Semester 1 Issue 9
On 9 April, a diverse panel and a large and enthusiastic audience greeted the Statement from the Heart at Melbourne Law School. The panel was designed to explain the Statement and the process by which it was reached. It also aimed to explore the Statement’s implications in both Australian and comparative constitutional perspective. Most importantly two panellists, Thomas Mayor and Jill Gallagher, had attended the Uluru Convention and spoke movingly and with first-hand knowledge of that extraordinary event. The remaining panellists, Adrienne Stone, Kirsty Gover and myself, canvassed some of the legal and constitutional questions that have been raised in public debate. Audience questions and observations were useful and constructive, contributing to a terrific atmosphere in the room. Many audience members stayed behind to add their signatures to the canvas, to participate in this historic moment in Australian national life and to show their support for it.
The panel on the Uluru Statement from the Heartfuelled me with a sense of hope, as I was reminded of the strength of the proposal and its
three aims: voice, treaty and truth.Thomas Mayor and Jill Gallaghger AO spoke to a power that a voice to Parliament wouldncapsulate. They spoke from their lived experiences, having been involved with the drafting process of the Statement. As Kirsty Gover pointed out, what we in the Indigenous community are asking for is minimal as compared to countries such as Canada, US and New Zealand. It must be remembered that Australia is the only Commonwealth country not toreach a treaty with Indigenous peoples.A voice to Parliament will not establish a separate arm of government, but will allow Indigenous people to self-determine.
During question time, a member of the audience asked what can we do to support this movement.The panellists spoke to the importance of engaging in this discussion and educating others.
Uncle Wayne taught me the process of Gulpa Ngawal, a Yorta Yorta word for deep
listening through the ears and the heart. What the Uluru Statement calls for is Indigenous voices being adequately listened to and represented within
the treaty process. I encourage all readers to reflect on what you can do to support the voice of Indigenous peoples,, whether by writing a submission to government, or by
educating yourself and others.
This is an incredible opportunity for Indigenous peoples to achieve self-determination, for us to access a mechanism that represents our voices, and our inherent and undeniable rights.
This panel was an incredible event to attend. The panel members spoke with passion and thoughtfulness. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the importance of constitutional recognition for indigenous people. By the end of the evening, each panel member had made it powerfully clear that constitutional recognition is not merely desirable or reasonable. It is necessary.
Ariz Yusaf Ansari
The Uluru event was a pertinent reminder of the need for both symbolism and substance inAustralia’s approach to Indigenous affairs. We begin most of our classes with an acknowledgement of the “original owners of the land.” However, I often find this verbal recitation to be tokenistic, given the lack of substantive Indigenous representation in Australian society, and the creeping apologism that surfaces, where many apathetically insist on the pragmatism of the status quo and gaslight indigenous experiences.
The use of tokenism over substantive engagement afflicts many post-colonial nation-states. The indigenous people of my country, the Singaporean Malays descending from the Orang Laut, are similarly acknowledged to be a protected minority in the law, but disproportionately occupy the prisons and lower socioeconomic strata.
The constant acknowledgement that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are not homogenous, and have potentially different concerns and preferred strategies, was crucial for the initial success of the Uluru statement. The process of arriving at the Uluru statement was noteworthy, in its spirited and reasoned debates. The speakers’ marvelled at how this was both pluralistic yet unified, strategic yet symbolic.
The transcending of tokenism and legalism in this talk for greater goals was reinvigorating and challenged my former cynicism. It reminds us that we should be committed to engaging with Indigenous people on their legitimate grievances, and join them as partners in an Indigenous led movement for a proper treaty making process in Australia.
Clare Van Balen
At the Uluru panel, Thomas Mayor characterised the Uluru Statement as an invitation to non-Indigenous Australia made in good faith; an invitation from the heart. I suspect the law students who attended, like I, felt a profound sense of responsibility to respond to the call for treaty, voice and truth in the spirit in which it was given - to listen to its sheer unanimity, so often obscured by the political process.
The history of Aboriginal institutions is replete with political undermining, with governments guilty of false promises and discriminatory paternalism. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the request from Uluru was for a self-determination procedure – a constitutionally enshrined voice that protects against legislative actions made against Aboriginal interests.
Ironically, the response to the Statement exemplifies why it is vital. Heartbreakingly, the government rejected a constitutional voice saying, ‘[w]e know it would have absolutely zero chance of success [at a referendum]’ and ‘[t]he option that they think has been slapped from their hands was never available.’ The Opposition seems more open-minded, yet don’t forget the delusion of previous campaigns and the fact they haven’t actually endorsed entrenchment.
With a dearth of leadership, one audience member at the panel queried, what can we do? The panel was unanimous: Self-educate (MLS is bulging with constitutional expertise). Support. And speak up.
It's not every day we get such an invitation, and it is non-Aboriginal people who need to respond. From our hearts.
I arrived late. I came in and waited in the back of the David P Derham Theatre for Jill Gallagher (AO mind you) to finish speaking before making my move for a seat. I was part of the Indigenous contingent that sat toward the back - I was there with my sister Marley, a few students that I have tutored, and some of my peers. It was a little strange:there are so few blackfellas around the law school that their presence at this event was a touch surreal.
I was impressed with all the speakers, but I took particular note of Professor Kirsty Gover and her exposition of other colonial contexts and their distinguishing and similar characteristics. This was a language I can embrace. The global Indigenous environment is an underrepresented area of inquiry, and the University of Melbourne is making great headway with our array of Indigenous academics and research students.
There were questions. Some were good, others were less so but the answers were compelling. There is typically a tension between the academic experts and the Indigenous leaders and the contributors. One side tries not to sound dumb, and the other side doesn’t want to confuse the academics. I sensed none of that tension here. The whole panel were on the same page, and bettering each others’ contributions.
I arrived as a cynic and a pessimist, I really don’t know if it can be done. I left with the same forboding sense. My faith in the Australian electorate is thin but we will be damned if we don’t try and bring about treaty.
Editor's Note: For those interested in writing a submission to government the university is running a workshop which can be found here: http://law.unimelb.edu.au/events/details?event=10450