Geoff Scott is a Wiradjuri man from Narromine in NSW and a leader of the Uluru Dialogues. He has over 35 years’ experience in the public service working in Indigenous policy. He was formerly the Director-General of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Deputy CEO of ATSIC including being Chairman of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre.
The Federal Government announced $31.8 million will be allocated to begin work to establish 35 Local and Regional First Nations Voice bodies across Australia.
• The Uluru Statement is urging Australians to act now to secure a referendum which will enshrine a First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution • The Budget reinforces there is money allocated for the referendum which is a good thing – the Uluru Statement remain absolutely focused on protecting Voice in the Australian Constitution • But to flag, local and regional Voice Bodies have a long way to go in terms of enshrinement • The Uluru Statement would like to remind Australian people that the Statement calls for constitutional enshrinement. A legislative answer delivered through local / regional bodies does not deliver enshrinement • The Uluru Statement from the Heart is two months away from its five-year anniversary and are calling on Australians to walk with First Nations Peoples in a movement to see some urgent action on the Statement • The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation, and the steps are simple. Submit a letter to your local MP urging their support for the Statement and a First Nations Voice to Parliament, protected by the Constitution via https://ulurustatement.org/take-action/write-to-your-mp/
Tuesday’s budget also outlined $160 million in contingency reserves for an Indigenous Recognition Referendum. The contingency reserve is an allowance that reflects anticipated events and can only be drawn upon once they’ve been appropriated by Parliament.
A referendum on the issue has been a policy of both major parties since 2007, but it has remained a divisive issue in the Coalition party room.
On 26 May 2017 over 240 delegates to the First Nations Constitutional Convention released the Uluru Statement from the Heart (opens in a new window). The statement was the culmination of a deliberative process which saw a series of regional dialogues among First Peoples leading to the Uluru convention. The Uluru Statement called for ‘the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution’ and a Makarrata Commission to oversee agreement making and truth-telling.
On 30 June 2017, the Referendum Council (opens in a new window)recommended that a ‘referendum be held to provide in the Australian Constitution for a representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament. One of the specific functions of such a body, to be set out in legislation outside the Constitution, should include the function of monitoring the use of the heads of power in section 51 (xxvi) and section 122. The body will recognise the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia’. On 26 October 2017 the Prime Minister, on the decision of Cabinet and on behalf of the Government, rejected the Referendum Councils’ recommendation and the core of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. On 19 March 2018 the Parliament agreed that a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition be established to inquire into and report on matters relating to constitutional change. The Committee tabled its final report on 29 November 2018. Uluru Statement
The Uluru Statement states two broad objectives for reform as agreed to by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders at the Convention—the establishment of a First Nations Voice and a Makarrata Commission. These objectives reflect the nature of reform desired rather than specifying the fine detail of any proposed changes to the Australian Constitution. The positions in the Uluru Statement do, however, reflect some of the ideas and proposals advanced by Indigenous and political leaders, and constitutional experts over many years. In articulating two positions which have broad support, it is hoped that they can become the foundations of a renewed conversation with the whole Australian community about constitutional reform and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the precise form that will take. In addition to these two proposals, the Uluru Statement affirms the sovereignty, and long and continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the land. It also comments on the social difficulties faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the structural impediments to the real empowerment of First Nations Peoples.
The Uluru Statement sets up a position that strongly contrasts with that taken in the campaign for symbolic constitutional recognition advanced by the Recognise campaign. This echoes a 2015 online survey conducted by IndigenousX which found that 58 per cent of Indigenous respondents did not support Recognise. The same survey found that 62 per cent did not believe Indigenous Australians would be better off recognised in the Constitution, but 54 per cent supported the construction of an Indigenous parliamentary body. That the Convention at Uluru was to come to a more robust conclusion was hardly a surprise given that most of the regional Dialogues had rejected a minimalist or symbolic model of Indigenous constitutional recognition in favour of more substantial reform.