A Referendum scheduled towards the end of this year, 2023, will deliver an outcome on the proposal to bring an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament, an agenda first consolidated in the Uluru Statement From the Heart in 2018.
The Statement is an important moment in the efforts of organisations, as well as societal and community groups, to effect long-lasting change to better represent and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the Australian government.
Today, we’ll summarise what The Statement means, how it was created, and the part it has played in proposing a Voice to Parliament as a permanent parliamentary representative body.
Background of the Uluru Statement From the Heart
More than 250 delegates met at Uluru in May 2017 as part of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention. The delegates were put forward from regions and communities from around the country to ensure sufficient representation of the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
While the Statement From the Heart cannot be considered a completely unified view, since opinions naturally vary, it has garnered much support. The formation of The Statement is important, particularly when we look at the yarning circle meaning and its significance in Indigenous cultures. Yarning circles are collaborative and inclusive, with all participants having equal rights to be heard and speak openly.
Adopting this approach, the delegates worked together to put forward The Statement. It invites the Australian people to walk together to enact recommendations to bring about legal and constitutional reforms.
What Does The Uluru Statement From the Heart Propose?
Several points are included within The Statement, such as the call for a Voice to Parliament. Depending on the outcomes of the public Referendum, a Voice to Parliament would mean that an elected Voice would be permanently put in place to advise and consult with legislators on changes to laws and policies that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Particular focus areas may be education, equality, employment rights, and healthcare–assisting and informing government representatives on ways to adjust policies to address disadvantages and disparities that continue to affect First Nations people today. A Voice would not have the right to veto or make changes to established processes but would instead advise, with parliament obligated to consult on all matters relating to Indigenous people and communities.
The major difference in this proposal is that the Voice to Parliament would be permanent and guaranteed, unlike previous representative bodies, which have been abolished, often where their priorities conflicted with those of the government at the time. Other recommendations within The Statement are summarised below.
Developing a Makarrata Commission
A Makarrata Commission would supervise negotiations and discussions between the Australian government and First Nations people to provide the platform for other proposals to take shape.
It would be tasked with creating a framework to allow each Aboriginal sovereign state to craft its own treaty in a similar way that commissions have been established throughout other countries such as South Africa, New Zealand, and Canada. As yet, there is no formal treaty between the Australian government and the Aboriginal people.
Makarrata is a word from the dialect of the Yolngu people, and as with many Indigenous words has a complex meaning. It refers to peace-making, rest and healing, reconciliation following a dispute, and negotiation without bad feelings.
Truth-Telling and Sovereignty
Truth-telling is a process where harms and injustices suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are exposed and uncovered, ensuring First Nations people are active contributors to the dialogue and use their own voice to tell their history through the lens of lived experience and cultural heritage.
As a step towards reconciliation, truth-telling is about providing all Australian people with an understanding of their true history, especially where this varies from general perceptions. Interconnected with truth-telling is sovereignty, which acknowledges that Indigenous people were the first sovereign inhabitants of Australia and retain that right to sovereignty.
Reforms, alongside the above changes, would give Aboriginal people the right and power to manage their affairs and address statistics and trends that disadvantage or impact the life chances of the next generations.
The Statement calls for constitutional reforms to address the balance of power and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a seat at the table, with control over their own destinies and the ability to foster a fair, truthful relationship built on the basis of self-determination.