Response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart
For the first time in Australian history, we know what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples agree counts as real recognition.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined within the Australian Constitution and for a Makarrata Commission to be established by the Australian Parliament. These are the means by which Indigenous peoples seek to have their ancient sovereignty recognised.
The statement speaks of sovereignty as a spiritual notion that is “the ancestral tie between land” and the Indigenous Australians whose ancestors have been the traditional custodians of it for millennia.
The spiritual notion of sovereignty of which the Uluru statement speaks is something that all Australians should celebrate. The art, language and culture that gives expression to Indigenous Australians’ spiritual connection to their traditional lands is something in which all Australians can rejoice.
Everyone who is proud of Australia has reason to be proud of this, just as we can be proud of our British institutions and our multicultural society. As Tim Wilson MP said last week, “the issue of constitutional recognition ceases to be just a discussion about how are we going to elevate the status of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It points to a united future for our country.”
The statement points out that this sovereignty, this ancestral tie between traditional lands and Indigenous people co-exists with the legal sovereignty of the Crown. The proposals for recognition of this sovereignty through a First Nations Voice and a Makarrata Commission are also compatible with the enduring legal sovereignty of the Crown.
The idea of an Indigenous voice to Parliament would do nothing to undermine the sovereignty of Parliament nor would it create two classes of citizenship in Australia. Rather than empowering activist judges in the High Court, it would ensure that Indigenous peoples’ “torment of powerlessness” comes to an end.
As Julian Leeser MP writes in The Forgotten People, an Indigenous voice to Parliament “is the kind of machinery clause that Griffith, Barton and their colleagues might have drafted, had they turned their minds to it. A machinery clause like this can sensibly sit in the Constitution, where it can have its intended practical effect.”
In 2013, Tony Abbott said, “we only have to look across the Tasman to see how it all could have been done so much better. Thanks to the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand two peoples became one nation.”
The Makarrata Commission provides us with a way of doing just this. Like the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand, the Makarrata Commission will be able to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Peoples and truth-telling about our history.
We are confident that the integrity of the Australian Constitution and the basic liberal values of Australian society can be upheld by the Uluru statement’s approach to recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.