Two years ago, we gathered in the red dust for a ceremony at Uluru and offered a gift to all Australians.
There was a great sense of hope about what this gift could deliver. A new beginning, an opportunity to re-define who we are as a country. A country that celebrates its First Peoples and resets the relationship between all Australians for a better future.
Despite the recent setbacks and the rejections, I still hold a deep sense of hope, because I genuinely believe that this gift will benefit all Australians. And I believe that Australians are looking for a way to move forward together.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for “constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”
The Statement came after a national consultation process. It re-enforced what so many of our leaders before us have called for; to have a say and be heard.
In my own national consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, the message has been equally consistent. One of the key messages of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project, meaning Women’s Voices in my language Bunuba, was that women and girls want a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
A First Nations Voice to Parliament is the only way ahead for us. We can no longer be bystanders. When we are forced to watch, rather than be involved, we know the outcomes will never fully address our needs, deliver us opportunities or reflect our hopes. We must be part of the development and implementation of policies and programs that affect our everyday lives
I have been so encouraged to see Australians embrace the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Every day, the support for change continues to grow.
Like the people’s movement in 1967, when Australians voted overwhelmingly to provide the Commonwealth with the power to make laws for Indigenous peoples, there is public appetite for change.
We must continue to work together with the government to make a First Nations Voice to Parliament a reality.
I am encouraged by signs the Government is warming up to this much needed change.
In the recent Budget, the Federal Government allocated funding for the co-design of options for a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It stated its commitment to the process of constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and that it will conduct a referendum once a model has been settled.
And there are more signs to give us hope.
The Prime Minister has made a commitment to a genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in co-designing, implementing and monitoring Closing the Gap programs, policies and targets.
This incredibly important partnership between the Government and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations provides the greatest opportunity for our people to live full and healthy lives.
We know that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are included in the design and delivery of services that impact our lives, the outcomes are far better.
This has the potential to be a game changer. It will allow those with the greatest knowledge and lived experience to be heard and responded to. It redefines our role to one of active participation. So that we are no longer in the position of campaigning for governments to respond to our priorities to close the gap.
For too long, Federal Governments of all political persuasions have struggled to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in policy development and service delivery.
The right to participation and self-determination is recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, adopted by Australia in 2009. This includes the ‘right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions’.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart offers Australia a pathway forward to deliver on that international commitment made almost a decade ago. And I will be working with the Government to ensure they hear the voices of First Nations peoples and respond to our priorities across the country.
To all Australians who have received the Uluru Statement and all it holds with open hearts, this is our time to work together and shape the country that our children and grandchildren will inherit. I know we can do this.