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Uluru Statement has lit a fuse that cannot go out

  • 30 May 2017

On Sorry Day, marking the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report, a historical event occurred in the heart of Australia. Following months of consultation meetings around the country, a delegation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians handed down the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The statement is one page long and its language is simple, but it carries significant weight. It is spiritual, social, emotional, legal, and political. It is a document for our times, a declaration both of defiance and self-determination, and of generosity and love. It draws a line in the sand with a demand that Indigenous Australians be heard, while setting out the way forward and inviting all Australians to create our future together.

The statement establishes the authority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to declare such a pronouncement as a matter of spiritual connection to, and as first possessors of, this land. The law is replete with methods by which to establish right, and these are two known examples. Stripped of legal jargon, the statement's claim to authority nonetheless represents a pluralistic expression of law.

We are left in no doubt of the anguish experienced by peoples whose children continue to be taken away. This is not only an emotional response to personal loss and the rending of the social fabric of Indigenous Australian communities, though it is that. It is also a political act that challenges the destructive exercise of state power over our fellow citizens according to their race.

In a flurry of goodwill in recent years, campaigns have been mounted and politicians and lawyers deployed to answer questions that had not been asked. The statement's affirmation of Indigenous Australians' sovereignty, concomitant with that of the Crown, and its pronouncement of political aspiration, now set the benchmark for reform aimed at giving political voice to Indigenous Australians on their own terms: nothing less than makarrata.

Makarrata is a Yolngu word meaning the restoration of peace after a dispute. The terms on which this will be achieved include substantive constitutional reform, a formalised political advisory body, and treaty. A Makarrata Commission would oversee the treaty process.

The statement is one of a collection of pronouncements of high pedigree, petitions, statements and declarations, made by Aboriginal leaders over centuries. Each has made its own impact, without any one being a direct path to settlement. This statement, too, offers no quick fix. But it ignites a fuse that cannot