Meeting the PM’s Indigenous Recognition Challenge

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Options for Parliament to hear Indigenous Voices

26 June 2018

Today, former High Court judge Michael Kirby joined with Noel Pearson, Rachel Perkins and Greg Craven to launch Upholding the Big Ideas, a set of proposals for how the Constitution can ensure that Parliament hears Indigenous voices. These proposals demonstrate how we could make good the call at Uluru last year to empower Indigenous people from regions across Australia to have a say about the laws and policies that affect them.

In August last year, at the Garma Festival, the Prime Minister said the Statement from the Heart contained big ideas but was short on detail in terms of how an amendment to the Australian Constitution might be implemented to ensure Parliament hears Indigenous voices. This constitutional amendment was the key recommendation in the Statement from the Heart and the Referendum Council’s final report.

Upholding the Big Ideas contains options for how this might be achieved, including draft legislation demonstrating how each option might be implemented by Parliament.

Mr Kirby said, “I began by being opposed to the idea of a special provision in the Constitution to ensure that Parliament hears Indigenous voices, but after our Indigenous peoples told us in the Uluru Statement that they believe this is necessary, I came around to their way of thinking. So I hope the suggestions in Upholding the Big Ideas might help others to come around to seeing that this idea is not only desirable, but achievable as well.”

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“It is not asking much that, on important issues affecting them directly, Parliament should have a simple means to hear their voices. Straight from the heart. Acknowledging traditional custodians, as we now do, is fine. But a direct Indigenous voice to Parliament is timely,” Mr Kirby said.

The proposals are a joint project of Uphold & Recognise (U&R), an organisation comprising Indigenous and other Australians committed to upholding the Australian Constitution and recognising Indigenous Australians, and the PM Glynn Institute, the public policy think-tank of Australian Catholic University (ACU).

Their work was guided by a strategic committee comprising three Indigenous leaders: University of NSW Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Megan Davis, Cape York Institute’s founder Noel Pearson and U&R Chair Sean Gordon.

Mr Gordon said, “The development of these discussion papers is a significant step forward toward empowering Indigenous people to develop policies on a range of issues we feel are important before the Parliament ultimately decides whether they will endorse them.”

“The current system is not working, because expenditure is going up, yet outcomes are going down. Little has changed, many live in poverty, infant mortality is twice that of other Australians, the average Indigenous person will die ten years before non-Indigenous people,” Mr Gordon said.

Constitutional lawyer and Vice-Chancellor and President of ACU, Professor Greg Craven AO GCSG, said, “I’m glad ACU has taken a lead in developing options for implementing the Referendum Council’s recommendations, because properly interpolating an Indigenous perspective alongside parliamentary debate does not compromise, but merely assists the legislative function.”

“To deny such a modest request, merely to be heard, strikes me as suggesting something impervious in the Australian soul,” Professor Craven said.

Of the proposals, Noel Pearson said, “This work lays a foundation for the next stage in the discussion, because it provides some suggestions for everyone to think about, and then respond to with their own suggestions.”

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Upholding the Big Ideas also addresses the proposal for a Makarrata Commission, which would oversee truth-telling about Indigenous history and agreement-making between Indigenous peoples and Australian governments.

Upholding the Big Ideas also puts forward two different options for how the Referendum Council’s recommendation for a declaration outside the Constitution might be adopted. A declaration of recognition would recognise Australia’s Indigenous heritage, British institutions and multicultural society.

These options have been developed to stimulate discussion about possibilities for Indigenous recognition, including those at the national summit on Indigenous affairs to be convened by Australian National University at Old Parliament House, Canberra in July, and by the parliamentary committee chaired by ALP Senator Patrick Dodson and Liberal MP Julian Leeser, which is due to deliver its final report in November.

Background: The Statement from the Heart was the result of a National Constitutional Convention held at Uluru last year following regional meetings across the country involving 1,200 indigenous leaders from across Australia. It was arguably the largest and most representative group of Indigenous representatives assembled in recent times. At the Convention, there was unanimous agreement that Indigenous constitutional recognition not be symbolic, but be a set of structural reforms, one within the Constitution and others in legislation.

Click here to download Upholding the Big Ideas. For more information, contact David Allinson: 0412 202 554, david.allinson@upholdandrecognise.com

Uphold & Recognise