The Consultation Process that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was adopted by a spontaneous standing ovation at the National Constitutional Convention near Uluru in 2017, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had come from “all points of the southern sky”.

Securing agreement at the National Convention was a triumph of consensus-building. But the Uluru Statement represents the very tip of a consultative iceberg – a process conducted over the best part of a year, involving 13 regional dialogues around Australia facilitated by the Referendum Council.

Ross River Regional Dialogue

Sydney Regional Dialogue

The conversation at these dialogue meetings – typically held over three days – were based on consideration of various different approaches to reform to address the challenges faced by Australia’s First Nations people. The general ideas were canvassed in a discussion paper published by the Referendum Council in October 2016 which, in turn, was the product of consultations with experts and community leaders.

The discussion paper laid out five of the main ideas for constitutional reform that had emerged from Referendum Council, and these approaches were considered before the regional meetings. They included:

  • Adding a statement of acknowledgement in the Constitution acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians
  • Amending or deleting the “race power” (section 51(xxvi) of the constitution)
  • Introducing a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination
  • Introducing a First Nations Voice to Parliament

After three design dialogues held in Broome, Thursday Island and Melbourne, it was decided to add ‘Agreement-making’ as a topic for discussion in the regional dialogues.

The first regional dialogue was held in December 2016 at Hobart. Throughout the first five months in 2017, there were further regional dialogues at:

  • Broome, WA
  • Dubbo, NSW
  • Darwin, NT
  • Perth, WA
  • Sydney, NSW
  • Melbourne, VIC
  • Cairns, QLD
  • Ross River, NT
  • Adelaide, SA
  • Brisbane, QLD
  • Torres Strait, QLD

Over three days, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples discuss what they saw as the most practical and useful ways forward for dealing with the challenges facing First Nations people. These challenges are different for different communities in different places, so achieving consensus on a lasting, constitutionally-enshrined solution was not without its difficulties.

Brisbane Regional Dialogue

Cairns Regional Dialogue

Canberra Regional Dialogue

Adelaide Regional Dialogue

Torres Strait Regional Dialogue

 

The dialogue process was inclusive and exhaustive, but the end result was decisive: a call from First Nations peoples for all Australians to join them on a journey, walking together “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.

The call for a Voice to Parliament protected by the constitution represents the considered reflection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia. It is a sophisticated and modest proposal that legal experts say is also the most constitutionally-safe option.

It’s fair. It’s practical. And it’s time to make it happen.

 

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