Does the Uluru Statement Help Aboriginal Australians?

Does the Uluru Statement Help Aboriginal Australians?
Will Smith of the Indigenous All Stars holds the The Australian Aboriginal flag during pre-match ceremony before the match between the Men's Indigenous All Stars and the Men's Maori All Stars at CommBank Stadium in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 12, 2022. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Anthony Dillon

I recently read an article on an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) web page with the headline “Prime Minister Albanese’s commitment to Uluru statement gives First Nations communities hope.” Having read the Uluru statement several times, I ask myself, “hope for what?” Might it be hope that all Aboriginal people have ready access to the same services and opportunities that I and the leading Indigenous proponents of the Uluru statement take for granted? That is, to live in safe environments with access to good education and meaningful jobs?

The Uluru statement proposes an Indigenous Voice to parliament, the overseeing of treaty-making, and truth-telling. However, at this stage, it is unclear how these three components will work to improve the lives of Aboriginal people.

However, that doesn’t seem to matter to advocates of the Uluru statement. They seem to be caught up in the excitement that something is going to happen, even if the details of that something are unclear.

Perhaps the Uluru statement is all about warm fuzzy feelings? On one ABC webpage, an Aboriginal woman is quoted as saying, “I feel like crying. That’s the only way I can encompass this feeling—just being acknowledged and recognised as First Nations people and that what we have culturally is important.” So how does this acknowledgement and recognition translate into practical benefits for those Indigenous people who suffer the most?

Maybe those advocating for the Uluru statement want it because it’s another opportunity to feel more Aboriginal and special. I am only speculating, but speculating is all I can do given the lack of clarity surrounding the Uluru statement. Or maybe they want it because it is a convenient distraction from addressing the challenging problems like poverty, unemployment, and unsafe living environments?

I am not outright opposing the Uluru statement, but at present, given the lack of detail, I am not convinced of its merits. If a clear explanation of how Aboriginal people will benefit is presented, then I will consider it carefully. I think some healthy scepticism is warranted at this stage, given that Indigenous affairs have a long history of symbolism, quick fixes, and silver bullets.

A young girl holds up an Australian Aboriginal flag on Australia Day in Sydney on Jan. 26, 2022. (Steven Saphore/AFP via Getty Images)
A young girl holds up an Australian Aboriginal flag on Australia Day in Sydney on Jan. 26, 2022. (Steven Saphore/AFP via Getty Images)

The new prime minister’s statement of endorsement sounds a bit like former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology; you know, the one that was meant to bring about healing.

In the weeks leading up to what was promoted as a historic moment in Australian history, I didn’t oppose the apology but said that it would not benefit Aboriginal people in any practical way and only result in some short-lived warm fuzzy feelings. You can be the judge as to whether or not I was right.

At the same time, wanting to be practical, I suggested that forgiveness is far more empowering for Indigenous Australians than any apology.

When I read the news stories about the Uluru statement and how it is giving people hope and moving them to tears, I cannot help but think what a low bar there exists for Aboriginal people.

Again, I make this claim on the basis that, so far, I have not seen a clear plan for how the Uluru statement will lead to significantly improved lives for Aboriginal Australians. Shouldn’t the bar be set at focusing on housing, education, employment, and access to modern services?

There are reports that a referendum could occur as early as May 2023. For the key Aboriginal advocates of the Uluru statement who are leading the way, I suggest they develop another statement in the interim.

These advocates are all high achievers themselves and good role models for all Australians. They live in safe and comfortable homes, earn a good income, and know where their next meal is coming from. Perhaps they can give a statement from their hearts of how they have achieved success without the Uluru statement.

I’m guessing the statement would start with something like, “I got an education, worked hard, didn’t keep myself separate from other Australians ...”

Most of these Aboriginal advocates were able to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. But, of course, one’s circumstances play an essential part. Many successful Aboriginal people were either born into circumstances that had opportunities or were able to escape dire circumstances and go where the opportunities were.

For those who are unable to escape the environments that seem cut off from modern society, that will be our greatest challenge.

How does the Uluru statement help them?

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Dr. Anthony Dillon is an honorary fellow at the Institute of Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University. He is a regular commentator on Australian Indigenous affairs and has worked in the field for two decades.
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