Introduction by Croakey: While almost every day brings another news story about the harmful impacts of digital platforms, it is important to also acknowledge their benefits for online activism and advocacy.
In the article below, Professor Bronwyn Fredericks and Dr Abraham Bradfield from the University of Queensland explore how social media and online forums are being used to advocate for and build public awareness of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and to counter colonial harm.
“We implore all Australians to embrace the tools at their disposal to mobilise, advocate, share, and discuss the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The time for action is now,” they write.
The article is based upon their recent paper, ‘Addressing the roadblocks of constitutional change through mobilising Indigenous Voices online’, published in the Journal of Global Indigeneity.
Bronwyn Fredericks and Abraham Bradfield write:
The Uluru Statement from the Heart was the culmination of 13 regional dialogues and community consultations conducted with Indigenous communities between December 2016 and May 2017.
During the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention, 250 Indigenous delegates from regions throughout the nation met at Uluru on Anangu Country, to discuss constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Statement that culminated from these delegations offers an opportunity to enter a new phase of relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples and communities in Australia.
The Statement declares that “constitutional reforms are needed to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country”. A poignant and poetic declaration, the statement calls for reforms that would recognise Indigenous peoples and provide the legal protection needed to ensure that they have adequate voice and representation across all levels of government.
Why is an Indigenous Voice to Parliament needed?
Public discourses silence Indigenous voices too often and have done so via a colonising regime that inflicts epistemic violence through the disregard of First Nations peoples and knowledges.
Australia’s media and political landscape does not reflect – nor adequately represent – the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Indigenous peoples are rarely promoted to higher executive and decision-making positions within private industry, the public service, or within universities.
The Referendum Council presented the Uluru Statement from the Heart to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in good faith and with the understanding that it would not be whitewashed, and that Parliament would debate its recommendations with steps towards enshrining them within Australia’s constitution.
This stance remains under the current Morrison Government. On many occasions, politicians have used media platforms to distort public understandings of how a Voice to Parliament may look. Myths declaring that the proposed Voice outlined in the Uluru Statement would function as a separate third chamber of parliament continues, despite legal professionals and constitutional experts asserting that it would in fact operate as a non-binding tribunal with no legislative or veto powers.
A constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament would ensure that Indigenous representation is protected, lasting, and flows through all levels of decision and policymaking. Recognition of Indigenous peoples cannot take place without enshrining an Indigenous-led mechanism within parliamentary processes, for the Voice is recognition.
Cutting through the silences
Social media has repeatedly proven an effective means of political advocacy by providing a platform on which misinformation and government inaction can be resisted and called out.
Many Indigenous peoples have turned to social media to express their frustration and outrage over the continued rejection and dilution of their voices.
For many Indigenous people, social media is embraced as a platform for resistance, with one survey showing that 79 percent of Indigenous respondents are politically active when online.
Speaking on past social-movements and attempts to create lasting systemic change, Professor Megan Davis has stated that that the “conventional parliamentary system and its ancillary mechanisms have failed us. Yet we require that very system to endorse this change. We have no choice but to adopt strategies that engage the public”.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart was always intended to be a community-driven reform. It is described as a “gift” to the Australian people.
As a grass-roots movement, social and online media have provided fertile ground on which exposure and awareness of the proposed reforms are generated, whilst people empowered with the resources needed to place pressure on the government to act.
Online media has already helped shift conversations, with a 2015 independent survey showing that 75 percent of respondents reject symbolic constitutional reform while 54 percent percent supported the formation of an Indigenous representative body.
Towards referendum and constitutional reform
Despite constitutional reform being notoriously difficult to achieve, Australia’s Constitution does provide the mechanisms for change, should the majority of Australians want it, which they are increasingly demonstrating they do.
Since its gifting to the public, polling has shown overwhelming support for constitutional reform. A 2017 study from the Centre for Governance and Public Policy documented that 71 percent of respondents support constitutional recognition of Indigenous peoples. This percentage continues to grow, increasing from 77 percent in 2018, to 86 percent in 2020.
Evaluation of public submissions lodged as part of the Government’s co-design process indicates that more that 50 percent of respondents want reform via a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice. Despite this, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continued to claim that it does not have the public’s support.
We fear that political rhetoric is shifting back towards a symbolic advisory body that would provide an Indigenous Voice to Government, and that this reversion is largely undetected with politicians not being held to account within mainstream media.
While COVID-19 has understandably dominated the public’s attention, it is now vital as ever that the Uluru campaign remains within the hearts of the people. Social media and online webinars have thus far played a vital role in generating exposure and this must be sustained.
Websites such as UluruStatement.org have encouraged members of the public to sign an online canvas – as a symbolic declaration of their support – while also providing directions, suggestions, and templates for translating their statements into written submissions to send to politicians.
Views and messages are also being shared across different platforms, linked via hashtags such as #UluruStatement and #VoiceTreatyTruth, which represent both a diversity of voices as well as a unified front. Branding messages with “heart” emoticons have also proven useful in creating solidarity and excitement around the campaign.
Initiatives such as #ShareTheMicNow, where different Black women host the accounts of prominent white women with large online followings, as well as Twitter “takeovers” or rotating Twitter accounts such as @IndigenousX, have all proven successful in amplifying Indigenous voices and creating “Blak visibility”.
Recognising the importance of inclusivity within the campaign, the Uluru Dialogue has collaborated with SBS Radio to translate the Uluru Statement into 64 languages, making it available as both written statements and recorded podcasts.
Collaborations with organisations such as the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) have also broadened the reach and impact of the campaign’s messaging by making it part of its reconciliation agenda targeted to a diverse range of communities within Australia.
We implore all Australians to embrace the tools at their disposal to mobilise, advocate, share, and discuss the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The time for action is now.
Creating Black visibility via amplifying Indigenous voices and advocating for constitutional reform will help continue to put pressure on governments to deliver the will of the public, and call a referendum.
• This is a revised version of Fredericks, B. and Bradfield, A., ‘Addressing the roadblocks of constitutional change through mobilising Indigenous voices online’, Journal of Global Indigeneity, 5(2).
See Croakey’s archive of stories on the Uluru Statement from the Heart