Uluru Statement from the Heart

    13 regional dialogues and a national constitution convention produced a powerful and historic consensus.

    In July 2015, Indigenous leaders called for an ongoing dialogue between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the Government and the parliament.

    In response, a 15 strong Referendum Council was created. It stipulated there be a concurrent series of Indigenous-designed and led consultations.

    ‘Consultation’ had become a dirty word in Indigenous communities. 

    For decades government consultation processes were largely top-down and limited in responsiveness. With this in mind, a special sub-committee devised a new methodology to encourage community participation in and control over the process.

    The sub-committee also decided that decisions should be made by those with cultural authority. Each dialogue was structured to require 60% Traditional Owners and Elders; 20% local Aboriginal organisations; and 20% Aboriginal individuals drawn, for example, from the Stolen Generations, young people or grandmothers.

    Five forms of recognition would be the subject of the Dialogues, including a Voice to parliament.

    Three meetings occurred in Broome, on Thursday Island and in Melbourne seeking approval for the structure and content of the Dialogues. 

    Thirteen three-day Regional Dialogues were then held nationally between December 2016 and May 2017. A draft record of proceedings was signed off by all participants, which was not shared with other Dialogues to avoid groupthink. Nominees were sought and chosen to attend a national convention.

    The subsequent National Constitutional Convention shared the regional Records of Meeting, collated the prioritised reforms, and settled on the reforms for constitutional recognition.

    On 23-26 May 2017 around 250 delegates from across Australia attended the Convention at Uluru. The consensus was for a sequence reform process known as ‘Voice, Treaty, Truth,’ mirroring the priorities that emerged in the Regional Dialogues. A handful of delegates disagreed and left the Convention. 

    The ensuing consensus Uluru Statement from the Heart was addressed to the Australian people and read out by delegate Megan Davis. 

    The Referendum Council also consulted non-Indigenous Australians. Some 195,831 people engaged in online discussions; 5,300 people participated in surveys; and 1,111 public submissions were received: 93 percent backed a Voice to parliament.

    This is a precis of the process leading to the Uluru Statement from the Heart as outlined in Megan Davis & George Williams in Everything You Need to Know About the Uluru Statement from the Heart, UNSW Press, 2021, pp. 128-150.

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