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Awaiting the Referendum Council in NAIDOC Week

  • 04 July 2017
  A week ago, the Referendum Council presented its final report to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with suggestions as how best to proceed with a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution recognising Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

Pat Anderson, the Aboriginal Co-Chair of the Council said, 'Our consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples culminated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which has informed our advice along with all the other input received over the past six months.'

The Uluru Statement discarded the earlier work both of the Expert Panel on Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution convened by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and of the parliamentary committee chaired by Indigenous members of parliament Ken Wyatt from the Coalition and Nova Peris from the Labor Party.

The expert panel had included Aboriginal lawyers like Noel Pearson and Megan Davis who were key drafters of the Uluru Statement, as well as the two co-chairs of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples. The Uluru process was the culmination of the consultations convened by the Indigenous members of the Referendum Council appointed by the Turnbull Government.

It was a process conducted independent from the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples which is the only First Nations Voice presently in existence.

At Uluru, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants dumped all previous proposals for constitutional recognition and put all their eggs in the representation basket, calling for a First Nations Voice to be included in the Constitution.

In response, the National Congress has said, 'The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples endorses the establishment of a constitutionally mandated representative body for First Peoples, as recommended in the Uluru Statement. Congress is in a unique position to be this Indigenous voice in parliament, as we are the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.'

Anderson, Pearson and Davis seem to have in mind a First Nations Voice very different from the Congress. Suffice to say, they have not endorsed the Congress proposal that it be the First Nations Voice.


"Given that Indigenous Australians have spoken strongly through their representatives at Uluru in support of a First Nations Voice, it is now for our parliament to determine a timetable and menu for constitutional change with maximum prospects of a 'Yes' vote."


The dumped proposals from earlier consultations include suggestions that the Australian Constitution be amended to remove the two outdated