What is the Uluru Statement and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament?

Explainer: What is an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and the Uluru Statement of the Heart?

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If you are unclear on exactly what the Uluru Statement of the Heart is and what it calls for, we have your questions answered.

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The establishment of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament has reemerged as a key issue with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese using his victory speech to further cement his commitment to the Uluru Statement of the Heart. As 2022 marks the fifth anniversary of the signing of the statement there has been a renewed push for First Nations representation in federal parliament.

If you are unclear on exactly what the statement is and what it calls for, we have your questions answered.

Picture: Shutterstock

Picture: Shutterstock

What is the Uluru Statement of the Heart?

In May 2017, 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from all around the country met under the shadow of Uluru and signed the Uluru Statement of the Heart. The statement is addressed to the Australian people rather than any specific government or party.

The three aspects of the statement are Voice, Treaty and Truth.

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

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

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

What is an Indigenous Voice to Parliament?

The statement calls for a Voice for First Nations people to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. This would create a permanent Indigenous advisory body to federal parliament allowing First Nations people to have their say.

This voice should be enshrined in the constitution, so it cannot be removed by any government of the day.

However, this requires a change to the Australian Constitution and therefore a referendum.

According to the statement: "We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution."

What is a Makarrata commission?

The statement calls for the establishment of a Makarrata commission. Makarrata is a Yolngu word meaning "the coming together after a struggle".

The commission would supervise a treaty between the Commonwealth and First Nations and truth-telling about Indigenous history.

The commission would take an in depth look at all past injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

According to the statement: "Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history."

What is needed to enact the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

A referendum is required to make any changes to the Australian Constitution.

It is unclear what constitutional or legal consequences would flow from any Makarrata agreement or treaty reached between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, it is unlikely it would require constitutional change.

What is a referendum?

The constitution can only be changed by the Australian people. Any move to enshrine a Voice for First Nations people in the constitution would need to be passed at a referendum. Details of the changes would have to be agreed by parliament before being presented to the people for a vote.

A change would only come into effect if the proposal received the support of a majority of voters in a majority of states. There have been 44 referendums since 1901, only eight have succeeded.

The last referendum was held in 1967 where Australians voted overwhelmingly to amend the constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census.

When would a referendum be held?

The statements' authors have settled on their ideal dates to hold a referendum: May 27, 2023, marking the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, or January 27, 2024, the day after Australia Day.

However, incoming Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said she did not have a firm timeline in mind but the suggested dates would be "closely considered".

What was the Liberal Party's position?

Former prime minister Scott Morrison repeatedly ruled out calling a referendum to establish an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, saying that it wasn't the Liberal Party's policy.

"It's not our policy to have a constitutionally recognised voice to parliament. It's not our policy," he told reporters in Sydney in April.

"Our policy is to build up a voice from the ground up, and that's the process that we've been going through... and that process is underway. Building up local voices of Indigenous people and seeing that build up over time into higher levels.

"I don't agree with the Labor policy, we have a different policy."

Queensland Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker said the establishment of a commission to facilitate truth telling was "terribly frightening".

"The element of it that involves what people call 'truth' is that there should be a permanent commission set up to hear the stories of Indigenous people, not in the nature of history but in the nature of the collection of evidence for the correction of a historical record, without it being the subject of evidence from people who might think differently, without debate, without challenge," Ms Stoker told Sky News in January.

"It's terribly frightening."

The story What is the Uluru Statement and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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