Uluru Statement of the Heart – thoughts on the Voice
The federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Linda Burney has stated that the Uluru Statement will be enacted in full by the Albanese government. In June, the government committed to a referendum on the First Nations Voice in this term of federal parliament. In July, Aboriginal Senator Pat Dodson was appointed Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement to deliver on this promise.
The voice is the element of the Uluru Statement that has gained significant momentum over the last few years. The Makarrata or Treaty commission/development and Truth-telling processes are gaining more traction in the broader community. Particularly, at the State/local levels.
There are critical questions to ask: What is a voice? What is it meant to do? What powers will it have? How will delegates be selected and how do we guarantee community authority over the people who will be representing us?
The ‘voice’ can be viewed as the cart before the horse scenario. There are strong opinions that there should be the development of truth-telling processes that along with the Aboriginal community consultations informs the development of a treaty that would set the operating parameters of a ‘voice’ or whatever process in put in place to implement the treaty agreement.
These are critical questions that need to be answered before any referendum.
Prime Minister Albanese has stated that the referendum to enshrine the voice should be “simple and clear”, that the question put to the Australian people requires a simple ‘yes or no’ answer. He has suggested a question like ‘Do you support an alteration to the constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice?’.
It is hard to believe that the Australian people will vote for a voice when they do not know what it is. The people need to know why it should be pursued through constitutional amendment and what it will actually achieve.
The Commonwealth government already has the power to establish a voice. It does not need a referendum to give it a power it already has. Apparently, the thinking, which has not been expressed publicly, is that endorsement of a voice via a referendum approach cements the entity forever after. That is naïve.
Referendum outcomes can circumscribe government actions, but they do not necessarily commit governments to action. They merely give parliament a power to do something IF the parliament wants to. Not unlike the current situation, it will be the parliament that will have the power to pass laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the voice. So, it would be fair to say this voice will operate and function at the will of government.
On the matter of what a voice will achieve, this is so far unclear. It appears that the current voice model cannot return land, cannot make laws, cannot protect heritage, cannot deliver services, cannot administer revenue.
To date, there have been no nationwide discussions on what a voice will look like, what will be its power to make and enforce decisions.
There does not seem to be any ongoing conversation with the Aboriginal community now that we have settled down and have had time to think about the voice.
Without a transparent nationwide debate and without clear communication and education, the referendum may not succeed – and the outcomes may not meet the aspirations of Aboriginal people.
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.
If you are interested in learning more, visit the Uluru Statement of the Heart website.