Convention in Uluru to discuss Indigenous recognition

The meeting follows consultations around the country, led by the federal government-appointed Referendum Council.


But not all delegates say they support constitutional recognition.

The Referendum Council is an advisory body to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader regarding a proposed referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition.

Starting May 24, it will hold a First Nations convention in Uluru to discuss potential reforms to the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians.

Referendum Council co-chairman Mark Leibler says he believes it is a very important process.

“It is a very significant summit, because it is the first time that this sort of process, owned by, designed by and held by the leadership of Indigenous Australians, has ever been put together in this country. And I think what will emerge from this is not only the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in terms of constitutional recognition, but also a vision for the future and perhaps the stepping stone for resetting the relationships between Indigenous Australians and future governments.”

The Council has held a dozen consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia over recent months.

Communities have been providing their views on what they believe is needed in any constitutional reforms.

Referendum Council member and professor Megan Davis has told the ABC the Uluru summit will bring together those ideas.

“Some of the things that will be spoken about are things that people have asked for since the late 1800s, in relation to an enhanced participation in an Australian liberal democracy, for example. They are things that have, for a long time, been a part of Aboriginal advocacy for legal and political reform. The dialogues have discussed that in a kind of structured way, and then, you know, Uluru will be a discussion where all of the dialogues come together — 300-odd people — to discuss that further.”

After the convention, an official statement on the preferred model of constitutional recognition will be presented to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

But neither the meeting nor the council has unanimous support from Indigenous communities.

Delegates such as Robbie Thorpe, who will attend the summit, say they do not want constitutional recognition.

“Recognition in this context for Aboriginal people is just so offensive and insulting. People have got no idea what’s going on here, I believe. And that’s not recognition. That’s having things imposed on us, as usual.”

Mr Thorpe says his communities want a treaty instead.

“We want treaty justice first. We don’t want to be a part of the racist, white-only constitution that denied us our humanity and our human rights for the last hundred years. We demand a treaty. And what is a treaty? Treaty, for me, means an end of a war, an acknowledgement of it — you know, who spilt their blood defending this country from invasion. Treaty would demonstrate some sort of good intent, wouldn’t it?”

Mark Leibler, with the council, says constitutional recognition and a treaty can co-exist.

“They are two different things, and there’s a legitimate space for both of them — for both treaty, or treaties, or agreement-making, on the one hand and, also, constitutional recognitions on the other hand. One deals with agreements, the other one deals with the constitution. So they’re not in conflict with each other, and they can sit side-by-side.”