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 interim report was published and individuals, communities and organisations were invited to make a submission with regard to the government’s proposal for how the Local and Regional Voices, and the National Voice should be established and designed.

As Australia’s leading Indigenous think-tank, the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership has made its submission, which can be viewed HERE.

Our submission has been guided by the tenets laid out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and states unequivocally that the Voice must be constitutionally enshrined prior to being legislated. An approach resembling the obverse would make the Voice vulnerable to current and future political will, and presages further disappointment for First Nations peoples. 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 and explains why Australians can unite behind constitutional enshrinement. It also further articulates why constitutional enshrinement ought and must not make way for first legislating, and concludes with our outline on due process for a referendum, constitutionalisation and subsequent legislation.

The Cape York Institute will not hesitate or compromise in its endeavour to ensure the Voice is constitutionally enshrined. We call on all Australian parliaments, Australian society and our fellow First Nations communities to honour the dictum and values contained within the Uluru Statement from the Heart.