Essay: ‘The Long Road to Uluru’ by Megan Davis

I enjoy reading essays and articles, and so I’ve decided to write about them on my blog. Apart from the fact that they interest me, one of my criteria for selection is that they are available online or through a State Library library card.

NAIDOC week took place this month, with the theme ‘Voice, Treaty Truth’. This essay by Cobble Cobble woman, Megan Davis,  first appeared in the Griffith Review 60 ‘First Things First’  in April 2018 and it has been recently unlocked on the Griffith Review website in celebration of NAIDOC 2019. In the essay titled  The Long Road to Uluru: Walking together- truth before justice, she goes back to 1999 to describe the last twenty years of fumbling towards substantive and symbolic recognition. She is well placed to write this essay: she is Professor of Law at UNSW and an independent expert on the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She was also heavily involved in the Referendum Council that produced the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which this year’s NAIDOC slogan echoes.

It seems odd to read now of Rudd’s 2008  “2020 Summit” and realize that we’ve almost reached 2020 already. Not long after that summit, Rudd was presented with The Yolngu and Bininj Leaders Statement of Intent which in many ways foreshadowed the Uluru Statement some ten years later.

The old tactic of Delay by Report has been well exercised over the past 35 years:

Australia has amassed many reports on the exigency of structural reforms for Indigenous peoples, including a 1983 Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, a 1988 Constitutional Commission, the post-Mabo Social Justice Package of 1992–95, the 1998 Constitutional Convention, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 2000 and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2003, as well as a 2008 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

In mid-2010 Gillard convened the Expert Panel with representation of a diverse cross-section of Australians and direct representation of all sides of parliament, charged with “leading a broad national consultation and community engagement program to seek the views of a wide spectrum of the community.” After handing up its report, the outgoing Gillard government generously funded the ‘Recognize’ campaign. This might have made white Australians feel better, but neither the Expert Panel Report or the Recognize Campaign had widespread support amongst indigenous Australians. Five years later the Referendum Council was formed, this time with a remit to give Aboriginal people a voice.

This article makes clear the differences between the Expert Panel and the Referendum Council which followed it December 2015 in terms of indigenous participation and findings. It explains how the Regional Dialogues were organized, what happened on the three days of the twelve dialogues held in different locations, and what the priorities were that emerged from these dialogues.  One of the strongest themes that came from the activities planned on the first day was the importance of ‘truth’ and making the indigenous story known to all Australians. Davis refers in particular to the Final Report of the Referendum Council, most especially the section ‘Our Story’ which starts on p. 16 of the text (p.24 of the PDF document)

The Final Report is interesting reading. Appendix D is  Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s essay ‘Rom Watungu: The Law of the Land’ from The Monthly July 2016.  As a shot across the bow on the part of conservative forces, Appendix E is Referendum Council member Amanda Vanstone’s ‘Qualifying Statement’ which has been echoed in recent commentary on Ken Wyatt’s referendum proposal.

I feel a little embarrassed to say that I hadn’t realized the nuances of ‘recognition’ and I had no real idea of how the Uluru Statement came to be written. This essay highlights that the Uluru Statement shouldn’t have come as a surprise, because it was foreshadowed many times when indigenous people were consulted in a meaningful way. It’s a rather depressing thought, although this essay is more optimistic than I am that we will ever to move past the fear and denial that has stymied action in the past.

 

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