Statement from the heart
Statement from the heart
30 May 2018
In recent years, there has been unprecedented and historic dialogue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on constitutional recognition.
This led to the “Uluru Statement from the Heart”, a historic consensus position on meaningful constitutional reform, which was adopted at the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Yulara in Central Australia in May 2017.
Indigenous leaders met for three days at Yulara to discuss their approach to constitutional recognition. The Uluru Statement was the culmination of 18 months of constitutional “dialogues” supervised by the Referendum Council on Indigenous Recognition. The council was a committee formed by the Commonwealth Government to guide discussion of how Indigenous Australia wanted to be recognised in the constitution.
The Uluru Statement outlines three broad objectives for reform as agreed to by the Indigenous leaders – the establishment of a First Nations Voice, a Makarrata Commission, and a process of truth-telling.
The Salvation Army, and its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ministry department, is fully supportive of this reform. It is important to be a part of an organisation that stands by its beliefs and mission, and I am extremely proud of The Salvation Army’s support for the Uluru Statement. The overwhelmingly positive response of not only The Salvation Army, but all Australians, for the Uluru Statement is a real sign that we are willing to acknowledge our shared history and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It is important to emphasise that the reforms are deliberately sequenced. The dialogues were not asking for treaty first or immediately. The message from the dialogues was that communities required empowerment via an institution to enable themselves to organise and rebuild in order to be at the threshold required to enter into treaty agreements. As the Uluru Statement says: “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”.
In simple terms, the Uluru Statement calls for the “establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”. This has been interpreted in light of past suggestions put forward for the establishment of some form of representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There is no definitive statement about the form such a body would take, but proponents of the idea – such as Noel Pearson and Professor Megan Davis, both on the Referendum Council – have previously suggested that such a body would sit outside Parliament to provide non-binding advice on legal and policy matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Uluru Statement also seeks “a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”. Makarrata is a word from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. As Noel Pearson explains: “The Yolngu concept of Makarrata captures the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something has been done wrong, and it seeks to make things right.”
A Makarrata Commission would likely be tasked with seeking Makarrata agreements between First Nations and the Federal Government. The Constitution can only be changed by the Australian people. Any move to enshrine a “voice” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution would need to be passed at a referendum. Details of the changes would have to be agreed by the Parliament before being presented to the people for a vote.
Last year, The Salvation Army joined 2500 other churches and agencies in signing a statement, prepared by Professor Fiona Stanley and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) in consultation with many non-Indigenous and First Nations peoples, expressing disappointment at the federal cabinet’s rejection of the proposal for constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice.
I am so proud to be a part of a ministry that is making a stand for injustice, and by signing the ACOSS statement we as an Army are saying that we support and stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. However, it is so much more important that we as Christians all understand the “whys”, so I encourage you to read the Uluru Statement and have the “yarns” of how we can come together in the name of justice and reconciliation.
Lucy Davis (pictured right) is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Coordinator for The Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory.