Last month marked five years since the Uluru Statement From the Heart was gifted to the Australian people; a consensus call from First Nations to fundamentally change this nation for the better, by removing structural barriers to our success, giving us a Voice over our own affairs, and putting us on a pathway to a better nation.
With the election of an Albanese government, we now have a chance at fulfilling the ambitions of the delegates at Uluru, and changing this country for the better.
The Albanese government is the first federal government to support the Uluru Statement From the Heart in full, and has promised a referendum on enshrining a Voice to Parliament within the current term.
Hopefully this is a promise which can be realised sooner rather than later; the Uluru Dialogue has proposed dates in 2023 and early 2024 that a referendum can be held on, including May 27, 2023, the 56th and 6th anniversaries of the 1967 referendum and the Uluru Statement respectively.
All data before us shows that a referendum is more than likely to be extremely successful, and pass the hurdle that is the double-majority requirement for changes to our constitution. The Australian people are ready for this moment, and the time is now for change.
It almost cannot be described the ways a First Nations Voice, alongside the other reforms proposed in the Uluru Statement, would change the way we as a nation not only conduct politics, but also how the nation acts in relation to us, First Nations peoples.
These reforms, despite what some would have you believe, do not cede First Nations sovereignty to the state, or weaken our culture and law. Nor would they create a separate class of citizen for First Nations people, or be an illiberal undemocratic change to our political system.
We need to make sure the Albanese government remains committed to a First Nations Voice.
What a First Nations Voice to Parliament, were it to be successful, would deliver us is a fundamental change to the balance of power between First Nations and the state, as well as a re-ordering of the political constituencies the Parliament would be accountable to. No longer would we as sovereign First Nations peoples lack a seat at the table on issues which affect us, nor would we be hampered at the negotiating table with government when discussing things like land rights or treaty.
Also never again would government be able ignore our voices and our views on everything from healthcare to the environment to foreign policy. We would have a voice, pardon the pun, to advocate for ourselves like never before.
All of this is why a referendum is so essential, and is part of the vision for a better Australia that the delegates at Uluru called for in 2017, and that the Albanese government hopefully sees. We need to make sure they remain committed to this vision also.
There are challenges to both the conduct of a referendum, and the implementation of a Voice, should a referendum succeed.
The first of these is with the Parliament. It is not clear where the Coalition now stands on the issue of a referendum during the next term, though if their past performance is to be any indication of a future outcome, we cannot count on their support. The loss of a conservative case for change, and there is one, will be a loss for the nation, but ultimately I believe not harm the ultimate chances of the referendum passing Parliament, or succeeding at the ballot box.
The Parliament is also much more fractured now, with a large number of independents, and the growth of minor parties such as the Greens. Many of these newly elected members have indicated strong support for a referendum on a Voice, including the re-elected Helen Haines and Zali Steggall, as well as many of the new "teal independents", including Dr Monique Ryan. The Greens have had issues with regards to a Voice, and some in the Labor camp have expressed concerns, but the Greens have signalled they will support a referendum, and I do believe their failure to support it would be a political wound.
The Australian people have also shown consistently that they support a referendum, and support a Voice. According to data from ABC's Vote Compass, 73 per cent of Australians support constitutional change, a growth of 9 per cent from 2016, and data from UNSW shows 90 per cent of First Nations people also support a referendum.
Furthermore, support has risen amongst not just Labor and Greens voters, but Coalition voters also. The community is ready to walk with us on this change, in strong numbers.
The election of the Albanese government was a mandate by Australians for change. There is no more necessary change than the one before us here.
First Nations have been excluded from the political system, and society. A referendum in this term of Parliament to enshrine a First Nations Voice is the essential and necessary first step on the journey to true change, and the true advancement of First Nations peoples. To delay is to risk our futures. We must make sure that the new government, as well as all the others in the Parliament who have supported this issue honour their commitments to support this referendum, and seeing it through.
The time is now. History is calling.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.