Last night’s Q and A broadcast from Parliament House in Canberra was moving and memorable. It marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum and 25 years since the Mabo decision, landmark events for Australia’s disadvantaged indigenous minority. It followed a convocation of indigenous leaders at Uluru in celebration of Reconciliation Week 2017. Leaders rejected the idea of mere recognition in the constitution, instead calling for a representative body to be enshrined in the nation’s founding document and a process established working towards treaties. The Uluru delegation called for First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution, and a truth and justice commission. The concluding Uluru Statement “From the Heart” was the result of three days of deliberations during the national gathering.
The distinguished panelists of Q and A were:
- Noel Pearson Strategic Advisor, Cape York Institute
- Pat Anderson Co-chair Referendum Council and Chairperson of The Lowitja Institute
- Megan Davis UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous
- Nakkiah Lui Playwright and actor in ABC’s Black Comedy
- Stan Grant ABC Indigenous Affairs Coverage Editor
From this broadcast it seems to me, the dream of both veteran, and the new generation of articulate and well-educated representatives, is for the right to have a voice in the formulation of the laws that parliament enacts which impact on their own welfare. They seek genuine self-determination. Past government paternalism delivered travesties of justice such as the policy that resulted in “The Stolen Generation”. To meet their aspirations, it must be more than token change. But will anything more substantive than placatory rhetoric be acceptable to the people of Australia in a referendum?
A perhaps radical solution that may be worth considering is the formation of a third house of parliament, with two or three elected representatives from each state or territory, to review and approve all legislation affecting indigenous affairs. The cost would be modest. The boost to indigenous morale and well-being could be immeasurable.