One year ago, on 26 May 2017, the Uluru Statement called for the establishment of a First Nations voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution. It also called for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between our State and Federal governments and First Nations. This process would include truth-telling about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's history.
I can understand the frustration of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander compatriots at the rejection in October 2017 by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, of the Uluru Statement. Rejected – yet it was relatively anodyne compared to the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights our Federal Government declared it subscribed to in 2009.
The Uluru Statement had been painstakingly elaborated in response to the Referendum Council's question "What does Constitutional recognition mean to you?". This Council was jointly appointed by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, on 7 December 2015 in preparation for a referendum on the question.
The reason for the Federal Government's rejection was that the proposed "First Nations voice enshrined in the Constitution" would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of Parliament.
The Federal Government argued: "Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for, and serve in either of the two chambers of our national Parliament [whereas] a constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly which only Indigenous Australians could vote for, or serve in, is inconsistent with this fundamental principle".
It seems to me that the government has a point there that should be taken into account. Let us not be mistaken: what we want is a single country and a single nation in which everybody, whoever they are and whatever their origin, has equal rights, duties, opportunities and privileges. Where each individual enjoys exactly the same respect as everybody else, as law-abiding citizens, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, gender orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
By the same token, we recognise that each individual is different from every other individual and that Australia is one of the world's most highly multicultural societies composed of people of many different cultural and historical backgrounds. These differences contribute to the richness of our society. It is important that we all continue to cooperate and live together in an atmosphere of peace and harmony.
It is with this in mind that I raise the possibility of accepting this idea: that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander compatriots establish a Makarrata Commission to participate in a process of agreement-making between our State and Federal governments, and the First Nations. In my view, it is important for its legitimacy that the Commission be constituted on a truly democratic basis, by the popular vote of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander compatriots, exclusively, with the election of a president, vice president and shadow government.
However, in view of the federal government's objection, the Makarrata Commission should not possess any legislative powers. It should have a purely consultative and advisory function. The source of its authority would be its legitimacy as a democratically elected organism, speaking on behalf of all our nation's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Our State and Federal governments as well as our parliaments should all be obliged to consult the Makarrata Commission and carefully consider its requests, proposals and comments on all and any matters concerning our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander compatriots, in a concerted effort of mutual agreement.
These provisions should be enshrined in a new preamble to our federal constitution as follows:
« We the people of Australia, free and equal citizens:
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