Response to the Prime Minister’s rejection of the Referendum Council Report

Uphold & Recognise is committed to the dual imperatives of recognising Indigenous Australians and upholding the Constitution.

It is disappointing that the Prime Minister has rejected the Referendum Council’s recommendation to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Constitution and to enact a Declaration of Recognition outside the Constitution.

Uphold & Recognise CEO David Allinson said, “The recommendations of the Referendum Council are absolutely in keeping with Australia’s constitutional traditions. They are constitutionally modest proposals because the voice would have no veto power: it would simply provide advice. The suggestion that it would be ‘a third chamber of parliament’ is incorrect.”

Uphold & Recognise appreciates that the Prime Minister must assess what the Australian people are ready for. Mr Allinson explained, however, “We respectfully disagree with his assessment that Australians are not ready to listen to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.”

“Australians are prepared to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders about what the laws and policies they live under should look like. Like the Prime Minister, we appreciate that for too long laws have been made for Indigenous people, not with them. The Voice to Parliament would improve law-making by including Indigenous Australians as a constitutionally recognised polity for whom laws are made. It is simply a fact of our Constitution that the Race Power is used exclusively to make laws about Indigenous people. It is only right that Indigenous people should get a say on Parliament’s exercise of that power.”

People across the political spectrum have supported the work of Uphold & Recognise, including ACU Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven, Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson, former governor-general Major General Michael Jeffery, former defence force chief Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, former NSW governor Dame Marie Bashir, Chris Kenny, Thomas Keneally and many other eminent Australians.

Nick Greiner, former Premier of NSW and head of the Federal Liberal Party, delivered the following message to Uphold & Recognise: “Recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples is something we all want to see happen. I am proud to support the efforts of Uphold & Recognise to achieve constitutional recognition in a sensible and timely way.”

Jeff Kennett, former Premier of Victoria, said, “Uphold, recognise and celebrate. Count me in!" “Neither of the two requests is Earth-shattering and I believe both deserve, and would receive, overwhelming community support,” said Mr Kennett.

At an Uphold & Recognise event, Andrew Forrest AO said that “to consult with Indigenous people is to right that small wrong, which over time has become a very large wrong, of the failure to recognise Indigenous people in the original Constitution.”

With his rejection of the Referendum Council’s recommendations, the Prime Minister suggested that the Constitution should be amended to include a symbolic reference to Indigenous Australians. Uphold & Recognise maintains that symbolic recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Constitution is inconsistent with Australian constitutional values and traditions. Constitutional conservatives would oppose a symbolic insertion in the constitution.

Uphold & Recognise oppose change that introduces uncertainty into our foundational legal document. Launching Uphold & Recognise at the State Library of NSW in 2015, Julian Leeser MP said that “the constitution is a rule book for government, it is the place where important national power relationships are articulated. It is not, necessarily, the right place for rich symbolism and poetry.” More recently, Mr Leeser responded to the Uluru Statement: “What [Indigenous people] are giving us … is a direction, an important direction. They are telling us that they want to be consulted and have a voice in the way in which policy is developed, and consultation is good.”

At an Uphold & Recognise event in June, Tim Wilson MP spoke in support of the idea of “a representative body – which might be state-based, regionally-based or nationally-based – that will seek to achieve what Indigenous people want for themselves, and the country will be compelled to listen to it.”

Mr Allinson said, “Constitutional conservatives support the proposal for an Indigenous constitutional body because it would not introduce uncertainty. It fits with the practical nature of the Constitution.” In Mr Leeser’s words, it’s “the kind of clause Griffiths and Barton might have drafted, had they turned their minds to it.”

Importantly, Indigenous Australians have rejected symbolic change. They asked for a Voice to Parliament. The Indigenous dialogues facilitated by the Referendum Council made it clear that Indigenous Australians want meaningful and practical reform, not symbolism without substance.

The supporters of Uphold & Recognise are proud Australians, proud of our Indigenous cultural heritage, of our British institutions and of our multicultural accomplishment. What could be more patriotic than embracing these three aspects of what it means to be a contemporary Australian in an inspiring Declaration outside the Constitution, together with a voice for Indigenous peoples within the Constitution? What could be less Australian than leaving the responsibility to a future generation?

Uphold & Recognise encourages you to engage your local members of government on this issue. We encourage you to read and appreciate the Uluru Statement from the Heart. If you want to help, please contact Uphold & Recognise or make a donation.

Uphold & Recognise will continue to push for meaningful Indigenous recognition that upholds the Constitution.

Uphold & Recognise