A referendum could be held early next year to enshrine a “First Nations Voice” in the constitution after a historic all-Indigenous convention overwhelmingly backed the move.
In a stunning repudiation, the convention rejected acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution, instead backing the Indigenous voice. It also called for a road map to a treaty.
It has called for a “Makarrata Commission” to supervise agreements between Indigenous groups and government and a period of truth-telling about the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle,” says the convention declaration, referring to the word of the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land for treaty or settlement.
Sam Backo, who as a six-year-old was part of the ‘yes’ campaign, at Uluru.
“In 1967 we were counted; in 2017 we seek to be heard,” said the declaration, which was adopted by around 250 delegates on Friday afternoon before a dramatic closing ceremony at the Mutitjulu community at the foot of Uluru.
The declaration will be presented to the Referendum Council, which will then deliver a report on options for constitutional recognition to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten will address an event on Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.
It will be the first opportunity for both leaders to respond the the declaration.
Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson challenged both to back the two proposals, telling Fairfax Media: “I hope that the message will become clear this week to Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull that there is a model here that, if they show the necessary leadership, they can bring the Australian people with them to support.”
He believed the wording for a referendum question enshrining an Indigenous voice in the constitution could be drafted in the next few months, allowing for a referendum to be held next year. What form the voice could take would then be discussed by a parliamentary committee before legislation was enacted.
“My own personal views are we should go in no later than the next 12 months to a referendum,” Mr Pearson said.
A working group would continue to press the case for the proposals, he said.
Referendum Council co-chair, Pat Anderson, said previous dialogues had “rejected totally outright having some sort of an acknowledgement in the constitution”.
“Overwhelmingly around the country, people are wanting to negotiate a proper settlement between us all. People want treaty, they don’t want acknowledgement and they want a truth and justice commission.”
Constitutional lawyer Megan Davis, who has played a key role at the 12 preceding dialogues and the convention, said: “The mob overwhelmingly rejected symbolism or a statement of acknowledgement in the constitution.”
Professor Davis said the emphatic view of the convention was not to seek “recognition” as an acknowledgement, but “reform that allows us to participate fully and actively in the life of the Australian state”.
The Uluru declaration pressed the case for the changes saying: “With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
“These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.”