Introduction by Croakey: The Federal Government and Opposition have reportedly struck a deal on how to run the coming referendum on a Voice to Parliament.
In its 2023 report launched last week, the Close the Gap Alliance expressed support for a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be embedded in the Constitution and for full implementation of the Uluru Statement.
“The Close the Gap Campaign not only supports the Uluru Statement and National Voice as a vehicle for partnership and self-determination, but – to the degree that it supports a national healing process – also as a health gap-closing measure,” the report said.
Bridget Cama, co-chair of the Uluru Youth Dialogue, was keynote speaker at the launch, where she outlined the process leading to the Uluru Statement, which she said was “integral to understanding where the Voice proposal came from”.
“The First Nations Voice was developed and proposed by First Nations peoples – on the ground, in communities, as a pragmatic solution to deal with the voicelessness and powerlessness that our people feel and experience in their lives and in their communities,” she said.
Read an edited version of her speech below.
Bridget Cama writes:
Australians know of the gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. These matters of national crises cannot continue any longer — as Aunty Pat Anderson says, enough is enough.
Government-implemented initiatives, policies and laws imposed on us and our communities to ‘address’ or ‘manage’ First Nations affairs have not worked: they continue to fail us.
They fail to result in better outcomes for our Communities because, at every stage, we are shut out of the decision-making process.
Where matters that affect our lives are being deliberated on by the government or parliament, we are silenced.
Or, if we are ‘consulted’, generously providing our insights, nothing comes of it — there is no accountability for what we have to say to be taken seriously in the decisions that are made on the issues that affect us.
This is what the First Nations delegates to the Regional Dialogues talked about as voicelessness and powerlessness in our own Country.
Right now, we are living through a historical moment — a historical constitutional and national moment as we approach voting at referendum on amending the Australian constitution to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament, as called for by the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation issued from First Nations peoples of the Regional Dialogues, to all Australians, to walk together for a better future.
It sets out a pathway to deal with the unfinished business of the past to move forward as a nation, through Voice, followed by Makarrata — Treaty and Truth.
The Uluru Statement says that:
“with substantive constitutional change and structural reform, our ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. It is about Makarrata, the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. Makarrata captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.”
It was made clear by the delegates of the Regional Dialogues that we must not waste the opportunity for substantial, structural constitutional reform. And the young people at the dialogues especially spoke about this — that we demand better outcomes and to have some self-determination over our lives, to come up with a reform that has the potential to have real and practical effects if done right and informed by us.
The work on recognition of First Nations peoples in the Australian Constitution has been happening for over a decade, but it wasn’t until 2016-17 that our mob were asked properly about what meaningful constitutional recognition meant to them through the Regional Dialogue process led by the Referendum Council.
The Referendum Council’s First Nations members, led by Professor Megan Davis, designed the consultation model of the ‘Regional Dialogues’ and led the process and, over 2016-2017, twelve Regional Dialogues and an ACT Information Day were held.
At each Dialogue, the Referendum Council worked closely with local and regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authority bodies to host the Regional Dialogue.
At each Dialogue, there were up to 100 First Nations peoples invited, determined by the local/regional Community. Those in attendance were deliberately made up of 60 per cent of Traditional Owner groups and people who could speak for Country and their peoples, 20 per cent for community organisations and 20 per cent for individuals. Youth participation and gender balance were also important considerations in those invited to participate.
Through the Regional Dialogues and Uluru Convention, over 1200 First Nations peoples were consulted on what reforms they wanted and an overwhelming consensus was reached on the Voice as the constitutional reform that the delegates sought.
Symbolism was immediately dismissed as an option.
Delegates talked about the need for a reform that allowed them to have a say over the issues that affect their lives, that the reform had to be substantive and structural, a reform that gives First Nations peoples voices a platform to speak directly to parliament and the executive to give real and honest advice and a reform that gives our people political power to engage in the democratic system that has silenced and shut out First Nations peoples, and which has enabled policies and decisions made about us to maintain the status quo and keep us stuck in this situation we are in as a Country, unable to move forward.
The process that led to the issuing of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is integral in understanding where the Voice proposal came from. The Regional Dialogue process was unprecedented and an exercise of self-determination: designed by First Nations, led by First Nations, and most important, those who were consulted were selected by their own First Nations communities.
The First Nations Voice was developed and proposed by First Nations peoples — on the ground, in communities, as a pragmatic solution to deal with the voicelessness and powerlessness that our people feel and experience in their lives and in their communities.
First Nations Peoples and communities have the expertise, the knowledge, the lived experiences and the solutions. We want to be able to contribute to achieving better outcomes for our mob and we have the ability to.
We have seen success in communities where it is the community themselves who are informing and driving the solutions.
However, this is ad hoc and exists in pockets across the nation.
The Voice will standardise a process whereby First Nations peoples, through our elected representatives to the Voice, are able to have our perspectives, insights, knowledge, expertise, and lived experiences heard and listened to, to inform laws, policies and decisions that will result in better outcomes for our communities.
The Voice is about addressing the disadvantage and working towards closing the gap by people on the ground, contributing to the solutions that we know work for us. The political power associated with a constitutional Voice, will bring about accountability and transparency of the Parliament and Executives response to the representations made by the Voice.
Despite the long journey, there has been a huge amount of resilience every time we got told no by politicians. It is people of the Regional Dialogues and grassroots people in their communities who continue to lead and who have maintained the momentum in this peoples’ movement for nearly six years now, because they stand strong in the mandate of the Statement. This has included our youth.
In early 2019, Allira (Davis, fellow co-chair of the Uluru Youth Dialogue) and I met at a community meeting that continued happening after the issuing of the Statement.
We felt that youth presence and voices were lacking and approached senior leadership of the Uluru Dialogue with the idea of bringing together young First Nations mob from around the country to provide a platform for them to learn about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the reforms it calls for, and for their voices to be heard in the movement.
In December 2019 we brought together over fifty First Nations youth from across the country, from regional, remote and urban centres, for a three-day youth summit. Here, we spent the first day and a half going through the education piece around the Uluru Statement and the reforms Voice, Treaty and Truth.
On the afternoon of the second day, the youth split up into regions and workshopped what they wanted to take back to each of their own communities and this is how the Uluru Youth Dialogue was born.
We are now a core group of young First Nations people across every state and territory that get out on the ground, hold information and merch stalls, hold yarning circles, do presentations and speaking at events to educate the community and everyday Australians about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the First Nations Voice and the upcoming referendum.
Allira and I always had a vision to invest in our young people and provide them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to lead this work in their own communities, with us supporting in the background and that goal has come to fruition and something we are both extremely proud of.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart and the delegates to the Regional Dialogues were so selfless and were constantly talking about the future and what legacy they would leave for us young people.
This is reflected in the Uluru Statement itself where it talks about the crises that our young mob are facing, including our young people being locked up and forcibly removed from families and kin at unprecedented rates. The Statement says:
“When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”
As a young person, I want a future where I, and future generations to come, don’t have to be having the same conversations, fighting the same fights and facing the same struggles that our people have been facing for decades, and some since first contact.
I want a better future, where my son and future generations can thrive, on Country and live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives. Where they have the same opportunities as other children and where their cultures are not only a key part of who they are and their wellbeing, but are valued and celebrated as a key part of who we are as a nation.
History is calling.
Bridget Cama is proud Wiradjuri and iTaukei Fijian woman who was born and grew up in Lithgow, New South Wales and has connections to Wellington NSW and the Cudgegong River just outside of Mudgee. Bridget has been working with the Uluru Dialogue since March 2019, is an associate of the Indigenous Law Centre at UNSW and legal support team to the Uluru Dialogue. Bridget is also the Co-Chair of the Uluru Youth Dialogue alongside Allira Davis. Together they work closely to provide a national platform for First Nations youth voices to be heard in the Uluru movement and in First Nations affairs more broadly.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on the Uluru Statement and health
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