Uluru statement

Labor has committed an Indigenous voice to parliament that First Nations Australians have been calling for since 2017, and promised a referendum during the incoming Albanese government’s first term. 

The first statement that Anthony Albanese said in his victory speech on Saturday night, after an acknowledgement of Country, was to promise that Labor will commit “in full” to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Uluru Statement calls for permanent representation for First Nations Peoples to advocate for the issues that concern them, and for this voice to be enshrined in the constitution so that it cannot be removed by any future government. It calls for a Makarrata commission to supervise a process of truth-telling and agreement-making.

The Statement, which was issued in 2017 after two years of dialogue, calls for constitutional change and meaningful, structural reforms based on justice and self-determination for Indigenous peoples.

To enshrine the voice in the Australian Constitution, a referendum will be held which Prime Minister Albanese promises within his first term. 

The voice was dismissed immediately by the Turnbull government in 2017. Former Indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt spent three years from 2019 developing an “Indigenous voice co-design”. The Coalition refused to support it, and Wyatt agreed it would probably fail. 

“Australians are more than ready for the discussion about a voice to parliament. We are already having it. It’s time we put the discussion at the centre of our national discourse and took it to a vote,” incoming Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney, the first Indigenous Australian to serve in the role, said. 

The Greens, who now hold more power in federal parliament, are calling for a treaty or treaties between traditional owners and colonisers that has never been negotiated, and because “sovereignty from First Nations people was never ceded”, for truth-telling and treaties to come before constitutional reform. Unlike the US, NZ and Canada, Australia never made a treaty with its traditional owners. 

A record number of Indigenous MPs were voted in during this election, with eight new Indigenous Labor representatives alongside two returning Greens senators. The result means an extra three Indigenous voices in parliament – three in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate.

Aboriginal Land Councils have praised the announcement, with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) stating that it is ready to work with the federal government to ensure that the voices of Aboriginal people in NSW are heard.

“Five years on from the historic release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart we remain waiting for government to listen, respond and genuinely work with our peoples to address the issues we have said are important to us,” NSWALC chairperson, Danny Chapman said. 

“Our people want change; this is evident with the large number of First Nations candidates at this election. We congratulate all First Nations peoples who ran in the election and those who have been elected to the new Parliament.”

Leaders from the built environment sector have signalled their support for the commitment. 

The Australian Institute of Architects national president Shannon Battisson said it “fully supports” the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and believes Australia’s First Nations peoples should have a dedicated voice in our parliament.

Engineers Australia chief engineer Jane MacMaster said the organisation is “proud” to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart. 

“The call for a Voice to Parliament remains just as important as it was in 2017. It is a fair and practical reform that will make a real difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Affordable housing provider Common Equity Housing Limited supports the promise. 

“We acknowledge that lack of adequate housing is a critical issue for First Nations people and constitutional recognition is key to giving full voice to address a situation that is to our collective shame.”

The Planning Institute of Australia said it also agrees with the decision. 

“PIA firmly supports the consensus achieved among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people reflected in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We are pleased to have joined calls for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution,” said Audrey Marsh, advocacy and campaigns manager. 

This comes as Australia’s first detailed snapshot of Indigenous employment has found that First Nations people are underrepresented in senior positions in the business world. 

The Indigenous Employment Index, launched on Tuesday, found that indigenous employees are “almost entirely absent” from senior leadership in this country, and make up just 0.7 per cent of senior positions.

Albanese added Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, alongside the national flag, to his first press conference as Prime Minister.

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