Indigenous Australian Gathering Recommends 'Constitutionally Enshrined Indigenous Representative Body In Parliament'

'Uluru Statement from the Heart' says advisory body would be indigenous people's voice to Parliament

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, May 30, 2017) – A constitutionally enshrined Indigenous representative body in Parliament would be the Tent Embassy made sandstone, Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson says.

Mr Pearson was one-fifth of an entirely Indigenous panel on Q&A on Monday night, the week after a delegation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from across the country working with the Referendum Council released the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The statement rejected a "simple acknowledgement" of Aboriginal people in the constitution and instead called for a political advisory body to be enshrined in the nation's founding document.

Mr Pearson said once the representative body was enshrined in the constitution, following a referendum which he argued should take place in the next year, the members of the body would be elected by Indigenous people.

"It would be elected by the First Nations. I think it's important to understand that — the First Nations across the country, the tribes as they used to be called… those people would select their representative to this national body, and legislation would set out their functions," he said.

"It is a voice to the Parliament rather than the voice in the Parliament. 

"In many ways, it will be the Tent Embassy in stone. Canvas, demountable, sandstone.

"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."

Fellow panellist, ABC Indigenous affairs coverage editor Stan Grant, stressed how important the creation of such a body was.

"I just wanted to make this point, and just by way of illustrating why something like this is necessary and what the historical legacy is; In 1901 when the states federated into the Commonwealth, we had no political rights, at the point of contact this was declared terra nullius and empty land and our political voice was extinguished, we did not sit down with the other founding fathers when the states came together to decide how we would share power," he said.

"Could you really imagine if a constitution was being written today with the acknowledgment of our rights at law, with Native Title, with the land that is held by Indigenous peoples, that we would not have a seat at that table and we would not be involved in sharing that power?

"That's where we're at now 200-plus years after settlement and 100-plus years after federation."

However actor and writer Nakkiah Lui, who was also on the panel, said she was in two minds about the proposed representative body, arguing it should have 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, for example the Stolen Generation.

"So I think, you know, we need to start looking at legal mechanisms that actually empower some type of statutory self-determination for Aboriginal people."

Panel slams politician's response to Uluru statement

Following the release of the Uluru statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned constitutional change would be "very difficult", while Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce suggested the Indigenous delegates were calling for an Indigenous chamber in Parliament — something he said "just won't fly".

Asked about politicians' reaction to the Uluru summit and declaration, Lui slammed the leaders, drawing applause from the audience.

"What my fear is, is that the Government is setting up a narrative that says that we are asking for the impossible and therefore we are dooming ourselves … and that is incorrect, because we are ready to commit," she said.

"And I think that's what the Uluru Statement was saying — is we are coming to the table, you come and meet us halfway.

"So it's not impossible to us. And if it's impossible to you, if it's impossible to you Barnaby Joyce, then why are we having these conversations?

"You know, the constitution isn't founded on fair principles for everybody, the constitution is founded on invasion and genocide and the constitution isn't fair because we can look at that looking at the statistics of Aboriginal people.

So to say that we are coming from a fair place, we're not. We have come and we have said to you, that we have put forward our mission statement.

"To be fair and having a bit of hope is the least they can do."

And Grant warned the Government against underestimating Indigenous people while also reiterating a regular message from the panellists — that any referendum would be decided by ordinary Australians rather than politicans.

"I think our politicians sell us short as a nation all the time. I don't think there's enough faith, I don't think there's enough faith in the capacity of Australians to understand and decide for themselves," he said.

"Australians decide what Australia is. We define Australia. 

"The other thing you don't want to underestimate is the persistence and the patience of our people. The persistence and the patience of our people.

"Look at the people who have stood up in protest, and people camped on the lawn outside of Parliament, [and] my father who has never given up hope.

"Don't underestimate the goodwill of Australians and don't underestimate the patience and persistence of our people because they're not going away."

Radio Australia
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