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Uluru Statement From the Heart

Category: Event
Date: 23-26 May 2017
Sub Category:Declaration


State/Country:Northern Territory, Australia
Subject Matter: | Law - Policy and Justice | Leadership | Recognition Agreement / Acknowledgement
Summary Information:

The Uluru Statement from the Heart (the Statement) was issued from the lands of the Anangu people at the First Nations National Constitutional Convention. The Statement proposes substantive and structural reform, as well as a pathway for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution. It calls for three broad national reforms of 'voice, treaty and truth'. These reforms comprise a First Nations Voice to Australian Parliament (voice) and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making (treaty) and truth-telling (truth).

The full Statement was delivered to the Australian Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on 30 June 2017 as part of the Referendum Council's report. The Referendum Council, which had been established with bipartisan political support in 2015, noted their consensus view that 'these recommendations for constitutional and extra-constitutional recognition are modest, reasonable, unifying and capable of attracting the necessary support of the Australian people' (Referendum Council, 2017, iv - 3).

Detailed Information:


The Statement represents a historic consensus of Indigenous leaders calling for structural reform, including constitutional change.

In 2010, following an election promise and with bipartisan support, the Hon. Julia Gillard formed an Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution (the Expert Panel). The Expert Panel was tasked with reporting to the Federal Government on the options for constitutional change most likely to gain widespread support in a referendum. The Expert Panel presented its recommendations in 2012 (the Expert Panel, 2012). 

The Recognise campaign was formed in 2012 as a result of these recommendations from the Expert Panel, aiming to fill the need for a 'properly resourced' education and awareness campaign (Brennan, 2017). Over 2012-17, the multi-million-dollar campaign attracted over 180 supporting partners, including major airlines and sports teams. However, Recognise received backlash from some communities as it was seen to be campaigning for change before consultation with Indigenous groups began (Brennan, 2017).

Following a change in government, the Hon. Tony Abbott formed the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 2013, again with the intent of moving toward a referendum.

The Referendum Council was later formed in 2015 by the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull and the Hon. Bill Shorten. The Referendum Council created a discussion paper building on the work from both the Expert Panel and the Joint Select Committee, as well as extensive dialogue with Indigenous communities (Referendum Council, 2017). This paper supported the development of the Uluru Statement.

The Uluru Statement built on six months of First Nation dialogues where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around Australia considered options for constitutional reform and recognition. The 12 First Nations dialogues and the First Nations National Constitutional Convention were designed to empower a consensus position on Indigenous constitutional recognition, a process described as 'the most proportionally significant consultation process that has ever been undertaken with First Peoples' (Referendum Council, 2017, pp. iv, 10; Uluru Statement, 2020).

The Statement was adopted by delegates at the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in May 2017 and is directed to the Australian public. The Statement explains that 'with substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe [our] ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia's nationhood'.

The Statement calls for:

1. First Nations Voice to Parliament (Voice)

The Statement calls for 'the establishment of a First Nations voice enshrined in the Constitution'. It would be a 'permanent institution for expressing First Nations' views to the parliament and government on important issues affecting First Nations' (Uluru Statement, 2020).

While the Statement does not define the exact form of the Voice, the Voice would enable formal consultation on legislation and policy affecting First Nations peoples. The Referendum Council explains that 'a constitutionally entrenched Voice appealed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities because of the history of poor or nonexistent consultation with communities by the Commonwealth' (Referendum Council, 2017, p. 14).

2. Makarrata Commission (Treaty, Truth)

Makarrata is a Yolgnu word that represents 'the coming together after a struggle'; the Statement states it is 'the culmination of our agenda. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination'.

The Makarrata Commission would operate like a non-binding tribunal and support agreement-making processes at a national level and regionally with First Nations. It would also support a process of 'truth-telling': 'a process that allows the full extent of the past injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be uncovered' and understanding, supporting a move towards genuine reconciliation (Uluru Statement, 2020).

This reform would require legislative support, but does not require a constitutional change.

Responses to the Uluru Statement from the Heart:

Responses to the Statement have been varied. Many view the Statement as representing historic consensus and collaboration of Indigenous communities across Australia.

For example, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner stated at the National Native Title Conference that '... the Uluru Statement carves out a path for change and we need that to be embraced by our fellow Australians and our political leaders' (Oscar, 2017).

The Statement has gained broad support from major commercial interests, such as the prominent mining companies BHP and Rio Tinto, who released a joint statement in 2019 endorsing the statement. Rio Tinto's managing director Joanne Farrell stated that 'national conversations around constitutional reform must continue as a priority for our country' (Australian Associated Press, 2019).

The Medical Journal of Australia endorsed the Statement in 2018, writing that 'health is integral to the spirit of all cultures; it is underpinned by social determinants obligating recognition, understanding and complete cultural awareness as identified in the Uluru Statement' (Talley, 2018).

In addition to these peak bodies, leading Australian constitutional lawyer and Dean of Law at the University of NSW Professor George Williams observed that the Statement 'is an important and long overdue expression of what Aboriginal people want from constitutional reform. It is a welcome, but very different perspective to earlier processes. The formidable challenge now is to work from this statement to reach a set of changes to the constitution that can win support from the community at large and across the political divide' (Williams, 2017).

However, not all responses have supported the Uluru Statement.

In 2018, Professor of Law, Irene Watson, a Tanganekald and Meitangk Boandik woman, asked 'why would we need to be reborn as legitimate beings of the Australian Constitution if the outcome were to journey with all other Australians to a place of disconnect from our land and laws and songs?' (Watson, 2018).

In a joint statement with the Attorney General, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull rejected the proposal of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, stating that it was 'neither desirable nor capable of winning acceptance in a referendum' (Turnbull in Wahlquist, 2017).

This 2017 decision to reject the Statement was heavily criticized by many, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander supporters, the legal community, and other political parties (Law Council of Australia, 2017).

The Uluru Statement in 2020:

The Statement is now available in over 60 different languages. Executive producer of NITV radio Kerri Lee Harding, a Koa, Kanolu, Juru and Wulgurukaba woman stated 'I think there is a connection between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people from multicultural communities as we all know what it's like to feel like we're a minority' (Harding in Dunn, 2020).

Related Entries

  • The Barunga Agreement
  • Event
  • Barunga Statement

  • References

    General Reference
    Referendum Council (2017) Final Report of the Referendum Council
    Daniel McKay (19 June 2017) Uluru Statement: a quick guide
    Nicholas J Talley (2 July 2018) The Medical Journal of Australia endorses the Uluru Statement
    Conference Paper
    June Oscar (7 June 2017) June Oscar: We already have 1000s of treaties, lets take Uluru statement to referendum
    Journal Article
    Irene Watson (2018) Aboriginal Recognition: Treaties and Colonial Constitutions, 'We Have Been Here Forever..."
    Media Release
    Law Council of Australia (1 November 2017) Referendum rejection profoundly disappointing, constitutional reform must advance
    News Item
    Bridget Brennan (11 August 2017) Recognise campaign ends after making 'significant contribution'
    Australian Associated Press (31 January 2019) BHP and Rio Tinto join push for Indigenous voice to Parliament
    George Williams (May 28 2017) Uluru statement offers up a different set of priorities
    Calla Wahlquist (26 October 2017) Indigenous voice proposal 'not desirable', says Turnbull
    The Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution (January 2012) Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution: Report of the Expert Panel
    The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (June 2015) Final Report
    SBS Radio (2020) Uluru Statement from the Heart in Your Language
    Uluru Statement (2017) Uluru Statement from the Heart Website


    The Uluru Statment from the Heart - ( PDF)


    Declaration | Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Australia)

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