The newly elected Federal Government has promised action on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
In his victory speech, new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a commitment to addressing First Nations issues. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was installing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Parliament House media room.
“We will, of course, be advancing the need to have constitutional recognition of First Nations people, including a voice to Parliament that is enshrined in the constitution,” Albanese said.
Incoming Indigenous Affairs Minister, Linda Burney, emphasised the need for action.
Australians are more than ready for the discussion about a voice to Parliament.
Linda Burney, Indigenous Affairs Minister
“We are already having it. It’s time we put the discussion at the centre of our national discourse and took it to a vote,” Burney said.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart was issued in May 2017, after two years of discussion amongst Indigenous leaders. In the Statement, First Nations Australians “seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country”.
The Statement highlighted three key objectives – a voice to Parliament, treaty, and truth – specifically, in that order.
The Statement called for a First Nations voice to Parliament – a permanent body representing First Nations people at the highest level of government. The Statement outlined that the voice should be enshrined in the constitution so it cannot be removed by future governments. The Statement also asked for the Makarrata Commission to oversee agreements between governments and First Nations people, and truth telling.
To enshrine an Indigenous voice to Parliament, the constitution must be amended, which can only be done by referendum. Both houses of Parliament must pass the bill to hold a referendum. Labor has promised to hold a referendum within its first term; however, it would prefer bipartisan support. This may prove difficult as the Liberal party does not support holding a referendum to enshrine a voice in the constitution and the Greens have said the truth telling process should happen first.
Earlier this year, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous at UNSW, Professor Megan Davis, who delivered the Statement in 2017, questioned the need for bipartisanship and said Indigenous people were sick of waiting for action on a voice to Parliament.
“It’s not so much bipartisanship because what experts say today is that Australians’ level of trust in politicians and public institutions is so low that you’re likely to have in future a referendum where both sides support and Australians vote no,” Professor Davis said.
“It’s been 16 years since Howard kicked us off.
“It’s been 11 years since the Gillard expert panel, we’ve had ten reports, seven processes, and it’s been five since the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“A majority of Australian people would vote yes.”
In 2021, The Law Society of NSW and the NSW Young Lawyers issued a joint policy statement calling on the Commonwealth Parliament to urgently set a timetable for a referendum on the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“The endorsement of the Uluru Statement is a necessary further step towards returning power to First Nations People in respect of policy and programmatic decisions impacting upon their families and communities,” the statement said.
In a statement, the Law Council of Australia urged the new Government to “swiftly progress a successful referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament.”
“It has now been five years since the Uluru Statement – already far too long to wait for action. There is no reason for delay now. We need a referendum as soon as possible so that First Nations peoples – who have shown considerable strength, resilience, and patience – can have certainty that the Voice will be implemented and enduring,” Law Council President Tass Liveris said.