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Indigenous Australians Are 'Asking To Be Heard' With Uluru Statement

"In '67 we asked to be counted. In 2017 we're asking to be heard."

29/05/2017 11:24 PM AEST | Updated 29/05/2017 11:24 PM AEST
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"There has to be substantive change, structural change that will make a difference."

Notable Indigenous Australian leaders, academics, spokespeople and representatives have one message for the Australian public and Federal government: "in '67 we asked to be counted. In 2017 we're asking to be heard."

Speaking on the ABC's Q&A on Monday, Indigenous Australian panellists Noel Pearson, Pat Anderson Megan Davis, Nakkiah Lui and Stan Grant took to justifying Friday's First Nations National Convention and the Uluru Statement, which calls for constitutional reform involving a "First Nations Voice" in parliament and a serious push towards a treaty with Indigenous people.

Co-Chair of the Referendum Council and Chairperson of the Lowitja Institute, Anderson said: "We are voiceless and powerless in our own lands. This is our country. We have been here for 60,000 years. There has to be substantive change, structural change that will make a difference.

"I think, Australia is ready for it. I think we're mature enough and sophisticated enough to have this what might be a difficult conversation, but for goodness sake let's have it and be done with it."

The Convention, consisting of 250 Indigenous delegates, called for a "Makarrata Commission" to supervise and monitor agreements between Indigenous groups and the Federal government and voice Indigenous concerns about the treatment of Australia's first people, Fairfax reported.

Founder of the Cape York Partnership, Noel Pearson said the Uluru Statement, which will be presented to the Referendum Council to adopt options for constitutional reform to then be delivered to the Federal government, presents Australia with a chance to address "the nettle of the structural situation in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live."

"I think we have an opportunity with constitutional reform to finally tackle the thing that old Bill Stenner wrote about 50, 60, 70 years ago about the torment of our powerlessness and this country has never grasped the nettle of the structural situation in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live," he said.

"I think we finally have an opportunity to do that, and I'm optimistic if we seize this opportunity we can turn around those really powerless indicators of our kind of structural disempowerment."

ABC Indigenous Affairs Coverage Editor, Grant also joined in on the conversation, saying the Statement will look towards constitutional reform for Indigenous Australians through a referendum, but that the crux of the political issue comes through the way it is presented to the Australian population.

"These things need to be captured in a way that people can relate to. How are we heard? How we create an architecture that gives voice to the political aspiration for Indigenous people, what form that takes is still to be debated," he said.

"But the question that we need to be heard, I don't think any serious thinking person in Australia could seriously dispute that we have such a long way to go in being able to deal with those questions of the disadvantage and get the voice that we need to be able to have influence on the policy that's directed to us."

Despite this, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Davis said the movement is a significant step towards recognition of Indigenous rights in Australia because it represents a conversation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the greater Australian population, and not just politicians.

"What was important about [the Uluru Statement], is that we weren't presenting it to the Prime Minister or a politician for it to sit on a shelf and gather dust," she said.

"We were speaking to the Australian people from the heart of the country about the reasons why we need structural change and I think it was really significant that it happened the day before the 50th anniversary of [the 1967 Referendum].

"This is not the political elite talking from Uluru. These were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people drawn from all over the country who came together and told us what, I think, is a very sophisticated and complex program of reform that they want to see implemented in their communities to get some control over their lives."

In terms of what that program of reform and the ultimate end-product of an Indigenous voice in Parliament would look like, Anderson believes it needs to "have some real authority" for Indigenous people -- something which she believes "hasn't happened before".

"I think this is an attempt to give us a real voice that we can be heard. So we can have part in making the decisions that affect our daily lives and we can manage our communities and our families," she said.

"It's a whole new way of giving us some power and authority. So we can have a real say in the legislation of policy-making that happens in Australia. That hasn't happened before."

For Pearson, it's important that parliamentary voice for Indigenous Australia would need to be elected by the people of the First Nations of Australia, in order to represent "a voice to the Parliament rather than the voice in the Parliament."

"We're going to formalise the Indigenous voice in this country, going to get out from under the fringes, out of the fringes and the shadows, and be put in the centre of action, the democratic action in this country, and its primary function will be to provide political and policy advice to this Parliament and to the government of the day," he said.

Playwright and performer Nakkiah Lui also chimed in on the proposal, saying she believes any future voice for Indigenous people in Parliament would need statutory power and legal autonomy.

"I think our legal mechanisms, if we do have a body, I personally think it needs statutory power. I think it needs legal autonomy for self-determination," she said.

"I think Aboriginal people need to make decisions for ourselves because historically when white people have made decisions for Aboriginal people, regardless of the Aboriginal people who have given them advice, they haven't been necessarily great ones.

"I think that it's all well and good to have this at the top end and have this executive change but we need to make sure we have legal mechanisms that include Aboriginal differences."

The discussion comes after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce rejected the ambition in the Uluru statement from Aboriginal leaders for constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous bodies advising Australian parliaments, saying the idea of an Indigenous chamber is a "self defeating proposition" that just "won't fly" with the public.

"I support constitutional recognition," Joyce told ABC's RN Breakfast. "I support that we have gotta make a substantive statement in regards to Aboriginal people and I have been on the ad saying precisely that."

"But if you go with something that is beyond our capacity to get the Australian people to get on board with it then it is a self defeating proposition.

"It just won't fly."

The Deputy Prime Minister also said any proposal to the effect of a new parliamentary chamber would also be unrealistic.

"If you are asking for a new chamber in the federal parliament, some of the articles I see are heading in that direction, that's not going to happen, I am going to be fair dinkum with people," he said.

"We have got enough problems with the Senate we have got. We do not need another one."

"We want something we can sell to the Australian people. You know the bosses in this show?

"If you are suggesting that we have local government, state government upper and lower house, then a federal government with a lower house, a Senate and another chamber again, you don't have to be Nostradamus to tell the future of what happens here. The Australian people will say no to that."

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