Chris Battle: The Uluru Manifesto. It would be more accurate, and truthful, if the Uluru Statement from the Heart was renamed “The Uluru Manifesto” because, like The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, it is a document declaring a revolutionary political plan of action. According to my dictionary, a manifesto is a public declaration of policy or principles, and that is precisely what the Statement is, particularly when read in the full context of Document 14.
There are actually fourteen documents totalling 112 pages, and they are all watermarked in the bottom right corner with: “Released under the FOI Act by the National Indigenous Australians Agency”. Whether or not they have always been publicly available or were kept secret is a moot point, but irrelevant to this article.
We should be mindful that Aboriginal activism had its genesis in the Communist Party, as revealed in Geoff McDonald’s Red over Black (1982) and The Evidence (1983), and so we should be fully aware that the activism behind the Voice still holds to the old party-line doctrine of liberating the oppressed victims of colonialism and capitalistic imperialism. Nor should we forget the radicalism of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra (which still exists) and its communications with Gaddafi’s Libya, Mao’s China and the Black Power/Black Panther movement in the US.
The first document in the downloaded file is Document 14, consisting of twenty-six pages, of which the Statement is but page one. The following thirteen documents are the reports from the Regional Dialogues, which generated the content that forms Document 14, and are part of the “grass-roots” ideology touted by proponents of the Voice. One must be aware of how easy it is to manufacture the semblance of “consent” and “consultation”; who determines which people will be part of those Regional Dialogues, and who does the recording and reporting? The communists have always been masters of the bureaucratic arts, and incessantly work within the inherent hierarchy of committees to achieve their desired ends.
After the Statement, the following twenty-five pages of Document 14 are effectively divided into four parts by their headings:
Part 1: Our Story 6 pages
Part 2: Guiding Principles 7 pages
Part 3: Reform Priorities 6 pages
Part 4: Roadmap 6 pages
Together, the twenty-six pages of Document 14 form a corpus, where the first page is the familiar face, and the following twenty-five pages are the essential bones, muscles, nerves, organs, blood and guts that animate the whole. Those twenty-five pages are a compilation of what was expressed at the process of the First Nations Regional Dialogues, which generated the voices, political spirit and ideology that are embodied in the Statement.
It is instructive to note the sub-headings under the four parts of Document 14:
1/ Does not diminish Aboriginal sovereignty and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty
2/ Involves substantive, structural reform
3/ Advances self-determination and the standards established under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
4/ Recognises the status and rights of First Nations
5/ Tells the truth of history
6/ Does not foreclose on future advancement
7/ Does not waste the opportunity of reform
8/ Provides a mechanism for First Nations agreement-making
9/ Has the support of First Nations
10/ Does not interfere with positive legal arrangements
Voice to Parliament
First Stage: Uluru
Second Stage: Following Uluru
Third Stage: Garma
Fourth Stage: Following Garma
Fifth Stage: Establishing the Voice
Sixth Stage: Towards Makarrata
Concluding the Roadmap are three flow-charts illustrating the route through the six stages.
The Roadmap sets out twenty-one detailed points specifying the steps necessary to enable the objects of the Statement to be implemented.
For Establishing the Voice in the Fifth Stage, the Roadmap has the following way-points:
11/ The Commonwealth Parliament should legislate the powers, functions and representation of the Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Peoples.
12/ The Voice should be established to enable it to perform its functions as a representative institution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Peoples, enabling First Peoples to deal with the Executive Government of the day as well as the Parliament.
13/ The Voice should be accommodated on an appropriate site within the parliamentary circle in Canberra.
14/ The promulgation of a Bill to establish the Voice should follow this process:
15/ A special Joint Parliamentary Committee should be established to report to the Commonwealth Parliament on a bill, with 2 First Peoples representatives (one male and one female) from each State and Territory appointed by the first Peoples of that jurisdiction, and 2 representatives of each State and Territory (one government and one opposition) appointed by the parliament of each jurisdiction.
16/ This Committee should report to the Commonwealth Parliament within 12 months of its appointment, and to each State and Territory parliament.
17/ All First Peoples and representative organisations should be engaged in the design of the Voice and contribute to the development of a Bill.
18/ Regional Conferences should be convened to give the opportunity for First Peoples to workshop the design of the Voice, and to make representations to the Committee.
19/ A Bill establishing the Voice should be presented to the Commonwealth Parliament within the second year following a successful referendum or settlement of the Garma Makarrata Roadmap.
20/ The Voice should be established within 12 months of the passage of the enabling Bill.
When the institution of the Voice is finally ensconced in its residence within Canberra’s parliamentary circle and becomes fully operational, it is difficult to envision how it will manage to serve as the conduit for the concerns of the disadvantaged Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders at the remote grass-roots, as the Yes campaign would have us believe its function will be. However, it is not difficult to perceive that it may well become a de jure version of the Tent Embassy, and therefore concern itself with making representations at the various foreign embassies, and assembling delegations bound for the United Nations and the World Court in regard to their grievances as per their standing as oppressed Indigenous First Nations Peoples. The new “recognition” in the Constitution will verify their acknowledged status as being the culturally, politically and racially separate nations who pre-existed and survived European colonisation.
Regarding Makarrata (the Treaty) in the Sixth Stage of the Roadmap, it states:
17/ Following the report of the special Joint Parliamentary Committee on a Bill establishing the Voice, the Committee should undertake an inquiry into a second Bill establishing an appropriate institution (to be called the Makarrata Commission) to supervise the making of agreements between First Peoples and Australian governments.
18/ Engagement and consultation with First Peoples and public hearings should follow the same process as for the promulgation of a Bill establishing the Voice.
19/ The Bill establishing the Makarrata Commission should confer all necessary powers and functions to facilitate the settlement of a National Makarrata Framework Agreement between Australian Governments and First Peoples, as well as subsequent First People Agreements at the local level (named in the relevant ancestral language of the First Nation, representing for example the Meriam, Yorta Yorta, Anangu, Wiradjuri and the many First Nations of Australia). The role of the National Native Title Tribunal should be subsumed by the Makarrata Commission, which should have as one of its functions the role of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to enable all Australians to face the truth of the past and to embrace a common hope for the future.
20/ The consultation and negotiation leading up to the settlement of the National Makarrata Framework Agreement should take place between the Voice and the governments of all relevant jurisdictions in a process supervised by the Makarrata Commission.
21/ The Makarrata outcome should be legislated by the parliaments of all relevant jurisdictions.
There can be no doubt that, clearly set out above, the institution of the Voice entails with it the establishment of a Makarrata Commission and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The plan to set up a Makarrata Commission is bad enough, but the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission to enable all Australians to face the truth of the past” is particularly draconian, in that Document 14 already sets out the historical truth (Our Story), which is the leftist story of invasion, colonisation, dispossession, massacres, genocide, stolen generations and so on, and so it will be required of non-indigenous people to accept that truth, without question. It must logically follow that it will subsequently become a crime to deny that truth, once it is established as the official history of Australia, and we will then have arrived at the realisation of the classic Orwellian thought-crime. So much for democracy and free speech.
Document 14 clearly spells out the intentions behind the Statement, compiled as it was from the extensive and comprehensive process that was the First Nations Regional Dialogues, and we should have no doubts as to the direction that the Aboriginal activists are heading, once they get their Voice up and running. It is imperative that people understand what is in Document 14 before voting on the Referendum, particularly when Prime Minister Albanese just waves the page one Statement around and says things to the effect of, “This is all there is; the other twenty-five pages are just background notes that were inadvertently annexed to the Statement; they are nothing; nothing to see here.”
The following thirteen Documents are the meeting records of the thirteen Regional Dialogues, and they make for sobering reading, which will dispel any illusions that the Referendum is just about establishing a non-binding advisory body to Parliament concerning proposed laws that might affect Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, as the Yes campaigners would have us believe. In the records of those thirteen Dialogues, and throughout Document 14, the words sovereignty, truth-telling and Treaty/Makarrata are ubiquitous, so anyone reading these fourteen documents must surely be disabused of any of the naive notions regarding the Voice.
Document 14 clearly shows why Prime Minister Albanese is parroting the slogan to the effect of “Just vote ‘Yes’, and all the details will be worked out later.”
KEITH WINDSCHUTTLE: The Regional Dialogues.
In July, the National Indigenous Australians Agency responded to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act and published a report that was not intended for public consumption. It largely comprised commentary made by observers of a series of regional dialogues in all states and territories of Australia. Organised by the Commonwealth government’s Referendum Council, the aim of these regional dialogues was to road-test the political support and conceivable goals for what became known as the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Thirteen of these dialogues were held between December 2016 and May 2017.
The locations chosen by organisers revealed that their primary constituency was among those who identified as indigenous in the capital cities where eight of the thirteen meetings were held. Moreover, the reports noticed that some of the rural meetings, especially those at Dubbo and Torres Strait, were very short on attendees, meaning the wider testimony was strongly skewed towards the views of urban people.
The sentiments that come across from all the dialogues show that today’s class of Aboriginal activists are of one voice in their political goals. They have a hostile attitude to mainstream Australian society, they want huge reparations and compensation for the land and waters they claim to have lost, and they demand political sovereignty for themselves as separate nations. The notion that constitutional recognition is a means of “walking together” to build a better Australia is something they openly despise.
Below are extracts of the reports by the official observers. The whole of the text of the dialogues amounts to more than 40,000 words from which Quadrant has extracted some 8000 words for publication. The dialogues have been shortened but none of the words have been changed or their meaning altered. In other words, the published extracts are strictly verbatim records of the views expressed in the dialogues. As readers will quickly recognise, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
Hobart dialogue, 9–11 December 2016
A powerful representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples protected in the Constitution was supported, and there was a consensus that the body must be stronger than just an advisory body to Parliament. There would have to be a process of selection to ensure the body is properly representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people/s, and therefore legitimate. A number of delegates also supported reserved parliamentary seats.
The delegates of the Hobart dialogue affirmed that a discussion of constitutional recognition could only take place simultaneously with a proper consideration of Treaty.
The delegates of the Hobart dialogue are all firmly committed to pursuing Treaty. Treaty needs to recognise amongst other things sovereignty, a land and a financial settlement, and recognition of rights. A treaty-making process would need to have an agreed timeframe. There was agreement that a treaty proposal must be discussed at Regional Dialogues, included in the final report from the Referendum Council, and put into legislation, but not included in a referendum proposal.
Treaty must include:
♦ Land and sea rights
♦ A fixed percentage of Gross Nation Product. Rates/land tax/royalties
♦ Right to self determination
♦ Timeline to achieve
♦ Aboriginal control
Broome dialogue, 10–12 February 2017
The right to practise and preserve Aboriginal law and culture was said to be all important. There needs to be recognition of the Dreaming system and law in the Constitution and the whitefella system.
When communities engage with government, it was said there should be a substantive acknowledgement (not tokenistic) of the rightful place of Aboriginal people in this country as first nations—recognition of language groups and of legal systems—and that people never ceded their sovereignty. There is a potential for two sovereignties to co-exist in which both western and Indigenous values and identities are protected and given voice in policies and laws.
There should be Aboriginal political representation at all levels of government: national, state and local. People should have a say in Indigenous affairs. The government should not be able to make laws to the detriment of Aboriginal without their approval.
“Us as the first people need to be at the forefront of discussion with government.”
A treaty or treaties that protect land and water rights and provide for compensation are needed. ILUAs and other agreements that already exist should be protected in the Constitution against the State government changing them without the agreement and consent of the Aboriginal group that signed them. And the Constitution should allow people to expand on those existing agreements and move into comprehensive settlements that can be enforced in the courts. Another view was that treaty might be a “lesser” form of recognition at this stage until sovereign recognition is achieved in the Constitution.
A delegate said we should stop the mining on our land to preserve it for the next generation. It is important to give people a better form of land tenure and more control over their country. There is also a need to preserve the programs that are working like the various ranger programs.
An Indigenous head of state: This was said to be a way to acknowledge Indigenous peoples as the original owners.
The body must be supported—with a budget, with experts (eg, through a supporting secretariat) and with lawyers.
Dubbo dialogue, 17–19 February 2017
On 17, 18 and 19 February, invited delegates and self-nominated attendees met in Dubbo, on Wiradjuri land, to discuss constitutional reform. The participants were not fully representative of the First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations of regional NSW due to time and resource constraints.
Delegates expressed their views that the classification as “Aboriginal” is a form of oppression and represents ongoing colonisation. There was a general preference expressed in the dialogue for the language of “First Nations”, “First Peoples”, “Sovereign First Nations” or “Sovereign Peoples”.
“We need to be sure that our identity is the first and utmost priority that is given recognition to. I am not an Aboriginal woman. That is a classification by a white man. I am a First Nations woman of this country.”
Economic prosperity: There were many concerns expressed about the need to ensure economic prosperity for First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations. One delegate spoke of the need for First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations to have independence, freedom and resources to support themselves. Some delegates were concerned about the amount of money that government and private enterprises making out of First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations land. One group spoke of the need for better employment opportunities in the communities, and ensuring that contractors employed First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations.
“I want our people to be the billionaires and not the beggars on our land.”
“We don’t want your crumbs when we own the cake”
Sovereignty and self-determination: Very strong statements that First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations people had never ceded sovereignty and never ceded their lands, waters, fires, sub-surface, airspace and Allodial Title. There was concern expressed that if a referendum were to be held, it would give the government jurisdiction, take away sovereignty, take away inherent rights. There was concern about lack of access to country. There was support expressed for a Treaty that acknowledged First Peoples and Sovereign First Nations as a sovereign people, gave them autonomy, and provided reparations for past criminal acts and compensation for present and future criminal acts.
“Australia was never lost to be found.”
“The Crown is a headless hat”
Acknowledging wrongs: One group stated that it was important to correct the record. Delegates spoke of the need to acknowledge the illegality of everything done since colonization, the first act aggression on first contact, the extreme cruelty and violence of the government, and the impact of the forced removals.
“When we are talking about constitutional recognition, this needs to be dealt with.”
Treaty: There was a strong consensus across all groups for a treaty. Treaty was seen as the best form of establishing an honest relationship with government. One group indicated that through a treaty the other options might be achieved. One group expressly said this must be pursued outside the constitutional reform process, and could be pursued together with constitutional recognition through a voice to Parliament and a racial discrimination clause.
There was also support for the voice to parliament, with two groups prioritising this option. There was a strong view that the Indigenous body must have real power: a power of veto and the power to make a difference.
“If this Voice to Parliament doesn’t have enough power to force the adoption of the 339 recommendations of the deaths in custody report, don’t bother, because it doesn’t have any power.”
“We need a Black Parliament”
One group commented that if a prohibition on racial discrimination was supported, it must bind the Commonwealth Parliament. A Bill of Rights would stop the discrimination against anyone.
There was strong disagreement expressed for a tokenistic constitutional recognition package. One group said “acknowledgment is not enough.”
If it has no legal effect, it’s not recognition.
“That Constitution we have in our bags. It’s a dud. It’s not meant for black people.”
“Reconciliation is a waste of time and money.”
“Community have all the need, government have all the money.”
“FEAR IS STOPPING US”
“We are unique. We should look to our own traditions, culture and laws to develop a model.”
“We are not part of multiculturalism, we are the First Nations.”
Darwin dialogue, 22–24 February 2017
The meeting discussed a broad range of issues relevant to the issue of constitutional recognition. This includes sovereignty, treaty, powerlessness and racial discrimination.
Delegates to the meeting emphasised the importance of the land, our waters and seas, our ancestors, our knowledge, our culture and our lore.
We’re not here speaking for ourselves, we’re speaking for our land.
We want to stand with pride and dignity with our culture, spirituality and lore. We are sovereign people.
We have to do what we can to protect our own lore.
Across the dialogue, there was widespread mistrust of governments past and present. The delegates acknowledged the importance of the right to self-determination; some groups discussing the loss of community control and community decision making. Many delegates recalled the international norm of Indigenous peoples right to self-determination and the right to create their own institutions such as an Indigenous Parliament.
I am sick of these governments. All they have ever done is steal our country. This land belongs to the First Nations of this country. You have a lot of imposters in Parliament—they are not the sovereign peoples of this country.
Let’s make our own constitution, the Yolngu Constitution. We’ve been too much pushed around by their constitution. We’ve been pushed around like a leaf when the tide goes out and the tide comes in.
Delegates raised the idea of a First Nations Parliament, this would include elected representatives, power to draft legislation to take to the Australian parliament, veto powers and lobbying. A First Nations Parliament would provide both symbolic and substantive recognition.
There was a suggestion that the statement of acknowledgement should be changed to be called a “veracity statement” or “truth statement”, and it should acknowledge the history and truth, including the history of massacres and wars. If a veracity statement was prepared from Uluru it could be a tool for education and persuasion across the wider community towards a referendum and a package of constitutional changes. Such a statement might draw on the Barunga Statement and other earlier documents of that kind.
Something in the preamble is just like an afterthought
Perth dialogue, 3–5 March 2017
On 3–5 March 2017, delegates met on Whadjuk country of the Noongar Nation to discuss constitutional reform.
There was a strong commitment to the importance of First Nations governance and self-determination through customary lore, heritage, language, culture and spirituality, and therefore it is imperative to protect and teach the next generation to give them the strength to lead and govern.
Delegates spoke of the importance of language, particularly in the way in which their people were described and the importance of language to culture. There was a clear preference for use of terminology other than “Indigenous”.
“I’m happy to see this called the First Nations Dialogue, because that’s what we are.”
“When we start to integrate language, old language, values, stories and our ways of being, this gives us better ways to work together.”
Concern was expressed about the negative portrayal of First Nations people in the media, and how this dictates how the wider community perceives First Nations people and interacts with us.
A number of delegates expressed the importance of remembering and honouring First Nations people who had fought in wars, including frontier wars, but had not been recognised.
Preferences for constitutional reform
Delegates expressed strongly that they feel unrepresented within the Constitution in its current form.
The dialogue said its priorities were a Voice for the First Nations people of Australia to Parliament and agreement-making.
The Voice to Parliament could take many forms. The Voice is connected to the affirmation that First Nations people have never ceded their sovereignty.
Groups that prioritised a change to a head of power, supported a prohibition on racial discrimination, some saying it was essential to reforming the power to prevent it being used against First Nations people.
All groups in the dialogue agreed that the statement of acknowledgement is the weakest form of recognition, and was the lowest priority. There was a suggestion that the statement should be one of “honour” or “significance”, rather than “acknowledgement”.
The Voice to Parliament received strong support. Groups discussed the need for any Voice to Parliament to be representative of our lands and waters across Australia, building on or incorporating existing regional and local decision-making bodies, as well as to represent men, women, youth, and children. This is underpinned by our cultural authority.
Sydney dialogue, 10-12 March 2017
The meeting strongly affirmed that Aboriginal people have never ceded their sovereignty. Some delegates said they were concerned about being involved in a process that might result in sovereignty being ceded. Some people objected to the Constitution and the basis on which it is built.
“We have never, ever ceded our sovereignty. … People need to get serious about our sovereign rights. Not other watered down rights.”
“They developed a Constitution that is not traditional to us as Aboriginal people.”
“Putting us in the Constitution is going to do nothing for us.”
A number of delegates expressed support for pursuing a Treaty because they said it would recognise Aboriginal sovereignty.
“Treaty is about sovereign rights. Treaty is about being real in sitting down and speaking to us as equals, about our customs, our country, our future, our kids’ and our grandkids’ future.”
Several delegates said that it was important to learn from the work of those who have gone before, for example from the demands that were contained in the three Yolngu petitions, including the Barunga statement, the Makaratta, Coe vs the Commonwealth, the Mabo decision, the 1938 10-point plan, as well as the Rights, Recognition and Reform Report compiled by ATSIC as a social justice package. Delegates believe that it was up to this generation to get involved, and to build on the work that had been done by leaders in the past.
A number of delegates expressed concern that politicians were seeking constitutional recognition to appease their own conscience, to make the Constitution “look nice”, and that constitutional change will only benefit the government, and not Aboriginal people. A lot of distrust was expressed about the government and the Constitution, and that under non-Aboriginal law there have been killings, massacres, genocide, the stealing of land, the introduction of disease, and the taking of children. The question was raised as to whether constitutional recognition would diminish racism, or make any difference to Aboriginal people, or whether it would give government greater control over Aboriginal people.
Delegates objected that when native title rights came in, Aboriginal people were told by government they had to prove connection and continuation with culture, history and bloodline. Another delegate stated that the change to the races power in 1967 didn’t achieve equal rights for Aboriginal people.
There was discussion about having more Aboriginal representation in Parliament. There was a concern that when this process was finished, it would be given over to the politicians, and nothing would be achieved or it would be watered down.
“We just keep fighting and fighting and fighting. We need to get black faces in Parliament so that our own mob in Parliament can fight for us and so we can get what we want through Parliament.”
“There are Aboriginal People who have been elected to Parliament. But they do not represent us. They represent the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, not Aboriginal People.”
It was suggested the creation of a “First Australians Party” representing Aboriginal people. That might provide a way for Aboriginal people to come together and fight together.
“Imagine if we got together, the power that we would have together.”
Another suggestion was to establish an Aboriginal Parliament, and an Aboriginal Constitution. It was said that before ATSIC was abolished, Aboriginal people did have the right to make decisions for themselves. Delegates spoke of the need to assert our right to self-determination.
There was extensive discussion at the Dialogue of the statement of acknowledgement. There was a suggestion that a statement could be included on two conditions. The first is that it must be a strong statement, not of “acknowledgement”, which was seen as an inadequate word, but a statement of “inherent rights” or of “ownership”. The second is that it should be included as part of a package of reforms, for instance, that included a change to the head of power and a Voice to Parliament; or a racial non-discrimination clause. One group expressed the view that the statement of acknowledgement should be taken off the table because of uncertainty that it could be a tokenistic gesture, or that it may impact on sovereignty.
Some delegates expressed concern that the process was too rushed, without the ability to consult with traditional owners, elders and communities. Some demands were made that the process be opened to all Aboriginal people. It was said that many people in communities wouldn’t understand the concepts that were being talked about, and how important it is to reach out to people in the bush to ensure their voices are captured. Others also explained that government often says they are going to consult with the mob, but that “who really consults with the mob?” and that often there are language barriers that prevent this from happening.
Melbourne dialogue, 17–19 March 2017
People spoke of the mass slaughter of Aboriginal people during colonisation and how genocide had been committed on over 180 clans in Victoria. How instead of 6 or 7 Wurundjeri clans there was now only one left. There was anger that the Stolen Generations represented an example of the many and continued attempts to assimilate people and breed Aboriginality out of people, after the era of frontier killing was over. People also objected to the power non-Aboriginal people exercise now over Aboriginal children, in decision-making about out-of-home care.
Many people spoke of the serious social and economic issues facing Aboriginal families and communities and the desperate need for better living standards and a better quality of life. There are very high rates of child removal and of violence against women and children. There was anger and distress at the rate of youth suicide and a sense of responsibility people feel to look for solutions that can change this terrible situation:
“I want to see youth suicide eradicated in our communities. We are sick of funerals and burying our babies. Where is the support for these people? We have had seven suicides in our community in the last ten years. They got it that bad that they want to take their own lives. We should be standing up for them. We need justice. We need to make it liveable for them. We need to stand up for these young people because they are killing themselves.”
The group talked about the Treaty discussions now underway in Victoria. For some people the treaty issue was their priority:
“We have had treaty discussions around the State and a huge meeting in Melbourne where 300 people overwhelmingly voted for a treaty. We have already expressed it.”
“We want our treaty demands resolved. A treaty is a peacemaking instrument under international law. If you don’t do it this way, it is more colonialism. Treaty means justice to me. It will solve this country’s human rights issues. A treaty will include all the human rights we don’t have here. Treaty is a level playing field.”
Other people wanted to talk about the risks or dangers of making treaties. They were critical of the way they have been breached in overseas countries, for example by letting pipelines through on traditional lands, and that some countries with treaties still had appalling conditions amongst their First Nations communities.
There was discussion of what a treaty could contain, including recognition of sovereignty and reparations for past wrongs. Others picked up the theme of reparations and compensation as empowering people, rebuilding families and communities and recognising their sovereign connection to the land and its resources. There were comments about the campaign to “pay the rent”:
“This government and the previous government and the previous one and the colonial governments before them have been pulling resources out of the ground and they are still doing it. Trillions of dollars, how many zeros I dunno. We want to talk about sovereignty. If we talk about ‘pay the rent’ how about all these multinational corporations start to give us 1%, 2%, 5%. It’s about time they started paying the rent. How about an open cheque book so we can take back our children and do what we have to do with education and health, and so our elders can be placed in a proper home.”
There was strong agreement that the group would reject any minimalist model for constitutional recognition.
“We will work hard to get a successful result that all Australians can celebrate, but we will say no if a minimalist model is a done deal.”
Regaining control of funding that comes into Victoria for spending on Aboriginal affairs was a major concern for some people. They talked of how little money actually reached people in communities that needed it, after non-Aboriginal bureaucracies had taken repeated bites out of the funding along the way.
The most supported package was for a Voice to Parliament and agreement making. There was support for a statement, that would underpin and strengthen a Voice to Parliament, which would progress and protect a treaty process. This statement should not be simply of “acknowledgement”, but should contain a statement of “intent” and a statement of the “inherent rights of the First Peoples”. The statement might refer to Australia’s international obligations, such as UNDRIP. The statement could also acknowledge the sovereign position of Australia’s First Peoples and the crimes committed against humanity.
“The statement would be a way to reorganize the way we unite socially and culturally.”
The Voice to Parliament was important to increase political power and authority, and it is important for it to be enshrined in the Constitution. There was a concern however that the body might become a tokenistic process: “I don’t want to see tokenism continued and continued and continued.” The body must be more than advisory or consultative. It would need powers of compliance and to be able to hold Parliament to account against the standards in the UNDRIP. The statement could also inform the mandate of the Voice to Parliament.
The group also believed that there needed to be a truth and reconciliation process as part of the larger process.
“Our truth has to be told before we can move from that.”
A second group formed at the dialogue. Their statement was as follows:
“We as the sovereign First Peoples demand a Sovereign Treaty and a Sovereign Treaty Commission.”
Reason for low attendance at this dialogue and the Victorian Sovereign Treaty consultations is dismembership of active membership from Aboriginal organisations and Native Title corporations. A sovereign treaty must address the issue of inclusiveness, accountability and community control.
Cairns dialogue, 24–26 March 2017
The meeting was held on Rainforest Aboriginal peoples’ Country and included representatives from the Cape, Gulf, the West, through to the Tropic of Capricorn. This area has the highest concentration of combined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population across the myriad remote, rural and urban settings, and notably comprises more than a third of the footprint of Northern Australia.
The meeting reflected on how their history and the effects of a lifetime of racism and abuse could lead to anger and depression. Some of the stories of this history and abuse included family members being flogged while away working during the Protection era, and racism from teachers in their classroom. This history and the suffering needed to be acknowledged before progress could be made with constitutional reform. The acknowledgement should include the suffering that had been endured by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the forced taking of children and young people from their families and communities to work in the cattle industry, and the impact of that suffering on those people and those communities.
While some noted the gains made under native title, however imperfect, others emphasised how it had created divisions within communities and amongst families.
“This watering down of the Native Title Act, it’s killing our communities.”
The meeting emphasised how important it was to fight for reform that would deliver self-determination through economic empowerment for future generations. One speaker noted how Australia had already established two sovereign wealth funds, the Future Fund established by Peter Costello when he was Treasurer, and the Western Australian government’s Future Fund through the Royalties for Regions program. It is important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are able to access the wealth of the nation being extracted from their lands. Other suggestions included securing economic independence through land tax, tariffs, or other forms of monies levied from people going onto country.
“This is more than fighting for land rights, it’s about fighting for something our children can take hold of. … We need to think what inheritance are we leaving our children. We need to be thinking about our own sovereign wealth.”
It was suggested that constitutional reform could empower local communities to govern themselves, rather than to have to rely on bureaucracies at the local and state level to address issues within communities. There was a repeated emphasis on State legislation. Outside of the Wet Tropics (World Heritage) Act, it was said there was little regard to traditional laws and customs in Queensland legislation, despite the references to it in the Legislative Standards Act. People wanted to know what difference constitutional change could have in terms of State laws that get in people’s way.
People repeatedly emphasised that they wanted to know whether constitutional reform will translate to changes “on the ground”.
“How will it translate for us on the ground? At local level? At rainforest level? For the Torres Strait Islander people in Northern Queensland? What does it mean for the latest frontier, the Northern Australia Strategy?”
A question was raised as to whether the changes even needed constitutional reform, or whether they could be achieved through the legislative and legal framework that it is in place now.
Other ideas also came forward in this initial discussion including the idea of a seventh state and a treaty. Some people expressed skepticism that constitutional change would achieve anything on the ground, and that treaty should be pursued instead.
There was strong agreement across the groups that the voice to parliament would be an important priority. There was support for it to be constitutionally protected, so it couldn’t be abolished like ATSIC had been. The voice could be used to pursue economic developments, and to pursue the negotiation of treaties with government.
Many groups included the voice to parliament as part of a wider package of reform. It was thought that many of the other options could flow from a strong and effective voice in parliament. One group thought this package could be a voice to parliament, that would be used to negotiate agreements/treaties, and the voice would also guide any use of the head of power.
A number of groups suggested that the voice to parliament could be drawn from an Assembly of First Nations, which could be established through a series of treaties among nations. It was emphasised that the voice to parliament needed to be elected by communities, and have grassroots peoples at the top, not at the bottom.
Ross River dialogue, 31 March–2 April 2017
The meeting recalled the Coniston massacre, and the many other massacres throughout the region. The meeting remembered the Aboriginal people who had been involved in fighting in the frontier wars. They also spoke of the Aboriginal people who fought in the wars, such as in the Vietnam war, but have not been recognised. If the government want to speak about “recognition” they need to recognise the true history, recognise the frontier wars. They need to recognise the atrocity of Maralinga.
“People talk about ANZAC day, but what about our people? Recognise our people have been fighting. Our people have been pushed away from the land.”
“They don’t teach about Maralinga. They talk about Japan and the atomic bomb. But we had it in our own backyard.”
The connection between language, the culture, the land and the enduring nature of Aboriginal law was fundamental to any consideration of constitutional recognition. The group spoke of the power of their languages, speaking their languages and the devastating impact of the loss of language. The group explained some of the reasons for the loss of language:
“Some of us we can’t speak our language. Some of us went to school and it was bashed out of us. There are psychological reasons why we can’t speak our language.”
People want the government to support the preservation, maintenance and continued use of language for generations to come. Aboriginal people should not have to fight for funding because language is fundamental to identity, Aboriginal culture and well-being. The government can’t recognise Aboriginal people’s culture in the constitution and not resource languages in schools and communities. Otherwise how is it “recognition” of Aboriginal peoples and our connection to our culture and the land? Some of the former language teachers and interpreters queried how many more language teachers have come through to maintain the language, take the language forward and teach it to our children? Resourcing languages teachers and interpreters is critical to culture:
“It’s the most beautiful social structure in the world when you belong to your cultural identity.”
“Our Traditional Laws (Altyerre, Jukurrpa & Tjukuurpa) are strong and should sit above the Constitution.”
People were tired of not being spoken to face to face on policy decisions about their lives and communities. They were angry about decisions and policies being imposed on them by the government without proper consultation. People mentioned examples such as the Commonwealth intervention into the Northern Territory and the introduction of shire councils (NT Law).
The removal of the CDEP without consultation left people reliant on Centrelink, without enough money and the removal of jobs through the abolishment of CDEP. Itne ahetye-aneme CDEP akngetyelpetyeke apmere (community) itnekenhe-werne itne warreke irretyenhenge. People spoke of how difficult it is, especially in remote communities and outstations, to travel into town to do things like go shopping and go to Centrelink. Apmere (outstation-ke) anwerne miss out-irreme. The cost of fresh food in communities was raised, and how the cashless welfare card restricts access to money for goods and services.
The importance of government organisations and employers accommodating sorry business was raised.
“I’d like to see government organisations respect sorry business. … They’ve got to understand. We suffer because we can’t go and attend to our duties. They’ve got to put our law into their laws.”
The meeting spoke about the important symbolism of the flag, and how the Australian flag symbolised the injustices of colonisation.
“Remember the day when Cathy Freeman ran with the flag. That flag was not recognised. It’s time to change the flag too.”
The meeting discussed the importance of the different options and which options they thought were the most important.
The group felt strongly that the Constitution needed to recognise the traditional way of life for Aboriginal people. The group thought that the statement of acknowledgment needed to recognise the sovereignty of Aboriginal people—as “sovereign men, women and children of this land”, and their traditional ways, including language and culture and law, and traditional governance systems through kinship Apmereke-artyeye and Kwertengerle. It would have to acknowledge the “Tjukurrpa”—“our own Constitution”, which is what connects Aboriginal people to their creation and gives them authority. A statement must acknowledge the genocides of the past so that this could be part of the healing.
“Aboriginal People have always had a structural governance, what we have to do is put it alongside the governance of mainstream.”
Adelaide dialogue, 7–9 April 2017
On day one, the meeting reflected on what changes people would like to see reform achieve in their communities. They were asked what was their vision for the future.
There was frustration at the continued state of disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal people despite generations of activism advocating for rights. People feel that now is the time for action; that we stop walking around cap in hand, because this is our country.
People want the truth of the history acknowledged, that the British were not colonisers, they were invaders, murderers, and rapists. Those who came before us marched and died for us and now it’s time to achieve what we’ve been fighting for since invasion, self-determination:
“I want to walk down the street and know that I can make decisions about my own life.”
The meeting looked to international human rights law as a way of securing rights because of the lack of Indigenous rights in Australia and the fact that any gains made are constantly eroded. There was discussion about Australia ratifying and implementing into domestic law the International Labour Organization (“ILO”) Convention C 169 (“ILO-169”, or Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989), which provides for a duty of consultation as well as the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the collective expression of self-determination recognised in the two Covenants.
“The only rights we have are international rights.”
“They [governments] are signatories but they haven’t incorporated them into Australian law.”
Land rights and water rights and economic development were emphasised. It was said that Aboriginal land held in trust should be fully returned to traditional owners and groups that have achieved native title recognition.
People stressed the urgency of doing something to turn around terrible incarceration rates, with Aboriginal people making up 25% of the male prison population, 30% of the female prison population and 50% of children in juvenile detention. Aboriginal children also make up 30% of those in out of home care.
“Twenty five years on, the incarceration rate is worse than it was with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”
“Over 11,000 of the kids taken away have been placed with a non-Aboriginal family.”
The crisis of Aboriginal children and young people in out of home care was raised. It was suggested that in addition to a stronger investment in Aboriginal community controlled services, and Aboriginal user choice in service delivery. The government needs to look at the models for individualised funding and consumer directed care that are emerging in the NDIS and aged care.
“We need to be in control of what we want, not them being in control of what they think we need.”
Several people emphasised the power of education. They wanted the history of Aboriginal people taught in schools, including the truth about murders and the theft of land, Maralinga, and the Stolen Generations, as well the the story of all the Aboriginal fighters for reform. Healing can only begin when this true history is taught. They also stressed the importance of growing healthy and strong Aboriginal children through literacies, culture, spirituality, language, and heritage: teaching Aboriginal languages in schools and of spreading bilingual education across the country from the few places that have it now.
“I want to see our history being taught in schools and what has happened with the Stolen Generations and Maralinga, things that happened in our backyard that kids are not aware of, in Indigenous and non-Indigenous schools.”
People talked of their anger and frustration at the way governments run Aboriginal affairs, disempowering communities, breaking up the family unit and leaving people in the dark. Particular focus was put on the detrimental affects of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy further diminishing community control of services and the Aboriginal community voice.
“Out in the communities, they are the last people to be informed about what is going on. All of a sudden, legislation or something else is happening and they just don’t know anything about it.”
“I’d like to see all the money to set up the industry called Aboriginal Affairs captured for us to actually enable our own economic development and future.”
“I want to see compensation because the government seems to think the IAS is a panacea. But the IAS has been a travesty for Aboriginal communities that has undermined the very organisations that provided a source of employment for many Aboriginal people, the voice for many Aboriginal people. It is time the government was challenged about these reforms. They have instituted administrative confusion and very little outcomes, despite the whole Closing the Gap scheme.”
In addition to interest in a Treaty, on this first day of the Dialogue, people put forward a range of other ideas for change, including reserved seats in parliament, an Aboriginal Assembly or Parliament across Australia, Aboriginal self-government, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms or a Bill of Rights, limits on federal law-making to guard against racist or detrimental legislation, a provision that protects Aboriginal rights like section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and the Aboriginal flag in the corner of the Australian flag.
Brisbane dialogue, 21–23 April 2017
The dialogue emphasised the unique political activism in Queensland, in particular the South East region. This history reflects the indelible relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the struggle, with and for each other. It is important that this special relationship, based on our old peoples leadership, is recognized and continued.
Spirituality is at the core of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ culture. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have a connection to country that is deeper than modern Australia can understand. Songlines and stories connect people across Australia. Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples means that non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians must accept that they stand on the land of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
“The thing that separates us from everyone else is that we come from a deep, deep spirit.”
“It is important to reconnect our song lines, to reawaken our ceremonies. We all sing the same song, but along that path, every mob has their own verse in their own language.”
There are urgent social challenges in communities, including the incarceration of men, women and young people in the prison system, poor levels of education, poverty, high morbidity, the terrible rate of youth suicide, people living in shocking housing, low employment, and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
The idea of “sovereign debt” was raised, to pay for the debts of dispossession and colonialism. Another suggestion for reparation was relief from land tax for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ businesses so they can employ and train more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The group spoke about the compounding of trauma by the media, which often misrepresents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and the real statistics, and do not tell the positive stories, of people doing good things in communities.
“Australia got a whole country for nothing, they haven’t even begun to pay for it.”
“One of the greatest things we haven’t dealt with is the theft of this land.”
People want the state to be accountable. The billions of dollars of funding that are allocated for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs are not reaching the grassroots in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, they are being spent on government administration, or given to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. Whenever government changes, the first things that get cut are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples’ programs.
“With deaths in custody money they made great big police stations.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ funding needs to go directly to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and organisations, and needs to be provided on a more stable basis. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ money has been directed away from grassroots and community controlled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ organisations to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy: “That’s gotta stop because what does that show for our self-determination and our rights as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples?”
Many people at the meeting spoke about the division that native title legislation had created in communities. People spoke of changing native title so that it was inclusive and not divisive. One suggestion was that the funds that are generated through native title should be distributed more broadly to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
“I see the jubilation but I also see the misery and fragmentation caused by native title. It’s trying to push people through a cookie cutter, which is the white man’s construct. It does fragment the community… We need to acknowledge the shortcomings of native title, but also leverage it.”
The meeting spoke about the lack of protection of water rights, the taking of water from Fraser Island and Stradbroke Island to the mainland, and water being taken from the bores in desert country. There is a lack of protection for cultural heritage, yet the government will fund the infrastructure and low interest loans for the Adani coal mine.
People shared stories of institutional racism. The meeting spoke of the importance of education, and the teaching of culture and the issues around constitutional recognition in universities, schools and teachers’ colleges.
“I did a PhD, but I experienced so much racism in academia. Being a black woman, they don’t see my qualifications, all they see is my colour, they treat me like I’m the rubbish collector.”
Funding is needed to give free access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to sports and recreation and for community run camps that provide young people with connection to culture and family.
“If our young people have the option to participate in sport, without hardship and the second-hand gear that everyone works with, their lifestyle will change and it will take pressure off our medical services … We need more money pumped into programs, culturally based only, to help our young men and young women to regain their status as warriors.”
Aboriginal names for places and things across Australia should be the norm, and used by wider society.
“We should be using the proper names. It took years to get Ayers Rock changed back to Uluru. Every place in Australia should carry our names; that’s the way we get our identity back. I say that I’m Gubbi Gubbi. If I say I’m Aboriginal I disappear.”
Members of the group felt that, in order for meaningful change to happen, Australian society generally needs to “work on itself” and to know the truth of its own history. “They see us as disadvantaged, but the white people are more disadvantaged because they live in a country that is not their own. They’re living a lie.” The group spoke about their own family histories of being discriminated against by Australian governments and society—aunts and uncles denied access to pubs, people being forced away from their people onto settlements at Woorabinda and Cherbourg. Bringing these historical truths to light must embedded in any process in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of Australia work together to change their relationship.
At the outset, it was said that it is very important that it is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who decide their own status and who sits down at the table to negotiate. That is not for governments to decide.
People emphasised the importance of local agreements because local people know the problems and solutions. If there is to be a national framework negotiated for a treaty process (and there was interest in that idea) it would have to be very careful to preserve the space for local agreements and the local societal system (its laws, structures, systems for resolving disputes etc).
In terms of the content of a treaty, people said a treaty should look to the international agreements Australia has signed and make the Australian government honour the commitments it has made—for example, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the two major UN human rights treaties and the ILO Conventions relevant to Indigenous peoples. Another person suggested that the separation of powers needs to be considered and because interpretation is so important, there should be a requirement for an Aboriginal person or people to be sitting next to the High Court judges when decisions are made on Aboriginal issues. Another idea related to strong feelings about the way in which other people and often foreign companies have made so much money from the traditional knowledge and the resources on Aboriginal land—the suggestion was that a treaty should ensure better intellectual property protection for all Indigenous products.
Torres Strait dialogue, 5–7 May 2017
The meeting was opened with a prayer, an island hymn and a welcome to country by Kaurareg elder [name redacted in document]. He remembered the massacres of the Kaurareg nation, and that the hurt and pain this had continues to this day, unresolved. The Kaurareg people are not recognised as the custodians of the land. He spoke of the importance of language, culture and practices. The Kaurareg people have a culture, heritage and language from where they belong. He explained the relationship between Kaurareg people and their land:
“We Kaurareg people, we don’t own the land, the land does not own us. We are the land. We are the sea. We are the airspace. The birds, the trees the rocks, we are everything of the land.”
Torres Strait Islander peoples want a greater degree of autonomy. Communities here should be in control of their own affairs. This is not a new concept. People in the Torres Strait did so for thousands of years prior to invasion. Strong and continued cultural custom and structure should be the guiding principles for communities to run their own affairs. The right to self-determination for Indigenous peoples is reflected in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Governments continue to deny us this right, and maintain community reliance on government services as our people continue to live in poverty.
“Australia has to accept our sovereign independence. We have got to have our own government.”
“We need somebody in the Australian Parliament, an Indigenous voice making decisions. When I look at Ministers making decisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it is a white person. We should have our own people and not have non-Indigenous people talking to Parliament on our behalf, we should be talking for ourselves.”
Torres Strait Islander communities are flooded with government services—there are 37 on Thursday Island. Communities are serviced by fly-in fly-out workers doing jobs that could be done by locals. Unemployment, and a lack of business and administration opportunities for Torres Strait Islander people continue while money is wasted on bureaucracy and red tape. The government needs to consult and work directly with Torres Strait Islander communities, and not through the “middle man”.
Torres Strait Islanders need to be recognised as a people and not a region. The great majority of Torres Strait Islanders are living on the mainland. They are often classified as “Indigenous” on the mainland, and their distinct identity as Torres Strait Islanders is lost. The meeting acknowledged that issues were faced by those living on their homelands in the Torres Strait and also on the mainland. On the mainland, since the abolition of ATSIC, mainland Torres Strait Islanders came under the responsibility of the Department of Indigenous Affairs, but even this is now taken over by PMC. There is no representation. Torres Strait Islanders on the mainland have lost their voice and have become like dispossessed people.
“How is the Constitutional [reform] going to benefit Torres Strait Islander people living on the mainland?”
Canberra dialogue, 10 May 2017
The meeting began by reflecting on the activism of the past, and our role in the continued struggle. People remembered having marched in the past despite knowing that they’d be met with police brutality and unwarranted arrests. The continuing need for change and rights protection raised two dominant questions: How do we mobilize the next generation? And what are we doing wrong—why aren’t the government listening to the demands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?
The skepticism that many people feel towards the Recognise campaign was explored. People feel unable to trust the government because of past policies, continued oppression, and disregard for the needs and demands of the country’s first peoples.
Sovereignty was central to the discussion and is central to our being. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have never ceded sovereignty and will not support reforms that might put this into question.
Why aren’t we looking at dissolving the constitution. I don’t want to be bound as a subject of the crown.