The Politics    Monday, May 29, 2017

The Uluru Statement from the Heart

By Sean Kelly

The Uluru Statement from the Heart
In the words of Indigenous Australians

As I wrote last week, I believe it is important for all Australians to engage with the questions now being debated around constitutional recognition. These are not just issues for our First Peoples that the rest of us can safely ignore. That is lazy, and it is disrespectful. As such, it’s something I plan to try to write about in the weeks ahead. But all such attempts must start with a genuine effort to listen. Today, what Indigenous Australians have said about the Uluru Statement from the Heart delivered on Friday.

What the statement said:

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.

– Uluru Statement from the Heart. The statement is only a page, and deserves to be read in full.


When you looked across the 13 dialogues [that led to the Statement], there was a lot of commonality … so we knew that mob have always wanted treaty … mob have always wanted Parliamentary voice … these are things that they’ve advocated for a long time.

– Professor Megan Davis, who read the statement aloud


We need to settle the issues of the past 200 years … we need to light a new fire, and we need to light it in the bellies of all young Australians … all First Nations people, to take it forward, and to lead with honour, respect, for all.

– Fred Hooper, chairperson of Murrawarri People’s Council


Why simple “recognition” isn’t enough:

Let me be clear: the Uluru consensus did not reject constitutional recognition. On the contrary, the Uluru Statement from the Heart clarifies what real constitutional recognition means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It calls for substantive constitutional recognition.

– Rachel Perkins [$], filmmaker and daughter of Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins


When asked what constitutional recognition means to them, First Nations peoples told the Council they don’t want recognition if it means a simple acknowledgement, but rather constitutional reform that makes a real difference in their communities.

– Statement issued on behalf of the Referendum Council’s Indigenous Steering Committee by Pat Anderson


I liken the Recognise campaign and the push to make mention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution to the scenario of someone moving into your house, taking over, and kicking you out into the yard in the shed. After many years, maybe even several generations, they come out to the yard holding the contract that states their rights to the house that was once yours, and suggest that it’s only fair to include a sentence that says: “We acknowledge that you once lived there.”

“There you go! Now you’re recognised,” they say, and they go back into your house and you go back to the shed.

– Rachael Maza, actor and director


Why a treaty, or Makarrata, is necessary:

[Sovereignty] 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?

– Uluru Statement from the Heart


On what the First Nations voice, enshrined in the Constitution, should look like:

While some propose that the body should have veto powers, our proposal is for the body’s advice to be non-binding in order to be compatible with parliamentary supremacy and to be politically viable.

– Proposal [$] from Noel Pearson and Cape York Institute adviser Shireen Morris


On suggestions that the proposal must be weakened to win a popular vote:

Some of the media commentary leading up to and during this week’s gathering declares such reconciliation unachievable: because our people ask for meaningful reform over empty symbolism, our cause will be defeated. These commentators underestimate the Australian people. Australians want to see meaningful change in Indigenous affairs.

There is every reason to be optimistic First Australians will find common ground with Australia’s political leaders, and we will rise to the challenge.

– Noel Pearson [$], member of the Referendum Council



… in many ways the Uluru statement was silent on two issues … the issue of recognition has to be dealt with and I think it’s important to have that recognition within the constitution, that truth-telling. And secondly, I would advocate strongly that we do have to deal with the race powers because if we don’t do that, it could actually still give the Parliament the capacity to do away with a body of any sort within the Constitution. 

– Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the House of Representatives


It’s fine there’s come this report out of Uluru, talking about an entrenched voice into the constitution, that will have to be weighed and considered, but I don’t think we should just dismiss out of hand the work that was done by the expert panel [on constitutional recognition].

– Pat Dodson, Indigenous leader and Labor senator



We have chosen to walk away from this debate and this dialogue today because it is not a debate, they are not looking at any alternative options other than the Noel Pearson roadmap.

– Jenny Munroe, one of the delegates who walked out of the summit on Thursday


In other news


A job half undone

Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians must be more than just tokenism

Noel Pearson

“In 2017, the contemporary First Nations of this country are having their say on how the Constitution might best recognise and protect their rights and interests. This is a crucial moment in the story of our nation. It is an opportunity to right a great wrong.”   READ ON


The standards that ‘Quadrant’ seeks to uphold

Roger Franklin’s comments on bombing the ABC Ultimo studio reflect a much deeper problem

Noel Pearson

“Michelle Guthrie alerted the federal police, assured the ABC staff at Ultimo that she had their safety in mind, and wrote an unusually tough letter to Quadrant calling for the removal of the article and for an apology. The minister of communications and the arts, Senator Mitch Fifield, was even blunter, describing the Franklin piece as ‘sick and unhinged’.”  READ ON


The mythical Menzies

The anniversary of Menzies’ forgotten people speech is a plea by the conservatives to get back to their roots

Mungo MacCallum

“Menzies’ ‘Forgotten People’ manifesto was written in what may now be seen as similarly dark ages. White Australia was a given, women’s rights were barely a dream and gay rights not even a passing fantasy. Aboriginal Australians were, for practical purposes, non-existent.”   READ ON

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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