It is shocking to me that in 2014 we are still a country that has ties to our racist past, of the darker periods in our nation’s history, such as the White Australia Policy that had at its core the destruction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, communities and culture.  Australia no longer stands for these attitudes. By recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and removing discrimination, we are sending a powerful message about the way we wish to see ourselves as a nation, as Australians.

We are saying that we truly believe in equality, in a fair go and in non-discrimination for all Australians. We are saying that we truly respect and honour the 60,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history that is currently missing from our nation’s founding document.Mick Gooda, Nulungu Reconciliation Lecture 2014

 

At Uluru, in May 2017, after decades of panels, reviews, commissions, inquiries and consultations - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from across Australia made a direct and powerful statement on their aspirations for true recognition in Australia’s Constitution.
 
 
In calling for a Voice in the Constitution, and a Makarrata commission that will lead us in a process of Treaty and truth-telling - the First Nations peoples that gathered on the red dirt of Uluru finished their Statement from the Heart by inviting all of us to walk together ‘in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’.

The declaration of the Statement From the Heart was a proud day for Australia’s First People after a long and difficult process, and should have been the catalyst for reconciliation.

Recently the Parliament formed a new Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and they are embarking on another process to culminate in a final report in November this year.

Australia has been waiting for a long time now to have this issue addressed. The First Nations Peoples have been waiting for recognition for 230 years. After a long wait, and countless efforts to bring this issue to the fore, the Gillard Labor Government, with bipartisan support, introduced the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 which made some acknowledgement in legislation and set in law a time limit of two years to determine the way forward for constitutional recognition. That deadline has now come and gone.

The process that the Referendum Council, led by Pat Anderson AO and Julian Leeser AC,  was commissioned to undertake with bipartisan support was to directly seek and understand what Australia’s First Nations Peoples wanted in terms of constitutional recognition. The culmination of that process was the Statement from the Heart and the accompanying Referendum Council Final Report (2017). It is just over 12-months since First Nations Peoples from around Australia gathered in the red centre of the country to declare the Statement from the Heart.

The Statement from the Heart was a powerful and unique statement of consensus from the many First Nations represented, and it is now time to heed their calls and address how Australia’s founding document appropriately acknowledges First Nations People.

Via the Referendum Council, we asked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples what they wanted for recognition, and the Statement from the Heart was the outcome. How can we now ignore this generous articulation of what First Nations Peoples want for recognition?

The declaration of the Statement from the Heart was a proud day for Australia’s First People after a long and difficult process, and must be the catalyst for reconciliation. The Statement from the Heart clearly showed that symbolic recognition alone will not suffice or be acceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.’ Statement from the Heart
Rather, accompanying the specific and necessary changes required to existing sections of the Constitution (regarding Section 25 and parts of Section 51), First Nations Peoples have stated their preference for a constitutionally enshrined ‘Voice’ that will obligate the Australian Parliament to listen to them.

Complementing the ‘Voice’, a Makarata Commission that supports a truth telling process and a working mechanism for treaty building – First Nations Peoples have given us a powerful blueprint to recognition and ultimately, reconciliation.

ANTaR firmly believes that true recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is as necessary for non-Indigenous Australians as it is for the First Peoples of this ancient continent. We all need reconciliation.

The Referendum of 1967 has been rightly celebrated and acknowledged as a milestone moment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in Australia. With over 90 per cent support for the Constitutional change, it was an emphatic result that signaled a change in the way the First Nations Peoples of Australia should be considered and respected. However, the changes wrought from 1967 were only partial in effect.

Clearly something must change. The ongoing life expectancy gap and significant health disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Non-Indigenous peoples; the shameful rates of incarceration; and, the tragedy of child-removal rates that are higher now than at the time of the Apology in 2008 – the wrongs of the past continue to haunt our collective present and blight our brighter future together.

It is now time to complete what began in 1967. ANTaR is confident that a bipartisan campaign for constitutional change based on the Statement from The Heart will receive the overwhelming support of the Australian people. It is time for this generation to address the gaping hole in our founding document. The First Nations Peoples that gathered on the red dirt of Statement from the Heart have invited us all to walk together ‘in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’