Amy Coopes writes:
Advocates for the Uluru Statement are urging Australians to get behind a letter-writing campaign to MPs, and have welcomed a stalling in Coalition plans for a legislative push as an opportunity to grow the movement for more substantive change.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt warned earlier this week that his promises of delivering a legislated Voice to government before the next federal election may not be realised, with the plan facing division and opposition in the coalition party-room and cabinet.
Far from seeing this as a setback, Uluru campaigners say the delay is an opportunity for Australians to renew their calls for a referendum and constitutional change as set out by the dialogue process and committed to by the Labor opposition, along with a host of organisations, institutions and businesses including the Australian Medical Association and the MJA.
Professor Megan Davis, one of the Uluru campaign’s key architects, described the Coalition’s “legislate first” approach to a Voice model as a ‘bait and switch’ from what the LNP committed to in their election platform, which included $7 million Voice design and $160 million for a referendum. Legislating a Voice first will kill off Constitutional recognition, she said.
“Not legislating in this term of Parliament, we welcome it. We’re putting a lot of pressure on now to say legislating the Voice before a referendum is not what the Australian people are asking for,” Davis said in an interview with Croakey.
Davis urged people to write to their MP pressing for a Constitutional path to reform, directing supporters to the Uluru campaign’s letter generator, which she said was already gaining traction in the Parliament and had been demonstrated in the past to be the “primary thing that works” to sway the political mood.
“The inundation of letters to local MPs make a huge difference,” Davis said.
“We welcome the Minister not rushing to legislate first,” she added. “It’s very clear from 90 percent of submissions to his own co-design process that the Australian community and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community believe that a referendum needs to be held and that legislation should be passed under this new head of power, the Voice power, to fulfil the Uluru Statement and this two decades’ piece of work on Constitutional recognition.”
Davis who works with the primary Constitutional Campaign the “Uluru Dialogue”, led by key First Nations leaders including Pat Anderson, Nolan Hunter, Sally Scales and Olga Havnen, said there was a growing sense among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, including those represented by the Coalition of Peaks, of an “opportunity disappearing before their eyes”.
They were motivated by a renewed sense of urgency behind the Statement and its intent for structural reform.
“We obviously have to take the movement massively to the Australian people, but there is an alignment among many First Nations sectors where if it’s not a referendum everyone can see it’s a lost opportunity and a waste of 11 years of public policy and multi-party support for Constitutional recognition.”
These sentiments were echoed by Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, Pro Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Queensland, who is a staunch supporter of the Uluru Statement.
“The time is now for people to act and let their local federal member know that they support the Uluru Statement and a First Nations Voice to Parliament,” Fredericks told Croakey. “We need to do this in our generation and not leave it to the next.”
Hundreds of letters have already been sent via the campaign’s online portal, and responses from Greens and Labor MPs have been encouraging.
“Labor has long supported a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament – it’s what First Nations people asked for in the Uluru Statement,” wrote one Labor Senator in response to a constituent, describing the Statement’s aspirations as “reasonable and modest”.
“It’s very disappointing the Government is starting a co-design for process for a referendum and a voice to government by ruling out the constitutional enshrinement First Nations people have asked for. The Government‘s co-design process should listen to what First Nations people say without ruling things in or out.”
The Senator said: “Labor will engage with this process collaboratively, but bipartisanship or agreement across the Parliament cannot become a race to the bottom – it has to be ambitious and it has to listen to the community.
“Recent events – the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement – have shone a light on the great disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in a range of areas: health, housing, education, employment and interactions with the justice system.
“We cannot allow the Uluru Statement and Voice to Parliament to fall by the wayside during this pandemic.
“If anything, this pandemic should energise us towards establishing a Voice to the Parliament if we want to see real and lasting progress in closing the gap between First Nations and non‑Indigenous Australians.
It is crucial that First Nations people have a say in the laws, policies and decisions that affect them through a Voice to Parliament enshrined in our Constitution safe from the whims of the Government of the day.”
The Greens said Senator Lidia Thorpe – a proud Gunnai Gunditjmara DjabWurrung woman – was leading their advocacy on First Nations self-determination and listening to a wide range of First Nations perspectives as the Morrison Government progresses its Voice co-design process.
“Her priority is to ensure First Nations peoples have self-determination over their own destiny, to prosper and achieve the aspirations they have for their lives, for their children and grandchildren, and for First Nations peoples to have all they need to live their lives in health, well-being and peace on their lands,” said a Greens response to constituent correspondence.
“Our journey towards Treaty or Treaties and truth-telling is the work our country needs to do, together.”
See Croakey’s archive of stories on the Uluru Statement.
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