First Nations want a 'Voice' enshrined in the constitution


The Australian First Nations Constitutional Convention wants their “ancient sovereignty” recognised meaningfully in the constitution “as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood”.
Their statement, issued at the end of their three day gathering at Uluru, recognises – as co-existing with this sovereignty that was never ceded – the contemporary reality of the sovereignty of “the Crown”.
While the statement does not give specifics, a “Voice” enshrined in the constitution would be, according to media reports, a representative body able to advise government on legislation and policy affecting Indigenous peoples.
The statement also  calls for “a Makarrata Commission” which would “supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”.
“Makarrata” is a Yolngu word meaning “a coming together after a struggle”.  It was adopted as the name for an earlier push for a treaty by the National Aboriginal Conference, a representative body established by the Fraser Government in 1977.


We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.
This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are alienated from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek 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.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Below: The Central Australian representatives at the First Nations Regional Dialogue held at Ross River, which sent 10 delegates to Uluru, Richard James, Barbara Shaw, Geoffrey Shannon, Owen Torres, Valda Shannon, Pat Brahim, Jody Kopp, Rachel Perkins, Natasha Abbott and Damien Williams.  The Regional Dialogue had supported having a representative voice to parliament and a treaty, as well as a statement of acknowledgement in the constitution, dealing with the race power in a way that prevents discriminatory law making, and  prohibition of racial discrimination. (Source: Referendum Council website.)

p2444 Recognition CA dialaogue 660
The Northern Territory Government has welcomed the statement from the Uluru convention. Its response has been issued in a statement from Chief Minister Michael Gunner, Member for Namatjira Chansey Paech, and Member for Arnhem, Selina Uibo, as co-chairs of Cabinet’s Aboriginal Affairs Sub-committee. They say:
It is important that all governments recognise the [Uluru] statement as reflecting a strong call for new action from  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Northern Territory Government looks forward to reviewing the full report when it is presented to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.
The discussion at Uluru included how we might progress the idea of a treaty, or treaties, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This is something the Northern Territory Government will work towards here in the Northern Territory, along with our commitment to more local decision making.


  1. It is time and hopefully quickly.
    We are now the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty with its Indigenous peoples. Rather than building our country on the idea of a partnership with Aboriginal people, our laws have sought to exclude and discriminate against them.
    The idea of a treaty goes back many years. The failure to enter into a treaty was lamented in the early days of the Australian colonies. For example, the governor of Van Diemen’s Land, George Arthur, presided over a period of great conflict known as the Black War and in 1832 remarked that it was “a fatal error . . . that a treaty was not entered into” with the Aboriginal people of that island.
    Positive change in Australia depends on Aboriginal people having more control over their lives. Improvements in education, employment and quality of life must be achieved by policies and programs owned and developed by the people affected.
    Success cannot be imposed from Canberra. The hard work must be done by Aboriginal people; but decisions have often been imposed on Aboriginal people by parliaments and governments lacking even a single Indigenous member.
    In the words of Prime Minister Keating at Redfern 10/12/1992:
    “We have to acknowledge that pre-1788, this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now and until we have acknowledged that, we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people.”….
    “Isn’t it reasonable to say that if we can build a prosperous and remarkably harmonious multicultural society in Australia, surely we can find just solutions to the problems which beset the first Australians – the people to whom the most injustice has been done.”

  2. It is apparent and recognised that the many first people around the world were treated shockingly. We, in Australia need to be united as a nation of people where EVERYONE is treated equally.
    I am unsure of the wording in the constitution but I hope it says something like all people and does not exclude anybody.
    Whilst there is (unfortunately) some inequality in the dealings with some Aboriginal people, there seems that from a percentage ratio there is much more money provided to them.
    I am all for equality, but equality has to work both ways, over all aspects.
    In my opinion it serves no purpose to keep bringing up the past and in many instances it seems this is being used as a political tool. Doing this only generates resentment at possibly hatred and certainly racism.
    We need to get on with life and work to build a strong and prosperous nation.
    The moment the word “together” is used, it infers a divide. “Together” should be replaced with the word “All”.

  3. Surprised! I do agree with you but to a certain point: total equality does not exist, as we all have different needs; but ALL “to have the same rights” does.
    I give one example that really touch me and upset me: My husband has a very good army friend, together they fought for this country in Borneo, in Malaysia and in Vietnam.
    This friend with his children and grand children regularly visit us, we have BBQ few drinks and fun. Alas, he cannot reciprocate, because he is an Aborigine who live in a CAMP. Equality? Same rights?
    Let’s start by giving the Aborigine a voice then we can have a look to needs and distribution of money.
    Money from taxpayers should be distributed accordingly to needs not by ethnicity or past history.

  4. Some Australians support, promote and practice racism.
    Most Australians support, promote and practice equality of opportunity, equality of rights and equality of responsibility.
    Policies of racist’s usually about benefit for themselves based upon who their ancestors were.
    Racist approaches to resolving past differences similar to various fundamentalists like the Taliban/ISIS.
    Australians at Federation, then again in 1967 voted for equality of opportunity, equality of rights, equality of responsibilities, all these to be without racial testing of Australians.
    Compensation for past racism, does not require racism continue.
    The Uluru meeting IMHO is more about ensuring ongoing racism, by trickery upon Australian’s Constitution, thus is to be rejected.
    The ongoing failures to thrive in communities is due the focus upon, the decisions to operate with, racist approaches.
    Many communities still need change to reject their use of racist approaches, stop hiding behind racist legislation.
    This particularly for communities with the label “Indigenous”, for they are disadvantaged by such.
    Many communities in the NT have control over what they can do, yet fail to accept their own responsibility to improve things for themselves.
    Those who apply self-help, accept responsibility for what they achieve, and where they fail to achieve, can do better.
    Constantly blaming others, particularly historical events, for what is or what happens today, discourages support.
    Equality of opportunity does not guarantee equality of results, though to deny equality of opportunity ensures failures.

  5. It seems that the word “makarrata” is to be re-introduced into the vernacular. But let us learn to spell and pronounce it properly. It is not pronounced like the name of an American gangster, Mack A’Rata. It is properly pronounced like the surname of the famous American general, Douglas Macarthur and it should perhaps be better spelt as “makarrta with a “roll” on the “r”. Emphasis on the second syllable.
    It is a reasonably appropriate word for “treaty” as the makarrta ceremony is a trial by ordeal in Arnhem Land in order that peace may be re-established. “Makarr” equals “thigh” and “Makarrta” means, literally, “into the thigh”. An offender is required to stand in a given spot, while the offended throw spears at him. As all boys were traditionally trained to dodge spears, that is relatively easy. I once saw an offender ask for five men to throw at him simultaneously. He was so adept, he could break spears in half as they whistled past his head. But honour must be satisfied. After a suitable number of spears have been thrown, the offended party dances in and the offender is ritually speared in the thigh. Makarrta. Blood is let. Peace is restored and the nice part is that no mortal blow has been inflicted.
    Don’t hold your breath for a national treaty. We keep looking for Mandela style leadership and thereby national unity. But the minute Noel Pearson or Marcia Langton, or indeed anybody starts to speak “on behalf of all First Australians” they will quickly be told: “You don’t speak for me, mate”.
    But regional treaties. Yes! Bring ’em on.

  6. In this town there are people who have managed to turn the small (or larger) fortunes their ancestors left them into a secure and relatively wealthy lifestyle.
    I’m thinking about pastoralists here as the easiest example.
    There are other people in this town whose ancestors had their ownership of land taken from them and then worked for rations for the usurper.
    They were unable to leave any assets to their children.
    It is very easy for someone from the first group to say that we have to get over the past and move forward, it is divisive to look at past wrongs etc. Very easy when your living a comfortable and privileged lifestyle built on the land taken from someone and using their unpaid labour to add value fencing dam building etc etc.
    It’s a difficult issue but we can’t just forget the past as if it never happened. Every year a predominately Muslim country (Turkey) lets thousands of Australians visit to commemorate a failed invasion attempt.
    But we want everyone to forget the successful invasion that happened here. Lest we forget.

  7. So how long should we keep paying? Common criminals get out of prison after serving their time, so are you also suggesting that we keep punishing them for the same crimes?
    I agree there were atrocities committed but as I have said, failure to move on will only fuel the issue.
    Whilst you express your sentiments perhaps attempt to offer a solution!
    Please bear in mind that in order to continue to empower Indigenous people we need to move forward from our emotions and act with respect, acceptance and understanding.
    Can someone explain why job advertisements can say “Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders are encouraged to apply” without there being a little racist slur or why there are schools where whites can’t go?
    I mentioned earlier it has to work both ways.
    Let’s do that and prosper or keep wallowing in the past and see the further degradation of our wonderful country.

  8. To walk together and be heard, the Indigenous need to start taking some pride in themselves, taking responsibility and stop blaming everyone else. Show some pride in yourselves and you will soon earn the respect that you so much desire.
    Indigenous living in remote areas can do a lot for themselves, by generating income from themselves, e.g. working their land like the white man.

  9. @ True But: That’s exactly the attitude that is contributing to the problem.
    So why don’t you work out a formula for a one off payment?
    Getting handouts based on conscience is very destructive for to the payer and payee.
    If you are referring to land as assets then it should be simple to calculate a REALISTIC rental payment. Then we stop paying royalties and we could save hundreds of millions.
    Your one liner, clearly shows you are happy to contribute and exacerbate the problem rather than working out an equitable solution.
    I note none has been able to answer all of my questions.
    May I suggest you become a politician!


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