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The Uluru Statement isn't how we will close the gap

By Anthony Dillon - posted Thursday, 16 June 2022

More discussions regarding the Uluru Statement are happening since Mr Albanese voiced his commitment when he became Prime Minister. Many public intellectuals have commented, and it is clear that public opinion is divided. Given this divergence of opinions, it is important that the Uluru Statement be openly discussed.

One of the most common criticisms of the Uluru Statement is that its proposed parliamentary voice will somehow demonstrate two different laws, and some even say apartheid. I think this is a gross exaggeration and it would be unfair to dismiss the Uluru Statement on such grounds. I believe the Uluru Statement certainly deserves respectful scrutiny, particularly given that it involves changes to the constitution, and more significantly, because it potentially has significant impacts on the wellbeing of Aboriginal people, for better or for worse. However, I do have my concerns as to whether it is in the best interests of Australians, particularly Aboriginal Australians.

I offer three criticisms: the Uluru Statement and its implications have not been explained well; it is highly questionable that Aboriginal people are so different from non-Aboriginal people that a national-level voice is needed; and there is a grave risk that the Uluru Statement is likely to be seen as another magic bullet in closing the gap.


First, based on ongoing discussion, it would seem that there is much confusion and uncertainty about what the Uluru Statement is and what it will achieve. I understand that initiatives like this one take time to develop and implement, but the public is entitled to know at a general level what the Uluru Statement really is, and most importantly, how it will help Aboriginal people. Is it a symbolic gesture? A means to right wrongs of the past? Or a plan to eliminate disadvantage from Aboriginal communities? These questions need answers.

Second, if we were to listen to only the loud voices who derive income and status from involvement in Aboriginal affairs, it would be easy to conclude that Aboriginal people are fundamentally different from other Australians. However, I propose that the commonalities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people far outweigh any differences. And where there might be differences, I would refer to them as secondary rather than fundamental in terms of Aboriginal people's ability to function well in society. Aboriginal people have the same fundamental needs as non-Aboriginal people. Given this proposition, I question if a parliamentary voice is needed to represent Aboriginal people.

At local levels, such as communities, Aboriginal people are well represented by organisations that cater to their everyday needs. Such organisations already gain funding, support, and guidance from all levels of government departments dedicated to servicing the needs of Aboriginal Australians.

Finally, I believe that media and activists have already planted the seed in the minds of the public that the Uluru Statement will be a magic bullet to close the gap. Consider that despite the significant lack of clarity about the Uluru Statement, it is already being hailed as providing hope to Aboriginal people. For example, an article on an ABC webpage claimed: 'Prime Minister Albanese's commitment to Uluru Statement gives First Nations communities hope.' Having hope is good, but hope should lead to a positive outcome where the pathway to those outcomes is clearly articulated. Anything else runs the risk of being false hope.

I share the same hope as most other Australians, namely that those Aboriginal people who are most disadvantaged have access to the same sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted. But details of how the Uluru Statement will achieve this are sketchy at best.

Incidentally, proponents of the Uluru Statement, are themselves doing very well and are important role models for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians alike. Perhaps what has worked for them in achieving success would also work for those Aboriginal Australians the Uluru Statement is intended to benefit? I am of course referring to education, employment, and access to modern services.


Now maybe I have over-estimated the intended goals of the Uluru Statement. If so, then I am not alone and it is incumbent on its proponents to clearly state what its intended aims are. If it is symbolic and contributes to the Australian story, that's fine, I would not oppose that. But again, the intended aims and outcomes of the Uluru Statement are unclear and need clarifying. For without clarity, it is unlikely to succeed at referendum.

Until clarification is given, I tend to agree with what Warren Mundine told me: "The Uluru Statement is a solution in search of a problem."


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A version of this article was published by The Courier Mail.

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About the Author

Dr Anthony Dillon is a researcher at both the University of Sydney, and the University of Western Sydney in the areas of Indigenous health and well-being, and mental health

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