Today marks the 12th anniversary of Stumbling Through the Past. I thought that there could be no better way of marking the occasion by writing about what I think will come to be seen as a significant moment in the process of reconciliation in Australia.
The Uluru Statement of the Heart is a profound call from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from all over Australia proposing a way forward for Australia to recognise its history and make a better future for all Australians. Signed and released on 26th May, 2017, it is an important statement that will affect our future development as a nation. The Uluru Statement website describes the process behind the statement:
In 2016 and 2017, the Referendum Council led a series of Regional Dialogues to discuss options for constitutional recognition with First Nations people from all corners of the country. The purpose of these First Nations Regional Dialogues was to ensure that Aboriginal decision making was at the heart of the process. The stories that were recounted in those Dialogues were collated, and, along with the Records of Meetings, read to the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May 2017, as “Our Story”. The Convention endorsed the work of the Dialogues and issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people.The Uluru Statement website
Rather than act as an intermediary, I want you to pause and reflect on the Uluru Statement from the Heart’ now and download the one page statement from the Uluru Statement website. After you have read it, take some time to explore the website for the Uluru Statement.
In response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the Prime Minister recently announced that a referendum will take place some time during this term of parliament. Voters will be asked a simple question about whether the Australian constitution should be changed to provide for an Indigenous voice to parliament. The question will be about the principle of an Indigenous voice to parliament, not the form that it will take. It will be left to the parliament of the day to decide how this principle will be put into practice.
Again, I don’t wish to be an intermediary. Please read the Prime Minister’s speech at the Garma Festival where he spoke about the proposed referendum and take time to reflect on it.
We don’t know when the referendum will be held but every voter will need to consider the question and thus grapple with the history of Australia since it was colonised nearly 250 years ago. The point of this post is not to advocate for a particular position, but to simply start learning and reflecting on the Uluru Statement so that we are ready to cast our vote when the time comes.
The concern I have is the tone we adopt when discussing these issues. Every time our history with regards to the original inhabitants of this land is discussed, the debate has been fraught and heated. The general tone of social discourse has deteriorated in the last few years as I noted in my post yesterday. Sadly there has been too much name-calling, slurs, rudeness and aggression when discussing difficult matters.
In an interview for The Guardian Australia, the co-chairs of the Uluru Dialogue, Pat Anderson and Megan Davis, have expressed the wish for a civil conversation leading up to the referendum. Indeed, we can do much better when discussing matters of concern in society. This referendum is our opportunity to arise to the occasion and show our better selves.
Reflecting on the referendum, I wonder if it is best to have these conversations face-to-face rather than online. In doing so we can practice the respect, courtesy and consideration for others who have different views to us or simply don’t know much about these issues. At this early stage, I feel that our best contribution is to learn about the Uluru Statement and deeply consider the issues ourselves, and then to contribute to making a safe space where others can voice their questions and concerns without the fear of being ridiculed, laughed at or abused.
If we all conduct this national discussion by treating others with the utmost respect, we will achieve the right outcome, whatever that may be.