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Reconciliation Week and the Uluru Statement from the Heart

Reconciliation Week and the Uluru Statement from the Heart

By Law Institute of Victoria



“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard” – Uluru Statement from the Heart

This week is National Reconciliation Week and the theme is “Let’s take the next step”. National Reconciliation Week celebrates two significant legal events in Australia’s history – the 1967 referendum where more than 90 per cent of the population voted to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recognise them in the national census, and the High Court Mabo decision which overturned the legal fiction of “terra nullius”. 

While 50 years have passed since the historic 1967 referendum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have yet to receive justice for the dispossession of their lands and the irreparable damage caused to their culture.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain the most incarcerated people in the world. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up only 2.3 per cent of the population, yet they account for 27.4 per cent of all prisoners. A recent report from PwC on Aboriginal Incarceration shows that an annual saving of $19 billion could be achieved by 2040 if the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal rates of incarceration were closed. The United Nations has reported that mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is on par with some of the world’s most impoverished nations.

Notably, Australia also remains one of the only developed nations in the world without a treaty with its first peoples.

The Law Institute of Victoria recognises that addressing the injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities requires self-determination and representation in positions of decision making.

Last Friday, on National Sorry Day, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from around Australia met in Uluru to discuss Constitutional Recognition. Aboriginal leaders outright rejected the idea of mere recognition in the Constitution, instead calling for a representative body to be enshrined in the nation’s founding document and a process be established for working towards treaties.

Three days of discussion resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart which calls for:

  • the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution
  • a Makarrata Commission (Makarrata is the coming together after a struggle) to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations.

Victoria is proudly leading the way towards a treaty, with the state government having recently committed $28.5 million to help lay the groundwork for treaty negotiations and ensure Aboriginal Victorians are at the center of this process. This landmark investment includes funding for the development of a new representative body and development of a self-determination plan.

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