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Indigenous Leaders Call For Treaty and Reconciliation Commission

29 May 2017 at 1:09 pm
Rachel McFadden
In a landmark move, more than 250 Indigenous leaders from across the country have formed a united voice calling for the establishment of a representative body to be enshrined in the constitution, Australia’s first Indigenous treaty and a truth and reconciliation commission.

Rachel McFadden | 29 May 2017 at 1:09 pm


Indigenous Leaders Call For Treaty and Reconciliation Commission
29 May 2017 at 1:09 pm

In a landmark move, more than 250 Indigenous leaders from across the country have formed a united voice calling for the establishment of a representative body to be enshrined in the constitution, Australia’s first Indigenous treaty and a truth and reconciliation commission.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was handed down on Friday after three days of deliberation at the historic meeting of First Peoples in Uluru.

The statement, which called on all Australians to join the movement towards a better and more united future, came on the eve of the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

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

The statement was also delivered on the 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report and National Sorry Day and acknowledged the ongoing inequality between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.

“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are alienated 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,” the statement said.

“These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.”

Organised by the Referendum Council, which was established by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten as a show of bipartisan support for constitutional recognition, the convention discussed what constitutional recognition would look like and whether it was something to strive for.

But Pat Anderson, co-chair of the Referendum Council, said an acknowledgement in the constitution was “totally rejected” and instead the delegates called for “substantive constitutional change and structural reform”.

The convention called for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution, the establishment of a treaty and truth and reconciliation commission.

“People want treaty. They don’t want acknowledgement, they want treaty,” Anderson said in a media conference.

“The other thing that came up that will probably be done by the treaty commission is a [process of acknowledging] truth and justice. This is part of the healing of the nation and coming together and having a mature nation.

“There has to be proper truth telling, in the same way as in other countries in the world.”

The statement made clear that healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was a priority.

“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,” the statement said.

“We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

Melbourne University Professor Adrienne Stone told Pro Bono News that Australia was lagging behind in terms of Indigenous affairs.

“All the other settlement countries such as United States of America, Canada and New Zealand have in some form of constitutional recognition, so they either have a treaty or their constitution explicitly acknowledges or provides rights for Indigenous people,” Stone said.

“What constitutional reform offers is an opportunity to remake the basis of the political settlement between Indigenous people and Australia.”

Turnbull is yet to acknowledge the full recommendations of the Uluru statement but speaking at a lunch celebrating the 1967 referendum he said constitutional change would be “very difficult”.

“As I know better than most, changing the Australian constitution is not easy  –  44 referendums and only eight successes,” Turnbull said.

“Indeed, history would indicate that in order to succeed, not only must there be overwhelming support but minimal or at least tepid opposition.

“The constitution cannot be changed by Parliament. Only the Australian people can do that. No political deal, no cross-party compromise, no leader’s handshake, can deliver constitutional change,” he said.

“To do that, a constitutionally conservative nation must be persuaded that the proposed amendments respect the fundamental values of the constitution, and will deliver precise changes, clearly understood, that benefit all Australians.”

Stone said that although constitutional reform was hard there was still hope.

“I think Australian constitutional culture generally preferences practical change over purely symbolic measures,” Stone said.

“It is not at all clear to me that it is impossible, I think there is a chance.”

Greens leader Richard Di Natale criticised the prime minister for not endorsing the Uluru declaration.

“I’m deeply concerned, the prime minister had an opportunity today to say: ‘I stand with our First Nation people, I’ve heard them and we are going to work towards a treaty and towards as a strong Aboriginal voice.’ And instead he appears to have backed away from any significant change,” he said.

The Referendum Council will hand on the recommendations of the Uluru convention on 30 June.

Anderson said this was just the start of a long journey towards meeting the aspirations of the Uluru statement.

“When the referendum council finishes its work on June 30, we’ve got another team — a whole range of people who will go forward and bring this whole matter forward,” Anderson said.

“This is a long process we’ve set up now … with people putting up their hands up today and were chosen, we’ve got a very large working group that will continue to work on this process for the next while.”


Rachel McFadden  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Rachel is a journalist specialising in the social sector.

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