Uluru Statement intent a vision of truth and empowerment

Uluru Statement from the Heart intent by Anthony Albanese a vision of truth and empowerment

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Anthony Albanese walks to the podium in Parliament House, Canberra, on Monday to give his first media address as Prime Minister. Picture: AAP

Anthony Albanese walks to the podium in Parliament House, Canberra, on Monday to give his first media address as Prime Minister. Picture: AAP

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Finally, there is momentum to adopt in full the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

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The moment deeply affected new Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney. Lined up at Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's first press conference at Parliament House on Monday were the Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.

It was a powerful symbolic statement of intent and change.

"Symbolism is important," Burney says. "It made me get a lump in my throat to be honest with you. The thoughtfulness, the nod to respect, the inclusivity of the gesture was something everyone noticed and really appreciated."

Two days earlier, in his election victory speech, after his acknowledgment to country, the Prime Minister kicked off with a reaffirmation of his government's commitment to adopt in full the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Finally, says Burney, there is momentum in a process that stalled under the Morrison government.

"Very little has happened over the last term of the now opposition. The people who were appointed to [outgoing Indigenous Affairs] Minister Wyatt's expert advisory group were expressly not allowed to consider the Uluru Statement," she says.

New Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney. Picture: AAP

New Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney. Picture: AAP

"Labor's embracing of the Uluru Statement is not a conversion in the last couple of months. We have been as one on this for at least two years.

"And that means that we've been able to think about what needs to happen.

"We've been able to be very clear on the fact that we embrace the Uluru Statement and embrace it in full, including the three aspects of Uluru."

The Uluru Statement was issued on May 26, 2017, after a national constitutional convention of 250 delegates from First Nations around the country.

The three aspects of the statement are voice, treaty and truth telling.

The Voice is a mechanism to ensure First Nations are heard by government.

Truth is the telling and recognition of the First Nations story.

Treaty is a formal agreement between the Commonwealth and the First Nations.

Burney concedes there are probably years of work required around treaty making but stands by her government's commitment to take to the Australian people a referendum that, if successful, will recognise First Nations in the constitution and ensure they have a Voice to Parliament which cannot be abolished by the government of the day.

While the details of how the Voice to Parliament will look are yet to be worked out, its recognition in the constitution will mean First Nations people will be guaranteed the right to speak to and advise upon legislation that will affect them and their lands.

Burney is confident, despite the small number of referendums that have succeeded in Australia, the nation will support the Voice to Parliament.

She was 10 when the last question about First Nations people - whether they should be counted in the census and the Commonwealth be allowed to enact laws for them - was put to the Australian people on May 17, 1967.

Across the country, 90.77 per cent of the population voted yes. Crucially, the majority of states also voted yes.

"It was the most successful referendum ever.

"Why?

"Because you may think Australians are conservative but Australians are decent and they believe in fairness. And that's what this is about."

In her maiden speech to the NSW Parliament, to which she was elected in 2003, Burney, a Wiradjuri woman, said, "Growing up as an Aboriginal child looking into the mirror of our country was difficult and alienating. Your reflection in the mirror was at best ugly and distorted, and at worst nonexistent."

That was almost 20 years and a political lifetime ago. Today, the federal member for Barton - who in 2016 was the first Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives - says the mirror and its reflection have improved beyond recognition.

"Get a load of this," she says. "At the next caucus meeting of the federal Labor Party there will be six First Nations politicians. The fact that the last appointment and this appointment of Indigenous Affairs Minister will be Indigenous people, it's historic."

She points to an evolution beyond politics, which embraces the First Nations story.

"I have not been to a school assembly for years that doesn't begin with an acknowledgment of country. Those things come about because of the commitment of the school, both the teachers and the students, and their families."

Co-chair of the Uluru Dialogue, the collective of First Nations leaders who are the statement's custodians, Professor Megan Davis is also upbeat.

"History is calling, and the Australian people are ready to answer," she says. "The stars are aligning, and the Australian people are ready to make history. This is nation-building.

"We are confident that under the leadership of Prime Minister Albanese, we will see a constitutionally enshrined Voice, then Treaty, then Truth, as set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

"We look forward to working alongside the new federal government in implementing the statement. We're ready to go to work."

Speaking from First Nations author Bruce Pascoe's farm near Mallacoota, Yuin elder Noel Butler says the momentum towards the Voice is a welcome wind of change.

"We talked about it on the farm here today and the first thing that all of us got was a sigh of relief, of recognition and respect for somebody who made a statement as the leader of the nation - or nations.

"The first thing he says is the recognition and a gratitude for being on the local mob's country.

"And the second thing, he will accept and implement, will be true to his word, on the acceptance of the Uluru Statement.

"It's like there is hope, somebody's turned the light on."

The story Uluru Statement intent a vision of truth and empowerment first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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