History is calling…

Sunday Blog 70 – 5th February 2023

Fremantle’s One Day celebration last Saturday 28th of Jan was not the first time I had heard Thomas Mayo quote the Uluru Statement from the Heart verbatim. The first time was at the WA Council of Social Service conference in 2020 and it was just as moving and electrifying then. (It was in fact my favourite part of a very inspiring conference). If you have never read the Statement from the Heart in full, do so now. It takes five minutes. It is a little wee bit nicer hearing Thomas say it, but you will just have to imagine.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was created in 2017 at the National Constitutional Convention. It calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. Since 2017 there have been three Australian Prime Ministers. Two have rejected the Statement (Turnbull and Morrison).

The third, and current Anthony Albanese has committed to the Statement. A referendum will likely be held in the second half of 2023, closer to the end of the year. The referendum question currently proposed is:

Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?

Check out www.fromtheheart.com.au for more details

So six years later, history is calling Australia. As Thomas stated, appealing to monarchs and politicians hasn’t worked. Any past attempts to enshrine a voice have either been rejected or supported temporarily then dismantled when a new government entered power. Enshrining this voice in our constitution is key to preventing this voice from being periodically silenced. And it has to come from us as a community.

I kept notes as I was listening and I reflected on what Thomas Mayo said last Saturday. Some key summary points that have really stuck with me. I have some trepidation as a clumsy ally wading in to the topic but this is important, so here goes:

  1. A Voice is very much like a “Watchdog” – a body that will ensure that Recommendations and reforms are actually implemented. It is all about creating real change.
  2. It needs to be in the Constitution so it can’t be removed at the whim and will of the government of the day.
  3. Truth telling is very important AND it has been happening for a long time. Australians are not quite able to put their head in the sands as much as they used to. Many brave First Nations people have already told their stories in many different Inquiries and Royal Commissions etc. What is missing is political will to make the required changes. The key is implementation. (See point 1 again)
  4. A Treaty is very important AND it takes a long time. Also treaties can be ignored, so we need a body that will ensure the work is carried out. (See point 1 again)
  5. Yes we do have First Nations politicians in our states and in Canberra. But they will represent particular parties or issues or constituents. Australia needs First Nations voices across all the issues.

History called Australians in 1967 to change two troublesome (i.e. racist) clauses in our Constitution. One noted that there was always the option for “special and different” laws applying to our First Nations people. The second stated they didn’t actually count as Australians.

Primarily Referendums for changes to Australia’s Constitution can be fiendishly hard to win. Since 1906 there have been 44 of them, only 8 have been successful. Fortunately 90% of Australians voted yes in the 1967 Referendum. Even in 1967 we knew this had to change. Hopefully in 2023 we can again show that we know better and can do better.

As the Uluru Statement from the Heart concludes:

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard… We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Uluru Statement From the Heart at www.fromtheheart.com.au

In the coming months there will be more opportunities to talk together, and I have somewhat intrepidly applied to host a Kitchen Table Conversation on the topic. When I find out more details and organise something, I will post it on my blog.

Yours, feeling (in the words of Brene Brown) awkward, a bit brave and I hope kind.

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