embodies our racist past. The stubborn stains in our racist Constitution must be erased.

  • Eddie Koiki Mabo would expect nothing less.
  • Eddie Koiki Mabo was a great Australian.

We can find the Mabo spirit within each of us, and work together to build a great Australia, free from racism, honorable and just.

Kaliya. Thank you.

 

Aboriginal Health #Referendum debate : At this weeks #Uluru Convention Do #wehavethesolutions ?

” More than 300 delegates will attend the #Uluru Australian First Nations Constitutional Conventioncon against the backdrop of the three big milestones in Indigenous history:

50 years since the #1967referendum

25 years since the High Court’s Mabo decision #Mabo25

and 20 years since the #BTH20 Bringing Them Home report on the forced removal of Aboriginal children.

Finding middle ground:

Twelve delegations from across the country will make their way to Central Australia this week to try to find middle ground on a proposal. Options for change include:

  • Drafting a statement acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians
  • Amending or deleting the “race power” — section 51 — which allows the Federal Government to make special laws for Indigenous people
  • Inserting a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination into the constitution
  • Establishing an Indigenous body of representatives to be consulted by Parliament
  • Deleting section 25, a redundant clause which says state governments can exclude people from voting in on the basis of their race.

Both leaders will address Parliament on the significance of the anniversaries on Wednesday, take part in the Long Walk to the MCG, and address a lunch before the Indigenous Round game between Essendon and Richmond on May 27, the anniversary of the referendum.

The Uluru Convention promises to be an historic moment in what is a continuing journey for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. ”

This Month see NACCHO Save a Dates for more info

23 May : #BTH20 event is about marking the 20th anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report.

 May 23-26 Conference Aboriginal People with Disability

26 May :National Sorry day 2017

27 May : Dreamtime at the G /The Long Walk MCG Melbourne

27 May to June 3 National Reconciliation Week

31 May World No Tobacco Day

 ” Aboriginal people will not accept a feel-good, symbolic stamp on a fundamentally unfair system. The system needs to be improved.

We need to change the way we do business in Aboriginal affairs. Constitutional recognition must mean real reform.

It must create a genuine paradigm shift, or Aboriginal people will reject it

Jeremy Clark and Jill Gallagher, the co-convenors of the Melbourne dialogue.

The long road to recognition

Over the past six months, from Hobart to Broome and Adelaide to Thursday Island, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have reclaimed the movement towards constitutional recognition at twelve historic First Nation Regional Dialogues.

On 23–26 May, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 constitutional referendum, representatives from each dialogue will meet at Uluru for the first Australian First Nations Constitutional Convention. There, they aim to agree on whether and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples might be “recognised” in the Australian Constitution.

Each dialogue has reflected the priorities of the communities involved, but the calls for substantive, structural reform have been consistent.

Some proposals have attracted strong support across the dialogues: structural reforms that provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with an enhanced role in Australian democracy such as a representative body with a voice to Parliament and treaty negotiations, and a prohibition on racial discrimination. Also emerging have been calls for a truth and justice commission. Most importantly, the dialogues have agreed that the conversation must not stop at Uluru, and that the First Nation peoples must be involved in negotiating the model of recognition.

The dialogues and the convention are being facilitated by the Referendum Council, a body established with bipartisan support by the Turnbull government. The council’s job is to advise the prime minister and the opposition leader on “progress and next steps towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.” This is a landmark moment: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are being asked whether they want constitutional reform that purports to “recognise” them, and what shape it should take.

As Patrick Dodson wrote when he was co-chair of the Referendum Council, “Strong support by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the referendum proposal is absolutely essential. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not support the referendum proposal, there is little incentive to proceed to a referendum.”


These dialogues – designed and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves – break the pattern of past constitutional deliberations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples weren’t involved in the conventions that drafted the Australian Constitution in the 1890s. In the document itself, they were excluded not only from the national law-making power of the new federal government, but also from the population count that determined the number of seats for each state in the House of Representatives.

The 1967 referendum removed both of those exclusions. But while that vote brought essential reforms, including a national role for the Commonwealth in Aboriginal affairs, it fell far short of achieving substantive equality. Nor did it recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as First Peoples or guarantee them a meaningful role in decisions about Indigenous affairs. The regional dialogue process puts Indigenous people back at the centre of the debate about constitutional change and practical reform.

The process is important for another reason. The concept of “recognition” is far from straightforward, and the failure to acknowledge this fact has led to concerns about the government-funded RECOGNISE campaign. The message of RECOGNISE, which is part of Reconciliation Australia, is expressed in general terms, emphasising explicit recognition in the Constitution and pointing to the possibility of racial discrimination under existing provisions. But it hasn’t been in a position to articulate the form that recognition might take, and what differences it might make to people’s daily lives. In the absence of a clear model, many people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities fear that advocating “recognition” will simply build public support for a “minimalist” solution.

A minimalist package would consist of three amendments to the Constitution. The first is the repeal of section 25, which anticipated that states might pass discriminatory laws disqualifying people from voting at state elections on the basis of race, though it penalises any state that does so. Its deletion has multi-party support, as it has had for more than fifty years. It is a “dead letter” in legal and practical terms: no state would now contemplate taking the vote away from Aboriginal people. (In any event, there is a strong argument that to do so would breach the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975.)

Breaking the pattern: participants in the Ross River Regional Dialogue early last month. Referendum Council

The second minimalist element is a change to the wording of what is known as the “races power” in section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution. This gives federal parliament the power to make laws for the people of any race for which special laws are deemed necessary. When it was introduced in 1901, the power expressly excluded Aboriginal people. The 1967 referendum changed that, for the first time giving federal parliament power to make positive laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A decision by the High Court in 1998 strongly suggested that the power could also authorise laws that are detrimental to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The minimalist change would not address that possibility; rather, it would remove the word “race” from the Constitution and replace it with a power with respect to “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The third element is the insertion of a constitutional “statement of acknowledgement.” This would be a statement of facts – for instance, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were the original occupiers of the continent, that they have a continuing relationship with their land and waters, and that they possess distinctive cultures, languages and heritage.

In the past, there have been calls for such a statement to be included as a preamble to the Constitution – indeed, prime minister John Howard put forward a controversial preamble proposal containing some words of recognition at a 1999 referendum, which was soundly defeated. Today, it is envisioned that such a statement could sit inside a new chapter of the Constitution, or as a preamble to the section giving the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Such a statement is unlikely to have any significant legal effect, although it might be used to help interpret the scope of that Commonwealth power regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A minimalist model stands at one end of a spectrum of what recognition might look like. It was emphatically rejected in the Kirribilli Statement, which was presented by forty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition on 6 July 2015. That statement read:

[A]ny reform must involve substantive changes to the Australian Constitution. It must lay the foundation for the fair treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the future.

A minimalist approach, that provides preambular recognition, removes section 25 and moderates the races power, does not go far enough and would not be acceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Kirribilli Statement called on the government to establish a mechanism for negotiations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the government and parliament in relation to more extensive constitutional reforms. It also urged the government to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over an acceptable referendum process. Soon after, Aboriginal leaders went back to the prime minister to stress the necessity of an engagement process initiated and led by Indigenous people. The government eventually relented, paving the way for the current dialogues.


 

Further along the spectrum of recognition sit models that provide First Nations peoples with guarantees of political participation, and recognise self-determination and other inherent rights, prohibit racial discrimination and support agreement-making to deal with past wrongs and future empowerment.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a party, contains two key articles to guide states in their relationships with Indigenous peoples. (Indeed, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were involved in the declaration negotiations.) Article 18 reads:

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

Under Article 19, governments must “consult and cooperate in good faith” with Indigenous peoples “to obtain their free, prior and informed consent” about policies and decisions that might affect them.

The welcome ceremony at the First Nations regional dialogue in Hobart. Referendum Council

Countries across the world have recognised First Nations peoples through new structures that promote political participation and self-determination in different ways. In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, a foundational document acknowledging Māori authority and ownership, influences modern-day legislation, policy and practice and forms the basis for regional agreement-making or settlements; other structural recognition has been achieved through reserved Māori seats in the NZ parliament. In Norway, Sweden and Finland, the Sámi people were granted political representation through the Sámi parliaments, which facilitate consultation between the government and the Sámi on policies and decisions that affect them.

Recognition can take other forms too. Australia, with no constitutional bill of rights, could insert a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination. This would extend the protections offered by the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and be binding on federal parliament. Governments could negotiate agreements or treaties with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, recognising their status as First Peoples, providing reparations for past injustices, settling outstanding land issues, transferring decision-making authority, and facilitating economic development in Indigenous communities. No constitutional reform would be required to enter into and legislate for such treaties, although their status could be enhanced by constitutional reform.

The Referendum Council isn’t starting from scratch in considering these issues. It has been directed to build on work undertaken by two inquiries, one conducted by a panel of experts and the other by federal parliamentarians.

The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians consulted widely and made five recommendations for constitutional reform in early 2012. While a statement of acknowledgement was among the recommended proposals, the panel stressed the importance of a package that also included substantive legal change: a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination that would bind all governments across Australia. Its report also considered forms of recognition that would have given greater political participation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or would have prioritised treaty negotiations. The federal government has never formally responded to the panel’s report and recommendations.

The parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, led by Ken Wyatt MP and Senator Nova Peris, looked at the issue in 2014 and 2015. Its final report contained a number of options, each of which would have restricted the power of the Commonwealth to pass racially discriminatory laws against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The report considered the recommendations in the Expert Panel report, and referred to alternative models that had subsequently emerged. One of these was a proposal for a constitutionally enshrined body to advise parliament on proposed laws that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; others included measures to promote self-governance, structural reform incorporating a Council of Elders, reserved seats in the Senate, and progressing a treaty through constitutional change. Again, there has been no formal response to this report.


It’s important to remember that well-developed plans for recognition pre-dated these two bodies by more than a decade. For example, the 1988 Barunga Statement, presented to prime minister Bob Hawke by Aboriginal people from Central Australia and the Top End of the Northern Territory, demanded the recognition of Aboriginal rights, including the right to self-determination and self-management, to land and compensation and to basic rights enshrined in international law. The statement called on the Commonwealth to pass laws to create a nationally elected Aboriginal and Islander organisation to oversee Aboriginal and Islander affairs, a national system of land rights, and reforms to the policy and justice system.

The Barunga Statement also called on parliament “to negotiate with us a Treaty recognising our prior ownership, continued occupation and sovereignty and affirming our human rights and freedom.” Advocacy for greater empowerment in the 1980s led to the creation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, or ATSIC, in 1990, but the Hawke government backed down on its promises of national land rights and a treaty.

Following the High Court’s watershed 1992 decision in the Mabo case, prime minister Paul Keating delivered the Native Title Act 1993 and a national land fund, and promised a social justice package. In 1995, in response to that third limb of the response to Mabo, an ATSIC report, Recognition, Rights and Reform: A Report to Government on Native Title Social Justice Measures, reported “overwhelming support for the reform of the Constitution especially in relation to recognition of indigenous peoples.” It recommended that government fund a constitutional reform process canvassing the opinion of Indigenous communities, and facilitate local conventions and negotiations at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were adequately represented. ATSIC also urged the Commonwealth to investigate reserved seats in parliament. The Keating government didn’t proceed with many of these ideas before it lost government soon after, in 1996, and the proposals were dropped by the incoming Howard government.

Fresh calls for constitutional reform came when the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation issued its final report, Reconciliation: Australia’s Challenge, in 2000. As part of its roadmap to reconciliation, the council recommended that parliament prepare legislation for a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia, including the introduction of a constitutional clause prohibiting adverse racial discrimination. The council also called for governments across Australia, including the Commonwealth, to advance reconciliation through an agreement or treaty process. Almost two years later, the Howard government rejected the treaty process and the push to include a non-discrimination clause in the Constitution.

The 2007 federal election provided new impetus for constitutional recognition. On the eve of that election, John Howard announced that, if he were re-elected, he would move within eighteen months “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.” His proposal was for a minimalist model of acknowledgement contained in a preamble, though he also used more ambitious language when he described this as the cornerstone of a “new settlement.”

After Labor’s election victory in 2007, prime minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the government and the parliament to the Stolen Generations and for other past wrongs. But it was not until Julia Gillard’s election victory in 2010 that the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians was established to advance the cause of constitutional change.


Today’s calls for constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are made in a changed political and legal environment. The Howard government abolished ATSIC in 2005, leaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with no national representative body. As Indigenous writer Natalie Cromb has observed, “ATSIC was not without its problems, but to see the governmental power in stripping all representative and legislative rights and powers from Indigenous people in one fell swoop demonstrated just how Indigenous people are at the mercy of the government.”

Today, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples strives to be a voice for First Nations Peoples in Australia, but its work has been hampered by lack of adequate funding. The prime minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council operates as an advisory panel rather than as a representative body. Across Australia, state constitutions have been amended to include statements of acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia. Many of these contain a “no legal effect” clause – a “give with one hand and take away with the other” approach that, for many, undermines even the symbolic significance of the language. The Commonwealth parliament has passed legislation acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first occupiers of Australia, and their continuing relationship to their land and waters, and their continuing cultures, languages and heritage.

There are also signs of more ambitious plans. In Victoria, the state government has been working with Aboriginal communities since 2016 on how a treaty might be negotiated. The South Australian government has appointed an independent treaty commissioner to draft a framework for treaty negotiations. The Northern Territory has established a cabinet sub-committee to promote public discussion of a treaty.

Meanwhile, the dramatic loss of funding and jobs in Indigenous organisations following the federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, community distress at alarmingly high rates of youth suicide and incarceration, the threatened closure of remote communities and other intensely experienced local issues add to the complex contemporary political environment in which the regional dialogues have taken place.


The First Nation Dialogues took their present shape after a series of meetings with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders across the country. A leadership forum followed, and the dialogue methodology and agenda were finalised at a trial dialogue.

In each location, the Referendum Council partnered with a land council or another local host organisation. The host organisation and convenors selected around one hundred participants according to a formula of 60 per cent representation of the land owner base (traditional owner groups, native title bodies and so on), 20 per cent representation for local community organisations, and 20 per cent representation for key individuals. Gender and demographic balance, and representation for the Stolen Generations was also a focus.

Each of the dialogues took place over three days. They were facilitated by two local convenors assisted by five local working group leaders, who led and reported back from breakout groups throughout the dialogue. The carefully planned agenda included opportunities for the Referendum Council to provide delegates with information about the history of constitutional reform in Australia, as well as the different forms that constitutional reform might take. Civics education and foundational legal and political information were provided to assist in the discussion of options for reform, during which delegates had an opportunity to tell the Referendum Council what substantive and meaningful recognition would mean to them and their communities.

Small group discussions provided delegates with an opportunity to understand the different reform options, to consider their possible benefits and disadvantages, and to look at alternative proposals. The delegates were asked what their preferred form of recognition would look like. At the end of each dialogue, the delegates confirmed a statement of record of their discussion, and selected ten people to represent the dialogue at Uluru.

The proposals that attracted strong support – treaty negotiations, an enhanced role and voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s democratic system, a prohibition on racial discrimination, a truth and justice commission – all build on decades of consultations and inquiries. They embody the political advocacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigners stretching back into the nineteenth century. They reflect Australia’s international obligations, and they mirror structural reforms that have been achieved in other countries.

The Uluru Convention promises to be an historic moment in what is a continuing journey for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. •