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Moving from Uluru to Recognition

  • 01 October 2018


Regardless of previous discussions about Indigenous constitutional recognition, we all need to accept that the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart is the new starting point. Though it has been the prerogative of Indigenous Australians to name this starting point for constitutional recognition, the journey will be one of compromise and shared deliberation, and the destination will need to be one identified and owned by all Australians. That's why we all need to talk and engage respectfully. At the moment, we're all stuck in our corners 'going nowhere, fast' as the poet Bruce Dawe would say.

There is no point in proceeding with a referendum on a question which fails to win the approval of Indigenous Australia. Using the light of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, we need to follow the roadmap of the interim report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples which was tabled in Parliament in July 2018.

That committee is being chaired by Senator Patrick Dodson (with great experience in these matters having been the co-chair of the Expert Panel set up by Prime Minister Julia Gillard) and by Julian Leeser, one of the few members of the Coalition parties who has dedicated energy and risked some political skin advocating Indigenous recognition in our Constitution.

Our lodestar must be the Uluru declaration: 'We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.' I make no apology for bluntly stating that nothing will be gained by those who advocate for the immediate insertion of a voice into the Constitution — sight unseen, unheard and untested.

That suggestion has been rejected by the last three Liberal prime ministers — Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. It doesn't matter where you find your Liberal Prime Minister on the political spectrum in the Liberals' broad church. He or she will not be advocating or supporting a voice being put into the Constitution untried and untested. Those who advocate for that will be proposing a course that has no hope of support from the Coalition parties.

Australians will not vote for a constitutional First Nations voice until they have first heard it and seen it in action. When first hearing about it, I presumed that the First Nations voice would replace the existing National Congress of Australia's First Peoples. That presumption may well be mistaken as the Congress has told the joint parliamentary committee: