Almost 50 years to the day since the history-making 1967 referendum was overwhelmingly passed by the Australian public, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from around Australia have gathered at Uluru to discuss how – and whether – the constitution should be amended to recognise Indigenous people.
The three-day convention follows a series of 12 dialogues held over six months in urban and regional centres around Australia; closed meetings where attendees could feel free to speak their mind on what they see as crucial reasons for or against constitutional recognition.
Overwhelmingly the consensus is that any reform should be meaningful and should achieve long-lasting change for Indigenous people.
Speaking to media before the first day of talks began on Wednesday, Referendum Council co-chair Pat Anderson said the more than 250 delegates had come together “in hope and confidence, with the united desire to achieve change.”
“I personally believe our very survival depends on it.”
The Referendum Council has established a set of about 12 ‘guiding principles’ pulled together from the issues raised during the dialogues which they will use to guide the discussion over the course of the week.
An elected Aboriginal voice to Parliament, constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination at a Federal level and the deletion of a section of the constitution that allows a law to be passed banning people from voting at the state level on the basis of race are among the issues to be discussed during the week.
Ms Anderson said she was “fairly confident” a meaningful discussion could lead to common ground being found between the twelve delegations.
“We are powerless and voiceless in our own lands…and this has to stop.”
If a referendum does go before the public, Ms Anderson said the outcome will “say more about the Australian people than us…because we are asking them to reflect on themselves and their values and principles. What kind of a society are we in the 21st century as opposed to the middle-aged men who wrote the constitution?”