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The Voice Debate | Educational Series Article Three: How the Voice Relates to the Uluru Statement from the Heart

How the Voice Relates to the Uluru Statement from the Heart

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is, according to one of its authors Professor Megan Davis, a plea for constitutional reform. A First Nations Voice to parliament protected by the Constitution is one of the Statement’s key recommendations to achieve this reform.

In May 2017, over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across Australia gathered at a constitutional convention in Mutitjulu in the NT where they signed the Uluru Statement from The Heart. The convention was held after the 16-member Referendum Council had travelled around the country and met with over 1,200 First Nations people and held 12 regional dialogues and one regional meeting. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the dialogues proposed three key elements for structural reform: Voice, Treaty, Truth.

The Statement makes two key recommendations: that a First Nations Voice to the Australian Parliament be enshrined in the constitution; and that a Makarrata Commission be established to supervise agreement-making and truth-telling about Australia’s history.

The first recommendation – embedding a Voice in the Constitution – would recognise the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s history and would also mean that it could not be shut down by successive governments.

The Voice will be an advisory body of First Nations people and will be a voice to the parliament, not a voice in the parliament. The Voice will give Indigenous communities a route to help inform policy and legal decisions that impact their lives, resulting in better decisions and better outcomes for First Nations peoples.

The second recommendation is that once the Voice has been constitutionally enshrined, a Makarrata Commission be established.

A Yolngu word, ‘makarrata’ means the coming together after a struggle to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations, and involves truth-telling about their history.

In an interview with SBS, Professor Davis says the agreement-making or treaties would be undertaken on a nation-by-nation basis. This would involve over 200 nations in Australia and would take ‘a very a long time to negotiate’.

The Uluru Statement contains a moving invitation to Australians to unite for a better future for all:


‘We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. 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.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It 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.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.’

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