Uluru Statement from the Heart
(Private Members' Statements, 13 October 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Inner-city communities support the Uluru Statement from the Heart and look forward to a constitutionally recognised First Nations Voice to the Federal Parliament. Australia is fortunate to have one of the oldest living civilisations in the world. It is one rich in culture, with over 250 languages, unique traditions, magnificent art and an inspiring spiritual connection to country and nature. The Sydney electorate is within the Eora nation of the Gadigal people and we have strong communities of Aboriginal people throughout, but especially in Woolloomooloo and Pyrmont.
As Australia matures and embraces its Aboriginal culture, closing the gap of Indigenous disadvantage caused by over two centuries of dispossession and racism must be a priority. Health, mental health, education, justice, out‑of‑home care, housing and employment outcomes still fall short of a truly equal society. We urgently need culturally sensitive policies and strong investment, but we will only move forward if we work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations. A shift to a more collaborative approach with self-determination at the forefront is vital to progress and is what Aboriginal people have said, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, will eliminate disadvantage.
The May 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention established the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The statement affirms sovereignty and the longstanding connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with land and sea, while calling for a representative Voice to Parliament, a treaty—or makarrata—through a makarrata commission, and recognition of Indigenous peoples in our Constitution. I welcome the Albanese Government's first step in this process to initiate a referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. A constitutionally entrenched Indigenous Voice will firmly redress the history of poor or non-existent consultation and dialogue with First Nations communities. A working group of Indigenous leaders has been set up to create a plan for the referendum, which will likely take place early in the next financial year.
We know that the Voice will be representative, accountable, transparent and operate alongside existing organisations and traditional structures. It will be independent of and provide advice to the Federal Government. I thank the Hon. Linda Burney—a former member of this place who we indeed miss but are so glad is in Canberra—for her amazing leadership throughout this process. I also acknowledge the work of Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the City of Sydney. They have indicated they will support a "yes" campaign, as they did during the marriage equality postal survey. I am confident Australia will vote yes, but supportive community campaigns and a strong result will make it a more uniting win. As someone who has led a campaign on a national vote, I know it can be difficult and challenging. However, ultimately it can unite us, which was what happened when the final legislation for marriage equality went through.
An Indigenous Voice to Parliament must be the first step in honouring the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The new assembly's work must help us achieve a makarrata to provide a process for conflict resolution, peacemaking and justice. Makarrata is a Yolngu word that describes the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle and healing the divisions of the past. It acknowledges that something wrong has been done and seeks to make things right. A makarrata embodies aspirations for an honest and fair relationship with government, self-determination and for a better future. A makarrata can empower communities, build cultural strength and unify through a healing process.
Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a formal treaty with its Indigenous people. Treaty processes in countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United States have helped create unity. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is considered to have been crucial to transitioning to full and free democracy in South Africa. But Commonwealth action is not enough. The Uluru Statement from the Heart also provides a framework for State and Territory governments to achieve self-determination. Victoria established the First People's Assembly of Victoria in 2019. The assembly has 32 seats for traditional owners of country in Victoria. Currently 21 were elected and 10 appointed to seats reserved for traditional owner groups. The assembly is leading a treaty process for the State. Work is progressing in all other States, with working groups set up in Western Australia and Tasmania, and commitments in Queensland and South Australia.
New South Wales must work towards an Indigenous voice to Parliament and a makarrata. The current lack of self-determination will continue to undermine any effort in this State to bridge the gaps and improve the lives of First Nations citizens. It is time to walk with, talk with and sit with First Nations people and jointly acknowledge our shared history of invasion and resistance. I call on this House to support the Federal referendum and to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities towards constitutional reform, recognition, a voice in Parliament and a makarrata.