Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

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Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

5.7.    What are the key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives?

References

  • Yunupingu quoted in Fiona Stanley, Maria Langton, Jason Ward, et al, ‘Australian First Nations response to the pandemic: A dramatic reversal of the “gap”’, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 57 (2021).
  • Megan Davis, ‘Sambell Oration: Enshrining a Voice to Parliament — from the Uluru Statement from the Heart’, 2022.
  • Glenn Loughrey, Unpacking the Uluru Statement from the Heart (ACT: Crawford School of Public Policy, 2022).
  • Adeshola Ore, ‘Indigenous rights activist Gary Foley warns voice will be ignored by government’, The Guardian, May 3, 2023.
  • Catherine Liddle, ‘Do ask Alice: Why my people need a Voice in the wilderness’, The Age, February 16, 2023.
  • Bianca Hall, ‘The rejection of the Voice and the risk it poses to the referendum’, The Age, January 24, 2023.
  • Josie Douglas, ‘The voice referendum is a turning point. A yes vote will save lives. A no vote will invalidate them’, The Guardian, March 23, 2023.
  • Megan Davis, Rosalind Dixon, Gabrielle Appleby and Noel Pearson, ‘The Uluru Statement’, Bar News: The Journal of the NSW Bar Association, (Autumn 2018), p. 44.
  • Thomas Mayor, ‘The Torment of our Powerlessness: The Uluru Statement and enshrining a voice for Indigenous Peoples’, Australian Options 87 (2018).
  • Giovanni Torre, ‘We all agree with the Voice – Indigenous leaders reject Dutton’s claims’, National Indigenous Times, April 8, 2023.
  • Bronwyn Fredericks, ‘Why I “still” hear it on the radio and I “still” see it on the television: Treaty and the Uluru Statement from the Heart’Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues 25,3 (2022).
  • Jesse John Fleay and Barry Judd, ‘The Uluru Statement: A First Nation’s perspective of the implications for social reconstructive race relations in Australia’, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies 12,1 (2019). 
  • *See also under 5.2 ‘What are the arguments for voting No?’.

What are the key Aboriginal and Islander perspectives?

 

Yunupingu quoted in Fiona Stanley, Maria Langton, Jason Ward, et al, ‘Australian First Nations response to the pandemic: A dramatic reversal of the “gap”’, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 57 (2021), p. 1853.

Summary

One of the questions asked about the Voice is what difference it would make to First Nations people in Australia. An example is presented in this article, which provides evidence that an approach by government that recognises Aboriginal wisdom and hands control to those with deep cultural knowledge can produce palpable results. The medical researcher Fiona Stanley and others show that, where it has been applied, the model on which the concept of the Voice is based has produced very favourable outcomes in relation to the impact of the COVID pandemic.

Excerpt

’What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are and not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are — Aboriginal people in a modern world — and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past has thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our languages and our people — our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.’

Megan Davis, ‘Sambell Oration: Enshrining a Voice to Parliament — from the Uluru Statement from the Heart’, 2022

https://assets.bsl.org.au/assets/Sambell-Oration-2022-Transcript.pdf

Summary

The Sambell Oration is an annual event hosted by the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence which seeks to facilitate discussions about social justice issues. In 2022, the oration focussed on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, especially the Voice to Parliament, and featured speeches from Professor Megan Davis, Ash Dargan, John Baxter and Pat Anderson. Davis discusses the Uluru Statement as a generous and peaceful response to the need to create a genuinely democratic nation ‘after everything that has happened to our people’. A conversation between Travers McLeod, Pat Anderson and Megan Davis follows the oration. The regional Indigenous dialogues that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heartand the experience of sharing it with the Australian people are described. The speakers urge the public to inform themselves and ‘take responsibility’ for their vote.

Excerpt

‘The exigencies of the Voice to Parliament is that the status quo isn’t working for our people. “Closing the Gap” is not working, and in many areas it’s going backwards. But the Uluru Statement from the Heart is much more than that. After all that has happened to our people, the question was “what does repair look like?” It looks like Voice and Makarrata — or Voice, Treaty then Truth. When we ran the First Nations dialogues, the deliberative process aimed at eliciting from communities what meaningful constitutional recognition might look like, many of our people were cynical. They deserve to be cynical. We said to them in response, law reform is about imagination. Law reform requires you to exercise your imagination and dream of a better day.

What does a better Australia look like? Imagine that Australia can be a better place for your family, your children, and your grannies. Suspend your disbelief that the nation cannot change. Suspend your disbelief that you won’t be heard. And on the second day of the three-day dialogue, they turned up, rolled up their sleeves and got down to work …

… The constitution is meant to change. It is built to change. By us the Australian people. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation, a gift to the Australian people. Stan Grant Senior says, “language is not about who you are but where you are, where we are located”. When people say that this might be about changing the Australian identity, it is not. It is about location. We are located here together, and we have to co-exist in a peaceful way. We’re about to face, or are facing, serious existential crises as a people, as a humankind, as the climate changes and the planet warms up. The message from the elders and Traditional Owners in the dialogues across the nation was that to face the battle together the country needs peace, and the country cannot be at peace until we resolve this issue, the original grievance. And the Uluru Statement is the beginning of that. Yes, Australia’s democracy has been a successful democracy, but not for all, and not for the First Peoples. After everything that has happened to our people, the killings, the massacres, the genocide, the compulsory racial segregation, the stealing of children and of wages and land, the contemporary manifestation of this, youth detention, youth suicide, incarceration, and child removals — despite all of this, our old people at the dialogues chose love. They spoke of love. They spoke of peace. They issued an olive branch to the Australian people, and they offer that olive branch to you sitting in this room today, an invitation to walk with us.’

Glenn Loughrey, Unpacking the Uluru Statement from the Heart (ACT: Crawford School of Public Policy, 2022)

https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/282386

Summary

This document presents the point of view of Glenn Loughrey, an Indigenous artist, writer and Anglican priest based in Naarm/Melbourne. Loughrey believes the Statement is the start of an ongoing process of reparation which has been ‘misunderstood and manipulated by politicians’. For the author the central motive of the Statement from the Heart is achieving justice for communities and individuals. A section titled ‘What the Statement is not’ expresses the author’s view that the Statement from the Heart is at risk of being assimilated into colonial or non-Indigenous world view, through such concepts as ‘reconciliation’ and ‘nation building”’.

Excerpt

‘It is about justice

The Statement invites everyone living on this land to join with us to create a just country on a political, corporate, and personal level. We are asked to work together to unpack what has happened, why it happened, who did it, why they did it, and what we need to do to put right the wrong committed against the First Peoples of this land … Justice is the act of a mature people who, unsettled by the past, take the steps necessary to creatively resolve what can be resolved, and embark on a future without repeating the past’s mistakes. Maturity in this sense comes from faithful engagement with the elements of the Statement and being prepared to see our story for what it is, not what we would like it to be. In contemporary Australia the genocide continues for our people today. We, as a people, continue to face racism, destitution, incarceration, and being pushed aside and marginalised. So, it is about resolving historical and contemporary injustice and laying the foundation for a shared future different to the past.’

Adeshola Ore, ‘Indigenous rights activist Gary Foley warns voice will be ignored by government’, The Guardian, May 3, 2023

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/may/03/indigenous-rights-activist-gary-foley-warns-voice-will-be-ignored-by-government

Summary

Professor Gary Foley is a historian at Victoria University in Melbourne and a radical Indigenous rights activist. He was co-founder of the Aboriginal tent embassy in 1972. Journalist Ore says that Foley expresses optimism about Victoria’s nation-leading Indigenous truth-telling commission because he feels that it can help the public confront the systemic racism experienced by First Nations people. However, Foley states that he personally would not vote in the Voice referendum. This is because he favours a process that will lead to the economic and political independence of First Nations people in which they constitute a separate nation of their own. If this were to be achieved, he argues, they would see Australia as a foreign country in whose Constitution they would not want to be ‘embedded’.

Excerpt

‘Prof Foley argued if First Nations people achieved economic and political independence — self determination — the last thing they would want is to be “embedded in the constitution of a foreign country”.

Prof Foley, a historian at Victoria University who co-founded the Aboriginal tent embassy in 1972, added that he would not vote in the referendum …

… Prof Foley said he did not anticipate the referendum would be successful due to Australia’s deepening polarisation and the lack of bipartisan support from the federal opposition.’

Catherine Liddle, ‘Do ask Alice: Why my people need a Voice in the wilderness’, The Age, February 16, 2023

https://www.theage.com.au/national/do-ask-alice-why-my-people-need-a-voice-in-the-wilderness-20230214-p5ckgy.html

Summary

Catherine Liddle is an Indigenous woman from Alice Springs who is the CEO of SNAICC (The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child-Care). She writes on behalf of Indigenous children and their grandmothers who are often on the front line of trying to deal with youth alienation in their communities, including recently in Alice Springs when alcohol restrictions were lifted.  Indigenous children are often alienated from their families, are still taken from them, and often end up in incarceration. Liddle argues that the situation demonstrates that despite their ongoing efforts Indigenous people, including the ‘nanas’ living in remote communities or town camps, are not listened to or not really heard. She sees the solution and the possibility of a strong future for Indigenous children in a Voice that would require politicians to consult with the people whose lives are affected by their decisions.  

Excerpt

‘Right now, it’s still hit-and-miss as to whether governments listen. If Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory had an effective Voice we would not be seeing the current situation playing out in Alice Springs.

What is happening in my home town is the direct result of decades of failed policy, of failure to resource remote communities and listen to our aspirations and our solutions.

There have been many voices in Central Australian communities warning for years about children leaving for the bright lights of Alice Springs, sleeping rough, wandering the streets, going hungry, getting into trouble. Grandmothers, many of them survivors of the stolen generations, have been working and speaking up to secure a better future for their grandchildren. But how does a nana living in a remote community or town camp have her voice heard in the corridors of power?

A constituted Voice would give weight to their work and many others’, fire ambition and ensure the policies and agreements we develop in good faith aren’t at the whim of the government of the day.’

Bianca Hall,  ‘The rejection of the Voice and the risk it poses to the referendum’, The Age, January 24, 2023

https://www.theage.com.au/national/the-rejection-of-the-voice-and-the-risk-it-poses-to-the-referendum-20230124-p5cf4y.html

Summary

This article examines the debate surrounding the Voice to Parliament in Indigenous communities. Hall focusses on the 2023 Invasion Day rallies, and accusations that the event in Melbourne was ‘hijacked’ to discourage the public from voting for the Voice to Parliament. The article explores reactions from co-organiser Meriki Onus — who declares the accusations ‘laughable’ — and other speakers at the event. At the rally, protestors were notably warned of ‘Blak bourgeoisie … trying to sell you a shonky proposition called the Voice’ by Gary Foley. Several members of the Aboriginal community have spoken out to criticise the subject matter of the rally and stress the importance of the referendum, including Marcia Langton, who attributes the number of speeches against the Voice to Lidia Thorpe and her supporters.  This article also explores the rationale of speakers discouraging a Voice to Parliament and how these criticisms have been met by the government.

Excerpt

‘Across the country on Australia Day, Invasion Day rallies heard from First Nations speakers urging the government to introduce a Treaty before Voice.

In Sydney, Gomeroi man Ian Brown said he had no trust in a Voice to parliament because it would be “another formal process of government not listening to mob”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declined to directly criticise Thorpe or her supporters, but has framed them as being outliers of mainstream thought. “It’s not a radical proposition”, Albanese said on Friday. “So I’m not surprised that some radicals are opposed to it. Because this is a mainstream proposition”.

[Ronnie] Gorrie is a matriarch and activist who emceed Melbourne’s Invasion Day rally. She maintains the rally wasn’t an endorsement of a Yes or No vote and says she still hasn’t made up her mind how she’ll vote in the referendum. “Even though the [rally] theme was Treaty before Voice, it didn’t mean that it was a Yes or a No to the Voice”, she says.

While proponents of the Voice have called on Australians to read the full report on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, Gorrie argues the onus is on them to make a clear case to Aboriginal people. Meanwhile, she and other activists will keep pushing the case for Treaty. “Our sovereignty has never been ceded”, Gorrie says.

“We want our land back, and we want Dan Andrews and the Victorian government especially to stop selling off Crown land and give it back to traditional owners, the rightful owners.

We want them to follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. We want them to follow through with all the recommendation from the Bringing Them Home report. And we want reparations.

If people don’t trust Voice, it’s because they don’t trust governments”, [Meriki] Onus says.’

Josie Douglas, ‘The voice referendum is a turning point. A yes vote will save lives. A no vote will invalidate them’, The Guardian, March 23, 2023

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/commentisfree/2023/mar/23/australia-indigenous-voice-to-parliament-referendum-vote-yes-will-save-lives-no-will-invalidate-them

Summary

Josie Douglas is a Wardaman woman based in Alice Springs. She writes in The Guardian that the alternative between yes and no outcomes of a referendum on the Voice is stark. She says that the Voice is future oriented: ‘our sons, daughters and grandchildren will stand proud, part of a united nation where we are involved in shaping our shared destiny’, while its rejection will mean that decisions about daily life in Indigenous communities will continue to be made far away by technocrats.  

Excerpt

‘There’s plenty of advice around Parliament House in Canberra. It’s just that: it’s advice from career bureaucrats, ministerial and policy advisers and chiefs of staff, many of whom are well-intentioned, but most of whom have no idea about us or the solutions that will work on the ground.

The technocrats chop and change and move on: this is the cycle that contributes to poor policy design and outcomes. So what of that day after if the voice referendum fails?

Negative narratives will continue to frame us, but there will be a new sense of contempt, a nationally sanctioned contempt. Business-as-usual will continue to produce policy failures that will waste money and cost lives.

Low expectations will have triumphed. How will we recover from a no vote? How will we come back as a nation and as Indigenous people?’

Megan Davis, Rosalind Dixon, Gabrielle Appleby and Noel Pearson, ‘The Uluru Statement’, Bar News: The Journal of the NSW Bar Association (Autumn 2018), p. 44

https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.679388156051951

Summary

This article is the transcript of a 2017 Bar Association seminar on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Speakers included Megan Davis, Rosalind Dixon, Gabrielle Appleby and Noel Pearson. Davis reflects on her experience as a member of the 2010 panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the lack of action that followed their recommendations and ineffective policies that were made in the following years. She stresses the importance of the dialogues at Uluru and the attitudes of the people who participated, who felt that ‘our old people were dying, our young people increasingly assimilated’. Details of the formation of the Uluru Statement are discussed, as well as the implications for sovereignty should it be enacted. Dixon discusses the Statement in a legal context and perceived risks associated with its implementation. Appleby emphasises the importance of truth-telling and history, for ‘mainstream Australians to…reconsider what they know and understand about our nation’s history’. She also discusses truth-telling initiatives overseas as examples of how they might be employed in Australia. Finally, Noel Pearson speaks about structural injustices that must be overcome and his concern for ‘the state of the Australian heart in relation to Indigenous issues’.

Excerpt

Megan Davis: ‘The dialogues in Uluru

The dialogues were a very structured process that involved three days, mostly a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It involved the first day which would be quite a broad conversation with the community about what recognition or what meaningful recognition would mean to their community. Part of that first day, the first day was extremely important to settle people down because people were very angry. People were very exhausted from always participating in consultations and nothing coming of it. What they would say is that nobody listens to what we say, so why should we go through this process? People were very concerned in relation to recognition, about well two, two primary things, one was sovereignty and the second thing was this idea, well not this, people’s very earnest belief that this process might be a process of forced assimilation, that people felt that our old people were dying, our young people were increasingly becoming assimilated and they felt that they didn’t want to be part of a project that was one that, that they felt was forced assimilation. That was their language.

The community were very tired and I think part of the conversation around truth is that it was inextricably linked to this notion of peace: communities feeling like they wanted some peace in their lives and peace for their children and their grandchildren and that there are a number of ways that that could be done …’

… Noel Pearson:

‘I think it is a modest but profound way forward. It will make a huge change in my view. All of my life is devoted to trying to build things from the ground, but even as we build things up from the ground, we have to attend to the structural conditions that make life so parlous for people on the ground.

The strongest argument is captured in the statement itself, which is the statement about our extraordinary incarceration in this country. No people on the planet earth are incarcerated at our rates, we all know that — you all know that. And it begs the question, our egregious incarceration rate begs the question as to whether we are a particularly criminal people inclined towards criminality in some kind of innate way. Well, I don’t think we accept that. There’s a structural dimension to our parlous situation and my submission is that the structure at our highest level is part of our disempowerment and if we want to turn those things around, we have to turn that thing around. And the advocacy of the last 100 years or more in relation to this question of can we have a say about our own destiny in our own country?

When I consider the time period that our people have been on this continent it is like considering the origins of the universe. It is so unimaginable. Who can imagine a people who have been here for sixty millennia? It is out of our imagination to think of the idea that a people could be in possession of a continent for more than sixty millennia and yet in little more than 200 we have to beg, we have to beg for a rightful place in our own country and what I urge upon those who have come here, the idea that there might be some recognition of that past and our continuing presence.

So, this is an opportunity to do that. I really believe that if the nation doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity of the Uluru Statement, this is a question that will never go away. I fear for the state of the Australian heart in relation to Indigenous issues.’

Thomas Mayor, ‘The Torment of our Powerlessness: The Uluru Statement and enshrining a voice for Indigenous Peoples’, Australian Options 87 (2018), p. 8

https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.515194413324692

Summary

This article was written by a signatory of the Uluru Statement from the Heart following Malcolm Turnbull’s original negative response to the Voice proposition. It focusses on both the struggle for justice and equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the hope for a different future represented in the … Statement from the Heart. Mayor recalls his early days as a member of the Maritime Union of Australia, which overcame the Howard Government’s attempt to break the union through organisation and cooperation with similar unions and federations. The article proceeds to argue that protests and rallies for Indigenous rights are not effective enough, and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities need their ‘voice heard on the street and in parliament’. Mayor argues for the constitutional enshrinement of the Voice, to protect it from being disbanded when new governments come into power as has happened in the past. He also emphasises the importance of a Voice to Parliament to future negotiations with government for the creation of a treaty and a Makarrata Commission. This article also considers the process leading to the Uluru Statement from the perspective of a participant. Mayor describes the Statement as both ‘an unprecedented process of hope’ and as ‘the vanguard of our movement’.

Excerpt

‘The Torment of our Powerlessness

Since organising the rallies in Darwin against the Aboriginal community closures in Western Australia, I have thought about how we can break this cycle and be more effective at punishing decision-makers who have no genuine regard for the people they hurt.

In summary, the movement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and justice will be far more effective if we have our voice heard on the street and in parliament. It’ll be far more effective if all local First Nations gain the capacity to organise and choose their own representation so that these leaders, accountable to their people, can discuss, debate, and determine a collective way forward with other local First Nations. Unapologetic accountable representation of First Nations interests is missing and is direly needed, and if the rule book — the Constitution — forces parliament to hear us, we will see greater progress.

Our voice must be protected by the Constitution

The regional dialogues considered the fate of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies of the past, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). ATSIC was established by legislation introduced by the Hawke Government in 1990. It was formed as a representative voice of Indigenous people elected by Indigenous people. ATSIC was abolished in 2005 by legislation introduced by the Howard Government with the support of the Latham opposition.

The experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is that where our representative bodies are merely legislated, they are exposed to the whim of political ideology and expediency. The constitution is a rule book that even parliament must follow, and therefore enshrinement within it is protection for an established First Nations voice, and with it, First Nations cultural authority.’

Giovanni Torre, ‘We all agree with the Voice – Indigenous leaders reject Dutton’s claims’, National Indigenous Times, April 8, 2023

https://nit.com.au/08-04-2023/5544/we-all-agree-with-the-voice-palm-island-and-laverton-indigenous-leaders-reject-duttons-claims

Summary

This National Indigenous Times report counters Peter Dutton’s claim that he is opposing the Voice because Indigenous people are. The article quotes members of Indigenous communities on both sides of the continent saying that comments by them have been taken out of context by Dutton and that they support the Voice proposal. A Palm Island elder hopes the Voice can help tackle some of the community’s biggest concerns.

Excerpt

‘Aboriginal communities whose supposed views were cited by Peter Dutton as grounds for his opposition to the Voice to Parliament have accused the opposition leader of taking their comments out of context.

Mr Dutton referred to the alleged views of Indigenous people of areas ranging from Laverton and Palm Island as the basis for his rejection of a Voice to Parliament.

However, Pakaanu Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Marty Seelander told the ABC the majority of the Laverton Aboriginal community is backing the Yes campaign …

… Palm Island Bwgcolman Elder Elizabeth Clay also rejected Mr Dutton’s representation of her community’s views.

“He should [support the Voice] but we don’t expect him to. He’ll oppose everything”, she told the ABC.

“[It makes me feel] like I’ve felt all my life, like we are nothing. It does hurt”.

Ms Clay said Palm Island “needs a lot of help” and that she hopes the Voice can help tackle some of the community’s biggest concerns.

“There are over 5000 of us here, and you still have 20 people to a house. It’s hard sometimes; it causes a lot of friction and the young people don’t have jobs”, she told the ABC.

“All the kids are going to school and graduating, but there are no jobs. We know the answers to our problems, and we are hoping the Voice will help us get a handle on it”.

Ms Clay also rejected Mr Dutton’s suggestion that Aboriginal academics can’t represent the wider Indigenous community.

“I believe the academics will represent us all, who cares if they are academics or not, they are Aboriginal too”, she told the ABC.

She also noted that calling it “the Canberra Voice” as a criticism was ill-founded.

“It has to be a Canberra voice, because that’s where Parliament House is”, she said …’

Bronwyn Fredericks, ‘Why I “still” hear it on the radio and I “still” see it on the television: Treaty and the Uluru Statement from the Heart”, Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues 25,3 (2022), p.12

https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.692861368672485

Summary

The title of this article makes reference to the Yothu Yindi band’s song Treatythe first Australian ‘pop song’ to include the Yolngu Matha language. The paper briefly explores the history of treaty discussions in Australia and considers the implications of the three milestones outlined in the Uluru Statement: Voice, Treaty and Truth. The author joins the growing calls for action and proposes that all Australians need to be involved in pushing for constitutional change, which will enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament. Australians cannot stand by and let political inaction stall the process for another 30 years.

Excerpt

‘The reforms proposed by the Uluru Statement are relatively minor, well-conceived and do not require rethinking the entire Constitution. Professor Megan Davis (2019) who was a member of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition, and the Referendum Council, along with the architect of the Indigenous-led regional dialogues and national gathering, which led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, puts it like this:

We do not have the luxury of walking away and giving up on structural reform. We have garnered enormous support, including from inside politics — just not enough support, yet. The logic of the reform, for the nation’s future, is irrepressible. Substantive, concrete reform is the only thing the nation has not tried …. The conventional parliamentary system and its ancillary mechanisms have failed us. Yet we require that very system to endorse this change. We have no choice but to adopt strategies that engage the public (Davis 2019).’

Jesse John Fleay and Barry Judd, ‘The Uluru Statement: A First Nation’s perspective of the implications for social reconstructive race relations in Australia’, International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies 12,1 (2019), p. 5

https://ijcis.qut.edu.au/article/view/532

Summary

In this article, Fleay and Judd argue for the implementation of a Voice to Parliament, Makarrata Commission and a treaty through constitutional change. The article explains each of these propositions and frames them as the beginning of a ‘retributive industrial program of equality’. The article contends that past attempts at overcoming inequality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities did not solve the most critical problems they faced. It is argued that historical attempts at distributive justice did not effectively consider the history of inequality in Australia and were ineffective in breaking cycles of unemployment and low levels of education. Instead, they served to initiate a ‘reliance on welfare payments’ in the community. In contrast, the Uluru Statement from the Heart offers solutions designed by the Indigenous community which do not have the same drawbacks as previous policies designed by the government. These solutions would promote truth-telling and enable Australians to ‘heal historic grievances’.

Excerpt

‘It is our view that the voice will be the most important aspect of the three outcomes of the Uluru Statement. Ideally, any new representative body will operate as more than a simple advisory body to Australian government: the legal context of advice in common law is a powerful one. Australia’s governors and governors-general, as delegates to the Head of State, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her Heirs and her Successors, have the power to dissolve Parliament, sack prime ministers, declare war, and more. Advice is a higher power in the Australian Constitution that should not be underestimated. With its powers enshrined in the Constitution, the new body will exist as a new power in the formal politics of Australia. With a clear remit to give voice to the issues and concerns, hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, to hold Australian governments to account and to provide a political counterweight to the sectional interests of miners, pastoralists and developers, the changes demanded at the Uluru Convention are at odds with the problematic jurisprudential issues of native title, which only serve certain applicants through courts (Strelein, 2009) rather than entire generations through effective constitutional change and the great reforming legislation that would follow …

… Should the key directives of the Uluru Statement be adopted, First Nations will be the single greatest driving force of social reconstruction, and whether that means putting native title to its final use in creating sustainable programs and infrastructure, or abandoning the processes entirely, the consequences for not acting now will be detrimental to Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islanders and the future wellbeing of the Australian polity overall. We must abandon the divisive view that equality that includes the recognition of difference infringes on freedom, and that freedom undermines equality. American moral and political philosopher, John Rawls, proposed a new approach to political liberalism, based on freedom and equality, where one value operates to enhance the other in a society where justice is primarily regarded in terms of fairness (Rawls, 1958, 1982). Importantly, Rawls’ principle for determining a just and fair society holds that a society may only claim to be just when social and economic policy improves the wellbeing of the least well-off, the most vulnerable groups in society. Rawls called this the difference principle. Some believe that Rawls’ brand of political liberalism based in social contract theory is impractical; we believe such notions of a social contract between the citizenry and state should be the basis of all legitimate social democratic forms of government.’

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