Does the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ harbour hidden secrets?
Later this year, Australians will vote in the nation’s first referendum in over 24 years. They will be asked if they approve of “alter[ing] the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”.
To outsiders, “Voice” may sound like an ambiguous term. Truth be told, even Australians have spent much of 2023 puzzling over what a Voice actually is and how it would function.
A lack of clarity on the Voice from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is a major reason why pollsters are now tipping the referendum will fail. A recent RedBridge survey found the “No” case now leads 56 to 44 per cent nationally, with a majority of people in every state and territory intending to vote against constitutional change.
But for all the uncertainties about the Voice, one fact is unquestioned: the concept of “Voice” originates in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a petition that emerged from a series of dialogues between Indigenous leaders near Uluru, in Central Australia, in 2017.
The Uluru Statement calls for reforms that are often summarised as simply Voice, Treaty, Truth.
The Albanese Government has committed to implementing the Uluru Statement in full during this term of government.
And while Australians have long supported constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, a Voice has remained controversial, and a Treaty even more so.
Precisely because of that controversy, the Prime Minister has exhausted many words in recent weeks to create an apparent distance between the Voice referendum and the Uluru Statement’s other two promises, Treaty especially.
“It’s not about a Treaty,” Mr Albanese insisted over and over during an interview with Ben Fordham on Sydney’s 2GB last month. “It’s a separate issue,” he more recently declared in Parliament.
However, given that “Voice, Truth, Treaty” was among Albanese’s election promises — and was emblazoned across a T-shirt he wore to a concert last year — many Australians have found the Prime Minister’s denials unconvincing. At best, he appears to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth (not a trait Australians love).
And now, right when he didn’t need it, the Prime Minister has suffered another political blow.
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A Freedom of Information request recently yielded a trove of documents that helped frame the Uluru Statement from the Heart. One of those, named “Document 14“, is 26 pages long and appears to be a more fulsome version of the Uluru Statement — whether an Uluru Statement explainer, or a longer treatise from which the Uluru Statement was later distilled.
The first page of “Document 14” is simply the Uluru Statement in its popularly understood form. What follows is a series of subheadings that inform the statement’s contents: “The Law”; “Invasion”; “Resistance”, “Land Rights”, “Makarrata”, and so on. The document ends with several diagrams that propose a roadmap from the implementation of a Voice to the establishment of a Treaty.
It is the text of Document 14, however, that has caused the most disquiet among perceptive Australians this week.
No secret is made about a desire for reparations, wherein taxpayers would hand over a “fixed percentage” of GDP to Indigenous Australians through “rates, land tax and royalties”.
Arguably worse is the vision it casts of two Australias in uninterrupted conflict.
“The invasion that started at Botany Bay is the origin of the fundamental grievance between the old and new Australians,” the document states. “Our sovereignty pre-existed the Australian state and has survived it.”
Characterised by their “relentless inhumanity” and “violent dispossession”, the British colonisers are apparently embodied in all non-Indigenous Australians alive today who must “take responsibility for that history” and the “legacy it has created”.
The Uluru Statement document speaks of the “potential for two sovereignties to co-exist” in Australia. It divides the nation along racial lines but seeks to bind the two halves in Treaty. “By making agreements at the highest level, the negotiation process with the Australian government allows First Nations to express our sovereignty,” the document reads.
This week’s Uluru Statement fiasco has both sides of the debate riled up. The Daily Telegraph’s Peta Credlin takes no prisoners. “The whole tenor of the full Statement from the Heart,” she writes, “is one of anger, grievance, separatism, and the need to restore, as far as possible, Aboriginal rights over the entire Australian land mass”.
In the “Yes” corner, the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet have employed the argument of last resort — namely, labelling any suggestion the Uluru Statement runs 26 pages instead of one “an internet conspiracy theory” as crackpot as “QAnon”.
Their doth-protest-too-much reaction projects nerves rather than confidence. A simple denial might have sufficed?
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called Australians that want more details about the Voice to Parliament QANON style conspiracy theorists. The outburst from the embattled PM came after a question about an FOI release that showed the alleged full contents of the Uluru Statement… pic.twitter.com/wBUH5cnvN9— Rukshan Fernando (@therealrukshan) August 8, 2023
Back in the “No” camp, Senator Pauline Hanson has snagged perhaps the most convincing evidence that “Document 14” is the true Uluru Statement in un-redacted form.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Senator Hanson quotes Professor Megan Davis who is one of the chief architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
In her speech for the Henry Parkes Oration 2018, Professor Davis said point-blank, “the Uluru Statement from the Heart isn’t just the first one-page statement; it’s actually a very lengthy document of about 18 to 20 pages”.
But Apparently Professor Davis is suffering from a bout of amnesia.
On her X feed, she flails about the Uluru Statement fiasco, writing, “FAKE NEWS. NIAA has not confirmed this. Because it’s a nonsense Sky News beat up.”
Professor Davis has switched her comments off.
I wonder why?
Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor.
Image credit: Danny Lau on Unsplash
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