Uluru Statement — from the heart: What now for Recognise?

Delegates reading the Uluru Statement out loud after the meeting.
June 3, 2017

This statement was posted on the National Tertiary Education Union website on May 30. The author, Adam Frogley is NTEU National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coordinator and a Taungurung man from the Kulin Nations.

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May 26, also known as national Sorry Day, a day of sorrow for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, was the date chosen by the Referendum Council to release the Uluru Statement — from the heart from the recent Constitutional Convention. The one-page statement was an attempt to draw consensus from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates and their communities on the issue of constitutional recognition.

The Uluru Statement — from the heart essentially details statements of fact pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ continued sovereignty, connection to country, culture and community. The statement recognises the impacts of colonisation including escalating incarceration rates and the removal of our children from their families.

While media outlets across the nation proclaimed that the Uluru Statement — from the heart detailed clearly the desire of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve Treaty/Treaties, a careful reading of the statement makes clear that the focus remains upon substantive constitutional change and establishing a Makarrata or Treaty/Treaties commission.

Many in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community view the final one page statement as not only recognising the wishes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community for a Treaty/Treaties, but also as being a last ditch attempt by the Recognise campaign to flog a dead horse and achieve what they believe is a path of palatability and least resistance to constitutional recognition; implementing symbolic change only to a conservative Australian population.

Many major corporations, business and sporting codes had readily signed on to the Recognise campaign, having it sold to them as an easy road of symbolic change that would not upset the majority of constitutionally conservative Australia.

The Uluru Statement — from the heart while not overwhelmingly strong in its intent, does though detail the beginning of a process that places us closer toward the path of a Treaty or Treaties.

The issues stemming from the outcomes of the Uluru Statement are multifactorial. First and foremost is how do we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples progress toward the establishment of a Makarrata Commission while combating conservative federal governments that previously wanted nothing more than a sentence in the preamble to the Australian Constitution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were in fact here prior to colonisation.

Strident conservatives and moderates in the Turnbull Government may be wishing now they could still hang their hat on the terra nullius argument.

There is a need to combat the media hype that is coming from this statement. Looking back to the Native Title debate where fear mongering was the vehicle of choice, it can only be assumed that media outlets will climb aboard this bandwagon, causing the wider Australian population to be nervous about supporting any measures that will ensure the continued sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through a Treaty or Treaties.

The NTEU has never supported the notion of Constitutional Recognition and continues to advocate for a treaty or treaties between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Crown. The recent anniversary of the 1967 Referendum amplifies a very important point. Aboriginal sovereignty has not been ceded and legitimate and responsible governments must recognise this.

If we are to achieve anything we need to act and not wait fifty years for another symbolic date to implement a sound process for negotiating treaties.

This issue will not go away. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples know how to wait, we have been waiting long enough and if we as a society want to see a change in the educational, health, and incarceration rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, then we all must change and embrace a Treaty or Treaties as unfinished business.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the Uluru Statement – from the heart is only the beginning of a process and while the Recognise campaign still seeks relevance, their work in attempting to move Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples toward constitutional recognition has failed dismally.

As for the future of the Recognise campaign, the major flaw in their process was the lack of genuine consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on what they want. They sought to push people towards supporting something that would bring very little in the way of tangible outcomes for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities they purported to be representing.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been recognised in many Australian state constitutions. In Victoria we have been recognised since 2004 and the question must be asked, how has this assisted Aboriginal peoples residing here?  With a myriad of evidence proving that Close the Gap has failed, constitutional recognition can only be seen for what it is — words on a piece of paper.

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