Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson says there is still a “window” to develop a constitutionally-enshrined voice representing Indigenous Australians, one year on from the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
A joint parliamentary committee is looking into alternative proposals for Constitutional recognition, after the Coalition rejected the Uluru Statement’s call for an Indigenous advisory committee.
Speaking before his keynote address at this year’s Lowitja O’Donogue Oration, Mr Pearson told the ABC’s National Wrap program he will submit a proposal to the committee that addresses the “objections” raised by the Coalition, in an effort to resurrect the referendum push before the next federal election.
Part of that proposal would see the Commonwealth enact a declaration outside of the Constitution “expressing what our values are”, that could be recited by school children in the spirit of the American Declaration of Independence.
Mr Pearson, who has previously expressed anger at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for rejecting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, said he wanted to rebuild bipartisanship on the issue.
The Coalition rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart, claiming its recommended advisory body on Indigenous affairs would be “seen as a third chamber of Parliament” with veto powers.
But Mr Pearson disputes this claim, labelling it a “deliberate mischaracterisation”.
“That was simply a furphy, there’s no capacity for any such body to veto the Parliament,” he said.
“It might have some kind of moral veto, not a legal veto or a political veto, but its presence and the advice it provides to the Parliament might oblige the Parliament to follow its advice.”
Declaration on ‘three parts’ of national identity
Mr Pearson said his proposed declaration would be a celebration of all Australians, and of the country’s modern identity.
“We should recognise the fact that Australia’s foundation is Indigenous and then we built upon it with the institutions we’ve inherited from Britain. We’ve achieved a great multicultural triumph on the top of that foundation,” he said.
He said the declaration would be a recognition of all Australians, including Indigenous Australians.
“I think if we could come up with some words that really can carry us as a people, can carry our children into the future, that shows that recognition ultimately is a mirror,” Mr Pearson said.
“We’re not just recognising the Indigenous people of Australia, we’re actually recognising each other.”
He said his proposed declaration could be legislated through the Parliament, and would be “separate to the Constitution but of course related to it”.
“It doesn’t have any legal effect whatsoever but it tells us about our values of fair go, equality, of having a go, being able to count on each other,” he said.
But Mr Pearson would not want to see the declaration legislated in the absence of a Constitutionally-enshrined voice to Parliament, as recommended in the Uluru Statement.
“There’s a very narrow pathway to doing both,” he said.
“I would advise against separating the two and only doing the declaration. That will make a mighty important, mightily important concept, we would probably devalue it.”