Have You Heard of the Uluru Statement From the Heart?

I regularly talk with people about reconciliation in Australia.  We talk about respect, about healing, about empathy.  We talk about Treaty and about constitutional recognition and other ways we all can move forward as a united Australia.

One thing that pops up time and time again is a type of proposal or suggestion that Aboriginal Elders and people come together to create some kind of unified document of what the Aboriginal community believe is the next step in the reconciliation process.  Like they have in other countries around the world with indigenous populations.

They are often shocked to find out that Aboriginal people in Australia have already done this.  After six months of working with over a thousand Aboriginal people all over Australia, the Referendum Council hosted a 3-day First Nations National Constitutional Convention in 2017.  With over 250 delegates including,  Aboriginal leaders and communities members all over Australia, along with Aboriginal services and legal representatives, a one-page document was created.

This document is called the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” and seeks three things from the Australian Government which are:

1. Constitutional Reform to empower Aboriginal people to have their own self-determination.

“When we have power over our destiny our children with flourish.  They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country”

Uluru Statement from the Heart

2. Establishment of a First Nations Voice in the constitution where it will be protected and respected. 

3. Formation of a Makarrata Commision who will supervise agreement-making between governments and the Aboriginal people. It will also undertake a truth-telling process about the Australian history.

{Makarrata is a Yolngu word meaning “a coming together after a struggle”.}

Here is the document as published in the Referendum Council’s Final Report

Uluru Statement from the Heart - document as in the Referendum Councils final report

The most common response I get at this point is… “How come I have never heard of it?”.

…That, my friend, is the question!

But before I get into that, I’d like to expand a bit on the three points above.

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

The constitutional reform that the Uluru Statement From the Heart speaks of, is one of empowerment of Aboriginal people.  Where their self-determination is recognised by Australia and its governments.  This relates to Articles 3 & 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  (UNDRIP).  As well as Article 9, 11-14, 21, 23,-24, 31-32 and 35 of the Declaration.

Article 3
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue
of that right they freely determine their political status and freely
pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Article 4
Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination,
have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to
their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing
their autonomous functions.

– United Nations United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

FIRST NATIONS VOICE TO PARLIAMENT

Due to Australia’s democratic style government, and the small population of Aboriginal people, it’s often difficult to get a seat at the table when discussing matters that directly affect Aboriginal people and communities. The following short video gives a quick description of why this voice is needed and how it might operate.

This proposed, voice in parliament also aligns with Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 18
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 decisionmaking
institutions.

United Nations United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


THE MAKARRATA COMMISSION

Makarrata is a Yolngu word meaning “a coming together after a struggle”.
Makarrata is a Yolngu word meaning “a coming together after a struggle”.

The Uluru Statement From the Heart states.

“Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda… 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.”

It will be a body that will supervise agreements between Aboriginal people and governments and will lay the foundations for future treaties.  This is supported by Article 37 of the United Nation.

Article 37
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance
and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive
arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have
States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive
arrangements.

United Nations United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

So why haven’t you heard of the Uluru Statement from the heart?

The long and the short of it is, it was rejected by the Turnbull Government, therefore you didn’t get an opportunity to have your say about it.  Almost four months after the Referendum Council delivered their report to parliament, this media release was published on behalf of the Prime Minister, Attorney-General and Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Admittedly, the news media did cover this story to some extent, though, from what I saw, it was quite an unbalanced representation.

The main concern that the Turnbull government had was that the this proposed voice to parliament would turn into a third chamber of parliament (supplementary to the House of Representatives and the Senate).  Even after the Referendum Council assured that…

the proposed body would have insufficient power if its constitutional function was advisory only.

-Response to Referendum Council’s report on Constitutional Recognition

I’m not sure the Turnbull government fully understands the purpose of an advisory body nor how the constitution mandates that body’s powers.

The media release also states:

Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights

-Response to Referendum Council’s report on Constitutional Recognition

Here, is where numbers get interesting.

Yes, I absolutely agree that all Australian’s should have equal civic rights.  And one vote for one person, in my view is the fairest way we can do this when we are speaking about topics that affect all Australians.

However, there are not equal civic rights when 97% of the population are able to vote on things that will ONLY affect 3% of the population (that is the Aboriginal community).  This is why it is important to have an advisory council, where the members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate can seek advice on the real impacts that decisions would have on Aboriginal people.  Without that deep understanding of culture, kinships, lore and more, unwillingly and unknowingly governments and the Australian voters can severely harm Aboriginal communities and further widen “the gap” that we currently have Australia.

With a number of key performance indicators showing results that “the gap” results only have three of the seven national targets on track. And having seven of the eight states and territories on track for two (or less) of the seven targets in 2018.

Just look at all those unachieved targets in the picture below.  Isn’t this enough evidence to suggest that the way it’s currently being run… IS. NOT. WORKING?!

-Image source: Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing

When you have Australian first nations people saying that they feel voiceless and powerless in their own country and homeland, isn’t that evidence enough to realise the system needs to change? And maybe substantial constitutional reform is required (not desire but REQUIRED!).

This message from the Aboriginal community is not a new one.  It is one that has been formally lobbied since the late 1930’s.  The foreword from the Co-Chairs of the Referendum Councils Final report says:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long struggled for constitutional recognition. As farback as Yorta Yorta elder William Cooper’s letter to King George VI (1937), the Yirrkala Bark Petitions(1963), the Larrakia Petition (1972) and the Barunga Statement (1988), First Peoples have sought a fair place in our country.

Referendum Council’s Final Report (delivered to Parlaiment 30th June 2017)

Now, with the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison leading the Liberal party, one interesting thing has occurred.  The Turnbull government rejected the proposal of an Aboriginal voice into parliament.  The Morrison government wants a “Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs”.  It seems there is an understanding that a middle body is required between the Aboriginal community as a whole and the government. Just as there are bodies in between the Australian population and the Senate. However, this middle body the “Special Envoy”, has been created and the position filled without any consultation from the community it’s designed to communicate with.

The definition of an Envoy according to Cambridge Dictionary  is:

someone who is sent as a representative from one government or organization to another

Plus, an Envoy is usually used for diplomatic processes.

Three questions come to mind when thinking about this:

  1. What on earth is the role of Minister for the Indigenous Affairs?  Nigel Scullion is the current Minister for this, what is his role in representing the Government and communicating with the Aboriginal community?
  2. Who will the Envoy be representing?  The Australian Government or the Aboriginal Community? (I, for one, sincerely hope that it’s the former)
  3. Who will this Envoy be communicating with? At the moment there is no group or organisation that represents the Aboriginal community as a whole (**Interjects: This is a perfect situation where an Aboriginal voice or representative group would be utilised**)

The Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs position was offered to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, by Morrison.  Abbott accepted the position to the horror of many Aboriginal people.

It is no secret that Abbott is not a favourite within the Aboriginal community.  With many not willing to speak with him.  Especially after Abbott approved the forced closure of 150 remote communities saying that the government shouldn’t have to fund the “lifestyle choices” of the remote community members.  Since Abbott’s appointment as Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, there have been calls from the Aboriginal community to build an “Abbott proof fence”.

Abbott Proof Fence_ photo credit - Angus Veitch
Abbott Proof Fence Photo credit: Angus Veitch

Just to clarify; living remotely is not a “lifestyle choice”.  There are many components and reasons for living remotely.  One major reason is that Aboriginal people have a responsibility to care for the land they are from. It is a birthright and a birth honour to care for the lands and waters that bloodlines have sworn to protect for the last 60,000 years.

Abbott justified to community closures by saying that:

 “It is not unreasonable for the state government to say if the cost of providing services in a particular remote location is out of proportion to the benefits being delivered,”   –Tony Abbott

After removing all the fluffy bits and all the political verbal vomit, this is essentially what is being said:

We [the Australian Government] no longer feel that it is our responsibility to provide funding to communities of people living in remote areas.  They can move to a more populated town or city, even if that means that they are no longer on country.  We don’t understand why the remote Aboriginal countrymen and women live on counrty nor why it is important that they remain there.  We do not understand or respect their culture or acknowledge that their culture and lore is the first of this land.  We also don’t recognise that the culture or lore is still fully operational.  We do not understand the impacts of the last two hundred years and that remote living cannot be done as it was prior to colonisation.  We do not respect that communities need time to heal, regroup and reestablish how to run a community without having some financial support go into communities to build the foundation. We do not acknowledge that this has taken around two hundred years to get to this point.  We do not have the initiative to empower these communities to return to their former glory.  To empower them with self-determination and to allow them the human decency to have a say in matters that directly relate to them.  We have decided that if countrymen and women of these remote communities continue to live in remote areas, we will no longer care for their physical, mental or spiritual wellbeing like we do for the rest of the Australian people.

But that’s just me, reading between the lines.

In closing, I’d like to bring your attention back to the Uluru Statement from the Heart which concludes with an invitation to all Australians to walk with Aboriginal people for a better future and this short statement…

“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.”

Are you open to listening?


I am really interested to know a few things from you.  Have you heard of the Uluru Statement form the heart?  Do you think these are reasonable requests?  Are you interested to find out more? Please leave a comment below.

Talk soon,

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Further Readings and resources:

Uluru Statement from the Heart – PDF version

Media Release -Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders People From Across Australia Make Historic Statement

Referendum Council’s Final Report (delivered to Parliament 30th June 2017)

Response to Referendum Council’s report on Constitutional Recognition

Indigenous recognition: Turnbull Government’s rejection of Uluru Statement from the heart indefensible (Opinion piece)

The Conversation – Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing

1988 Statement – Burunga Festival

Yorta Yorta elder William Cooper’s letter to King George VI (1937)

Yirrkala Bark Petitions(1963)

Larrakia Petition (1972)

The Referendum Council website

Aboriginal petitions – Fact sheet 268

The Uluru Statement from Heart, One Year On: Can a First Nations Voice Yet be Heard?

Documenting a Democracy – Yirrkala bark petitions 1963 (Cth)

Scott Morrison and the Liberal Leadership Spill

Feature image photo credit: Holger Link @photoholgic

 

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