Uluru Statement from the Heart – Pat Anderson AO

Thank you very much Luke and good evening everybody. Thank you for giving up your time this evening.  

I'm talking to you from Ngamburi and Ngunnawal lands and I was born and grown up on Larrakia country in Darwin.  

Many of you will know, we have been activists for generations, starting I think pretty much when those first boats arrived and of course the Frontier Wars, that we are now speaking about after all this time. We've been saying the same things pretty much over and over again and we're saying it again in 2021. We really encourage you to go to our site – ulurustatement.org. There's lots of historical footage there which shows a history of activism from just before the 1840s right up until now. In fact, it was William Cooper in 1930s who first called for a Voice to Parliament. All of the activism over so many years has had the same fundamental message Acknowledge us- Accept us- Respect us; this is our place after all.  

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the only substantive proposal for change on the table at the moment and I'm going to talk to you a little bit about the process that led to the Uluru Statement during this talk. The Regional Dialogues was the first time that we had been able to participate in a deliberative process and the Dialogues also had an education component. We realized once we got talking to people that people had forgotten their Grade 5 Civics, so we ensured that the Dialogues had a strong education component and allowed for discussion of concepts which many people find difficult and also even abstract.  

I have to pay tribute to the people that turned out for those Dialogues.  We didn't set up the Dialogues, the Government asked us to go out again and speak to Aboriginal and Torres Islander people about what they wanted. How do we, as First Nations peoples want to be recognized? So we went out and ran the Dialogues and we came back with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And of course, you all know that after all of that Prime Minister Turnbull said “oh no not that” but we haven't stopped. Four years later we are still on the journey of getting the Uluru Statement accepted by the government. We're going to go to a referendum to enshrine a protected voice in the Constitution.  

The Uluru Statement is also about Treaty, the sequence is important, and Nolan Hunter is going to talk to you a little bit about that. We use the word “Makaratta” which means coming together after a conflict or a struggle. Because in the past on this continent we've had to live as a collective. We have had to live in harmony with ourselves and with the country, so any conflicts had to be resolved fairly quickly. There's another word too that I just want to talk to you about and that word is “Reconciliation”. A lot of the older people at the Dialogues didn't like this word. They said it was the wrong word because it seemed to imply that we had a pre-existing relationship with you all. But in fact they said, “we've never met” and they were very clear about that. 

I want to talk to you now a little bit about the process of 13 regional Dialogues around the country in different locations. People were asked to come in from the regions and it was fully funded by the government. There were about a hundred people at each meeting, and we asked for 60 percent of custodians and traditional owners, 20 percent of the organizations in the local area and 20 percent of additional people who didn't quite fit into those categories. For example, Stolen Generations or other individuals in each particular region who might be important or influential. In every Dialogue, we contacted a local organisation with the capacity to run these meetings. Sometimes they were Land Councils, for example in NSW and the NT, but other bodies were also involved – for example, in South Australia, there was a consortium of legal services which ran the Dialogue there. So those organizations were actually the host, and they also employed several local people to run the meetings. We had training sessions with them as well. So we came in with the team - that's Megan Davis and myself - plus a team of constitutional lawyers and other people to assist us. We were hosted by the local organization which ran the meetings, that's how it happened in every location. 

At each meeting people would report back on a whiteboard. We didn't present papers or anything, so everybody in the room could read everything that was said. The Dialogue attendees went through every sentence of the record of meeting carefully - people would work collectively fiddling with words such as “shall” or “will” and so on until it was absolutely correct. We did that until everybody in the room was happy and were able to say “yes that's a true record of what we said”. We did that in every location. The formula for want of a better word was exactly the same, same agenda, same time, same scheduling and the terms of reference. Everything was the same so we could actually in some way measure what people told us across the country. We decided we would use this process rather than what's called a “town hall meeting” which can be very difficult to really get to what people are saying.  We also wanted to make sure that all the people who came would be heard. So we asked for an equal number of men and women and also youth. The youth groups are growing bigger and bigger every day so it's not just sort of whitehaired people like me and others. It's quite a very dynamic and vigorous group that's growing every day.  

So we went through everything written down and then at the end of the session, we asked people how they wished to choose their representatives to come to the Convention, which was to be held at Mutitjulu (at the rock). So we said it's up to you how you choose a - select, anoint, but all of them actually went for an election. And it was designed there on the spot. They asked Geoff Scott who was the part of our team to be the Returning Officer and then an election was held. Each person who wanted to go would nominate themselves and then they would have to stand up and speak for two minutes about why they wanted to go to the Convention.  

Prior to going to the Convention at Uluru, we analysed all the documents and came up with a paper which was given to all the delegates. We went through that paper with the delegates so we could go through everything and confirm what all the findings were. We still have all of those bits of paper, all of those records today. During this process as well, we were also having discussions with Sammy Wilson and the people at Mutitjulu and, got their permission to hold the Convention at Uluru. They built a ceremonial ground for us that took them three months to build. All of the ceremonies were held out there. But the meetings of, you know, of almost a thousand people could not be held in a small place like Mutitjulu. So, we went into Yulara to a complex there which had all the trappings like phones and computers. So, the Convention was hosted at Yulara by the people from Uluru and the elders came in every day. Along with the ceremonies, we also had an evening function where everybody was fed and we had a lot of interactions. 

So, this is the whole process of how we came to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. All of the words and all of the sentiments and everything that's in that statement was what people told us and what we heard over those three days at the regional Dialogues across the country. The local people were involved in location that we went to including at the Convention. 

Audience Question:

Like any community there's obviously a spectrum of political views within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community both generally and on the Uluru Statement and a Voice. Some Indigenous figures on the left like Senator Lydia Thorpe have argued that enshrining a constitutional Voice before a treaty could pre-empt and undermine any Treaty and justice such as land rights and truth and reconciliation reparations for Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander Australians Could a Voice disenfranchise Indigenous Australians further? What do you say to this argument? 

Pat Anderson:

Well first of all that's not the case. We are powerless! If we went to Treaty negotiations now, the state-based ones there would be a lot of issues. The Commonwealth needs to be at the table. South Australia is a very good example of what happens when the Commonwealth is not at the table - in South Australia they set up a Treaty process and there was a change of government and that new government said, “no we're not going to do that anymore”. Now there's Treaty negotiations being held in Victoria, in Queensland and the Northern Territory and Tasmania as well, so they are yet to be tested. But certainly, they were tested in South Australia and they set up another process. 

I just want to assure the questioner the Uluru Statement is about Treaty but there's a way to get there and that is by having the Voice first. We are powerless but if we have the Voice then we have two Sovereign peoples having an equal discussion, not the power imbalance that we have now. With a Voice we can speak with some power and authority given to us by the Australian people. Because the Australian people are the people that can change, the only people that can change the concept, Parliament can't but you all can. That's the importance and significance of going to referendum so once we're locked in there to the Constitution we are locked in, we can't be gotten away, and we are equal.  

At the moment there is no body, no group that can negotiate on our behalf. We have been powerless for a long time, in fact since ATSIC. ATSIC had its issues but nevertheless we all were able to go to one place and have our arguments and sort stuff out. At the moment we have nothing, and we haven't had anything since ATSIC was done away with. It was reviewing itself; it knew that it had issues but the government of the day, even powerful ATSIC, they didn't wait for that, they signed it away in an afternoon and that's what's been happening with all of our organizations. The NACC, people will remember that the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, that was a very powerful organization. The purpose again was to negotiate with government and talk to the government of the day to get a better deal for us in recognition and to get better services. That was also done away, so it doesn't matter, everything that we put up has been and can be signed away in the day. Because we're only there at the whim and fancy of whoever is in power whether they talk to us or take our advice or not, that will not happen though if we have a Voice. That's why we have to have the big bargaining chip - a power that's given to us as Sovereign peoples by a Voice inserted in the Constitution. Then we will be in control and in charge of this and all of the processes that that might follow. 

At the moment, the government goes around the country and says we want to set up another committee. I've sat on committees, we all have sat on committees, that's the point we don't want to do this anymore. We're tired of it! They go around and say “you, you, not you, not you, you, you, you” - this is what they've always done with us. But maybe if we're there in the form of a Voice to Parliament we might have a chance that they might pay us the respect to hear us. The people of the Dialogues understood very well through direct experience for generations how we can be signed away in an afternoon. That's why we need to have power! We are so powerless, and we have been for generations and that's got to stop. If we don't have the Voice well it's Rafferty's rules, and that's why the sequence is important. It was the regional dialogues peoples’ consensus decision that there first needs to be Voice to Parliament, made through that whole process that I just outlined to you. 

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