The Uluru Statement: Albanese’s Improbable Project

The Uluru Statement: Albanese’s Improbable Project
Activists take part in an 'Invasion Day' rally at Town Hall in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2022. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Gabriël Moens
The new Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, in his first statement in office, committed his government to the implementation in full of the Uluru Statement from the Heart (pdf).

The statement calls “for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.” It captures the Indigenous people’s “aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future ... based on justice and self-determination.” It claims that, provided Indigenous Australians have power over their destiny, their children “will flourish,” and they “will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.” The statement recognises the distinctiveness of Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of Australia.

Although the language of the statement may inspire various interest groups, it is a troubling jumble of vague and indeterminate concepts, such as sovereignty, justice, self-determination, and a “fair and truthful relationship” with the Australian people. These concepts mean what governments and people want them to mean. Nevertheless, the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is supported by all major religious bodies in Australia, and Albanese’s ruling Labor Party.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was adopted at an Aboriginal National Constitutional Convention held on May 17, 2017.

It demands that a representative Voice for the Indigenous people be established, which the Australian Parliament would need to consult before adopting laws and policies affecting their people. The Voice would also involve the establishment of the Makarrata Commission, responsible for the making of agreements with Australian governments and overseeing a process of truth-telling about Australia’s history.

The previous Coalition governments did not accept the recommendation to enshrine the Voice in the Constitution. Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison viewed the enshrinement of the Voice into the Constitution as inevitably involving the creation of a third Chamber of Parliament.

Considering that the Voice would be an advisory body, the advice of which would not be binding, this sentiment may be an example of overreach. However, the main obstacle is section 128 of the Constitution which requires the majority of all electors, and the majority of all electors in a majority of the states for a law to be passed on to the Governor-General. This requirement of a double majority is a formidable hurdle to overcome.

A boy of the Yaama Boys Aboriginal dance group performs a welcoming ceremony ahead of an ANZAC day service at Redfern in Sydney, Australia, on April 25, 2021. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
A boy of the Yaama Boys Aboriginal dance group performs a welcoming ceremony ahead of an ANZAC day service at Redfern in Sydney, Australia, on April 25, 2021. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Moreover, the establishment of the Voice unavoidably involves the granting of special privileges to one group merely on the ground of the race of its members. The distribution of societal benefits based on a person’s race, which is an incident of birth, constitutes a repudiation of governments’ stated objective to create a society where a person’s race is irrelevant.

This proposal may also require the drafting of rules to determine group membership, which would lead to intractable problems associated with attempts to prove membership of a group.

The sponsors of the Voice may sidestep this difficulty by arguing that its establishment has everything to do with “disadvantage,” which itself may be the result of past racial discrimination. Such an allegation certainly has merit, but it still raises the question of why one disadvantaged group, among others, is the recipient of special and preferred treatment.

The influence of Aboriginal activism on public policy can also be seen in other societal developments. Australia has recently witnessed the woke removal (or even destruction) of offending “racist” statues.

An example is the removal, on May 24, of a controversial Captain James Cook statue—a landmark since 1972—from Sheridan Street in Cairns. Not only is the statue regarded by the First Nations lobby as a symbol of Aboriginal dispossession, but Cook’s outstretched hand also reminds people of the hated Nazi greeting.

Additionally, an increasing number of major corporations and businesses have uncritically embraced the agenda of the Indigenous bandwagon.

Returning from a trip to Perth, I was amazed to find that the flight information system at the airport gate not only announced the city of destination but also the Aboriginal name for the place, alternating constantly between the city’s name and the Aboriginal place name (for example “Wurundjeri” for Melbourne and “Turrbal” for Brisbane).

Protesters take part in an "Invasion Day" demonstration on Australia Day in Sydney on January 26, 2022. (Steven Saphore/AFP)
Protesters take part in an "Invasion Day" demonstration on Australia Day in Sydney on January 26, 2022. (Steven Saphore/AFP)

The soccer A-Ligue final, televised on May 28, was preceded by the “Welcome to Country” ritual, which has nothing to do with sport, but now seems to have become a mandatory part of any sporting and cultural event.

And Australia is celebrating National Reconciliation Week from May 27 to June 3. It is doubtful that “reconciliation” is the right word to use because it perpetuates, rather than resolves, the continuing conflict between settlers and the Indigenous population.

This is not to say that all Aboriginals are in favour of the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Indeed, there are Indigenous citizens who believe that a focus on the merely symbolic nature of the Voice is artificial and is not likely to bring about substantial improvements in the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Australia needs to implement the principle of equality of opportunity.

Of course, the proponents of the Uluru Statement from the Heart believe that the history of dispossession and loss of culture make it impossible for Aboriginals to compete on equal terms. However, this is not an argument in favour of preferential treatment; instead, it is an argument in favour of fashioning meaningful and effective measures that result in the implementation of equality of opportunity, involving the removal of all impediments to indigenous progress.

Political commentator Peta Credlin indicated on Sky News Australia that the call for a Voice constitutes “revisionism of our past” and that a referendum is unlikely to be successful. If so, the Uluru Statement that invites Australians “to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future” is an improbable expression of hope and a difficult task for the new prime minister.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States.
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