Thank you Rachel and thank you Justice Kirby. Thank you to the Australian Catholic University and the Glen Institute for their marvellous work putting the detail on the ideas of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Let me acknowledge the Eora people, the First Nations of this region and the First Nations from right across the continent.
I first thought about the imperatives for this kind of change when the late Ron Castan the QC in the Mabo case told me more than twenty years ago that we had to make common cause with conservative Australia. I learnt that lesson whilst I was a darling of the progressives. The lesson Ron taught me was that in order to make progress in this area we need to forge common ground with people at the four o’clock, five o’clock, three o’clock mark on the clock. And that is what I decided to do from about the year 2000/1999. And it dismayed some of my former supporters but it was the political rule that Nixon had to go to China if we’re going to change the Constitution, that is you needed a conservative leadership to start the journey towards getting 90% of the country on board. And this John Howard did on the eve of the 2007 election. It was John Howard that kicked off this game and, of course, subsequent governments did various pieces of work on constitutional recognition and we passed the ten year mark absolutely and this piece of work that Greg Craven’s university has helped us put together is a crucial step in the progress of constitutional recognition.
Of course, all constituencies in Australia are important right up from 6am to 6pm right across the political spectrum and it is only because of the particular priority of getting common ground with conservative Australians, those who are concerned with upholding the Constitution. The bridge needed to be made between those two imperatives. How do we bridge upholding the constitution and recognising indigenous Australians? So, my colleague Shireen Morris and I one fateful day took the taxi across the Harbour Bridge to the ACU to a very bracing meeting with its vice-chancellor. And I pay tribute to Greg Craven for inspiring me on that day to see that there’s hope in this business. There’s hope in this agenda and that our instinct that forging common ground with people at four o’clock on the political clock is imperative and upholds and recognises the embodiment of that idea that there is a constituency. There are politicians like Julian Leeser who understand the point about upholding the Constitution whilst recognising indigenous Australians. So, there is a great constituency in that part of the Australian political spectrum and if all of us are important, if all constituencies are important, at the end of the day for a successful referendum a majority of voters in a majority of the states, there are two constituencies that are particularly important. It is the indigenous peoples who are sought to be recognised and the Conservatives who seek to uphold the Constitution. And if we get that connection, if we maintain faith and we grow that alliance, we will succeed in a referendum.
I come here today following the great work done by Uphold and Recognise and the PM Glynn Institute and I want to thank Michael Casey’s support for us in this regard. I come here today with optimism, real optimism that there is still a window open for us. There’s still a window open for us to achieve the recognition that we deserve and move Australia to a new future.
Faith, hope, love. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is about faith in the possibilities, faith in the Australian people, faith against so much history undeserving of faith. How can a people against whom so many faithless acts were performed over two centuries revive a faith in their own country? And yet Uluru is a statement of faith.
It’s also a statement of a hope. From the bowels of despair about our place in this country, we have an expression of hope for the future.
And love. This is about bringing the country together. It is about a love for our own country, notwithstanding the lack of love that our people have experienced for too long in this our own home. Black Australians – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Australians – love this country. How could it be otherwise? There is no other country for us to love other than this one. It’s ours and we demand a fair place within it. We demand after 65,000 years that the events of the last 200 do not erase the old Australia that was ours and we demand that the old Australia live within the new one.
I’m so appreciative of the work done by David Allinson, Damien Freeman and the team at Uphold and Recognise under the chairmanship of my friends and colleagues Sean and Rachel. It’s a very important work. They put an enormous energy into answering the detail that needs to be answered to give comfort to the Prime Minister and to our national parliament that these ideas are right and we can get it right.
Let me just say in the ending, I think we can solve the Aboriginal problem in this country. We can solve it. We need recognition, we need empowerment and we need an embrace of our culture. If we can get those three things right, we can chart a better future towards closing the gap on disadvantage and honouring the rightful place of the original peoples. Recognition, empowerment and cultural embrace. This culture is for all of us. All Australians can and should enjoy the original culture of the old Australia. If we can get those three agendas together, we can stop bequeathing to our children a miserable future. We can bequeath to our children some sense of peace and faith and hope and love.