‘Statements from the Soul: The Moral Case for the Uluru Statement from the Heart’ Shireen Morris and Damien Freeman (eds.)

2023, 288 p.

Although the Uluru Statement comes ‘from the heart’, it is not hard to sense its moral force. Religion does not have a monopoly on moral thinking, but this particular volume contains essays from people of faith, speaking about their moral response to the Uluru Statement and talking about the elements of their own faith that have brought them to that position.

In many ways, this is a further step from the statement issued in May 2022, the fifth anniversary of the Uluru Statement, when the leaders of Australia’s major faith communities passed a joint resolution supporting a Voice, and the referendum to bring this about. The statement said:

As leaders representing diverse religious communities, we declare our support of the Uluru Statement and its call for a First Nations Voice guaranteed by the Constitution. We endorse this reform as necessary, right and reasonable. Indigenous Australians must now be afforded their rightful place in the Australian Constitution…We call on political leaders to take immediate bipartisan action to hold a referendum on a First Nations voice.

p. 12-13

As Shireen Morris says in her introduction:

The joint resolution signified the advent of religious communities uniting to speak with one voice on this issue. The significance of the essays in this collection lies in the unique ways in which these different voices advocate. It is important to hear both the unity and diversity of their messages. They reach the same conclusion – support for a First Nations constitutional voice- but through different and illuminating paths.

p. 14

Then follows a series of essays, most about 8-10 pages in length by religious figures writing from their own religious tradition. Many of them come from multi-cultural backgrounds, which reflects the diversity of Australian society. From within Australia there is:

  • Shireen Morris, Fijian-Indian and former ALP candidate, director of the Radical Centre Reform Lab *
  • Stan Grant, Wiradjuri journalist and writer
  • Kanisha Raffel, British-born Australian Anglican bishop of Sri Lankan descent and Anglican Archbishop of Sydney
  • Peter A. Comensoli, Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne
  • Antonios Kaldas, Parish Priest of Archangel Michael and St Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church
  • Sabah Rind, lecturer at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University, fourth generation descendant of a Baluch Afghan cameleer and a Badimaya-Yamatji Aboriginal woman*
  • Fiona Jose, CEO Cape York Partnership with indigenous/Torres Strait Islander/Portuguese identity whose family were Latter Day Saints (Mormons)*
  • Ajmer Singh Gill, Sihk and President of the National Sihk Council
  • Prakruthi Mysore Guraraj – Hindu *
  • Sheik Wesam Charkawi, director of Abu Hanifa Institute, NSW muslim
  • Ralph Genende, Jewish
  • Bhikkhu Sujarto, Theravada Buddhist monk
  • Russell Broadbent, Liberal MP, Christian
  • Karina Okotel, former federal Vice President of Liberal Party*

International contributions are provided by

  • Anthony Ekpo, Rome-based, Vatican
  • David Saperstein, Past President of World Union for Progressive Judaism
  • Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

The collection closes with a conclusion by Damien Freeman, Australia Catholic University

Among such a diverse group of writers, some draw on their own biography; others use the history of their own cultural group in Australia (e.g. connections with Muslim Makassans) while others concentrate more on the teachings and principles of their faith that bring them face-to-face with the moral questions raised by the Uluru Statement. I must confess to feeling a bit uncomfortable about Prakruthi Mysore Guraraj’s somewhat presumptuous claim to insight through the welcome offered to her by the Gunggari Nation, which did not sit well with the other contributions in the book. I found conservative Liberal Party contributor Karina Okotel’s essay rather partisan and mean-spirited, but I enjoyed Liberal MP Russell Broadbent’s contribution interweaving the Beatitudes from the New Testament tradition with the Uluru Statement.

I suppose that any book that draws on ‘major faith traditions’ will, by the nature of formal and often patriarchal religious structures, feature more men than women. But I found the representation of only five women contributors amongst the 18 essays to be very unbalanced. (I have asterisked the female contributors).

And as we head towards this referendum, I guess that it reflects the deeply-regrettable intrusion of the culture wars into something that need not necessarily be partisan. These are generally voices from the conservative side of politics, but as it turns out the question has splintered on both conservative and progressive sides.

For me, the referendum is a moral question, and an appeal to the soul just as much to the heart and head. I can see what this book is doing by appealing to religious leaders, but other groups in society have their own moral response as well. I hope that we hear more of that too.

My rating: 7/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

One response to “‘Statements from the Soul: The Moral Case for the Uluru Statement from the Heart’ Shireen Morris and Damien Freeman (eds.)

  1. I’m going to vote yes, but I really think that they should split the question into two: the first part authorising the recognition of First Nations in the Constitution which I think *everyone* would vote for, and the second part about the Voice. Because that would split the No campaign, and the worst case scenario is that the first would carry and the second didn’t because of quibbles about “executive government”. Which is better than the whole thing failing which would be devastating. And they could always legislate the Voice in the Parliament anyway.

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