We Must Honour the Uluru Statement from the Heart in our quest for a Voice
“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”
The ultimate paragraph of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is its most defining; it encapsulates the essence of progress and reconciliation from the point of view of our First Nations peoples. The statement, in its entirety, is humbling for two reasons. Firstly, because it is extending an invitation, not a decree, to the non-Indigenous peoples of Australia.
“We invite you to walk with us…”
Secondly, because it patiently calls for two processes that have historical, moral and humanitarian precedent: a Makarrata Commission to supervise the process of a treaty, and the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.”
Note, the emphasis on ‘constitutional’.
In January 2021, the Voice co-design group published its interim report. Individuals, communities and organisations have made submissions with regard to the design of the Voice model. As Australia’s leading Indigenous think-tank, the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership has made its submission.
The values laid out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart have guided our submission. It states that the Voice must be constitutionally enshrined prior to being legislated. An approach that resembles the obverse would make the Voice vulnerable to current and future political will. Our submission is unambiguous on this point, as follows:
“This submission argues against prematurely legislating a First Nations voice before first holding a referendum to implement the concomitant constitutional guarantee. Pursuing legislation before the appropriate constitutional amendment empowering and requiring the existence of a First Nations voice would dishonour the Uluru Statement and kill off chances of constitutionalising the institution … Prematurely legislating a voice would confuse the public and dissipate the momentum and productive tension currently driving the campaign for a constitutionalised voice. Indigenous people especially should oppose legislating first. Accepting a merely legislated voice without the constitutional guarantee, in the hopes that constitutional entrenchment will follow, would be like accepting the Apology without compensation all over again.”
Our submission details the history of constitutional recognition for First Nations peoples; it explains why Australians can unite behind constitutional enshrinement. It also explains why constitutional enshrinement must not make way for a legislated model. Finally, it outlines due process for a referendum, constitutional enshrinement and subsequent legislation.
The Cape York Institute will not hesitate or compromise in its efforts to ensure the constitutional enshrinement of the Voice. We call on all to honour the proposals contained within the Uluru Statement from the Heart.