Uluru Statement from the Heart

Uluru Statement from the Heart

September 03, 2018 at 10:00 AM

The 2018 National Native Title Conference was convened by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and the Kimberley Land Council (KLC), hosted by the Yawuru people on their traditional lands in Broome, Western Australia.

The conference, titled Many Laws, One Land: legal and political co-existence acknowledges that at any one place in Australia, different systems of law exist. The theme marked 25 years since the passing of the Native Title Act 1993 and represented the confluence of these laws as they relate to title of land and waters. 

NQLC Directors Terry O’Shane and Alwyn Lyall, along with Professor Megan Davis, gave a presentation covering the Uluru Statement from the Heart and Voice to Parliament. It is a topic that a lot of us are passionate about so for those who missed the original presentation, here is a summary along with some recent developments on the Voice to Parliament. Many thanks to Director Terry O’Shane for putting this together.

ORDER OF PROCEEDING: Terry O’Shane, Professor Megan Davis and Alwyn Lyall

An historical overview of the struggle by First Nation Peoples in pursuit of Justice was given by the delegation, reference was made to the declaration by Captain James Cook when he “took possession” of Australia on behalf of the Crown of England, how Cook had used a legal doctrine that was cobbled together for reasons of colonisation, called the “Doctrine of Terra Nullius”, reference was made to how this doctrine was completely discredited in the Mabo decision 1992 when the High Court went someway towards recognising the historical truth of First Nations Peoples society and our associated customs, laws and traditions in  finding that there was a title that existed over Australia before Captain James Cook, they called it Native Title. 

In setting the scene for why First Nation People have suffered abuse of their Human Rights for the entire occupation of Australia under colonisation, in was identified that in the formation of Australia’s Constitution, those legal minds drafting the Constitution back in 1897, sought advice from the Crown of England regarding recognition of indigenous people as the Crown’s “subjects”. This was refused and First Nation Peoples become “Persona non Grata” (person not appreciated). This simple act by the Crown turned a people who have a history in Australia dating back possibly 65,000 years, into aliens in their own lands. 

The delegation went on to express how the setting up of International Forums in recent years had led to the changing nature of Human Rights, forums like the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations had gone about developing a number of international Human Rights standards that reflected the maturity of each nation state which set in place guidelines, that when breeched, have been used to prosecute the offending nation state or person responsible.

Professor Megan Davis explained the legalities associated with The Uluru Statement from the Heart, the need for a referendum to enshrine First Nation Peoples in the Constitution and why it is fundamental to have a Voice to Parliament. Megan gave numerous examples of other countries where things like this occur and in fact pointed out that Australia is the only country that does not have a treaty or some other formal recognition of their First Nation Peoples.

Megan spoke to the fact that what has been proposed by the 13 Regional Dialogues around Australia by those in attendance, which culminated in the Uluru Statement, has been considered by Constitutional Lawyers who are of the opinion that what is being proposed is legally obtainable. Megan spoke of the mischief making by Prime Minister Turnbull when he said the Voice to Parliament would be like having a “third chamber in Parliament”. Turnbull’s comments are completely discredited. For a Voice to Parliament, what is required via the Uluru Statement is a Truth Telling Commission and then to bring all things together, a Treaty to be negotiated between First Nation Peoples and the Parliament of Australia. Megan spoke about the sequencing of each step so that at all times the position of First Nations are respected. She emphasised the need for the Voice to come first and once we have a Voice and we are enshrined in the Constitution we can go to a truth telling commission which then gives all Australia the facts around colonisation, while identifying those matters that need to be addressed in any Treaty that will be negotiated.

Alwyn Lyall finished off the presentation announcing the number of Native Title Determinations we have in our representative footprint, indicating the way in which the NQLC have been getting on with things as a representative body. This ability to go forward is a result of the Native Title Act. He indicated the Board’s desire to pursue economic development as the key component in lifting the economic, social and cultural well being of First Nation Communities. Alwyn spoke about the fact that we have 28 PBCs, 50 North Queensland determinations and 28 active applications in the Federal Court and that the next wave of progress is with a campaign to have a referendum to enshrine First Nation People in the Constitution.

To finish off the presentation we invited a young man from Darwin, Thomas Mayor, to present the Uluru Statement in its original form, which is a canvas that carries the text and has been painted by the Mutijulu Artists. Thomas Mayor works for the Maritime Union of Australia and is on secondment to work on the campaign for a referendum. 

Ten Points on the Voice:

  1. Uluru process was endorsed unanimously
  2. The constitutionally enshrined Voice to the Parliament was endorsed unanimously
  3. The Voice is a FIRST NATIONS entity. How those entities organise themselves should be up to them. This is what self-determination is. 
  4. A key principle emerging from the dialogue was that people who are selected to the Voice have to have cultural authority to speak on behalf of their mob. Even if not part of an organisation, the right people need to speak on clan-based issues. 
  5. The structure of the Voice must fit the challenges it faces. Sometimes the decisions must involve larger representative groups, and at other times a smaller group might be more effective to deal with the issue. One possibility is that on some issues, a larger representative group may give a mandate to a smaller group.
  6. The Voice needs to follow the right cultural protocols in consulting with the community 
  7. The Voice needs a strong communication strategy back to the grassroots. This could harness modern communication to reach out to large numbers of people, to feed in questions, answer questions and canvass opinions. 
  8. The Voice should be an advocate at local, state, national and international level, and should promote consistency across those levels. The Voice should also have a seat at COAG. People reflected on how badly the Commonwealth and State coordinate on things like infrastructure when they didn’t talk to people.
  9. The Voice should have control over funds earmarked for First Nations spending
  10. The findings of the NQLC Cairns dialogue will be submitted to the Joint Select Parliamentary Committee. 

Recent developments on the Voice:

  • The Australian Medical Association (AMA) endorsed Uluru and will have campaign material on a Voice to the Parliament in General Practitioner surgeries
  • Last year, Law Council of Australia endorsed Uluru 
  • 10,000 organisations and individuals have signed on to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) petition 
  • Uluru was endorsed by the Australian Council for International Development (over 200 organisations) 
  • Door knock in Turnbull electorate 
  • The Brisbane Broncos and Queensland Rugby League had the Uluru Statement for Reconciliation Week
  • An AFL team in Sydney AFL commissioned jerseys with the Uluru Statement on it and had the Uluru Statement event on the weekend 
  • Belvoir Theatre in Sydney has the Uluru Statement in its lobby 


Written by: 

Terry O’Shane
Director, North Queensland Land Council