Human rights lawyer Father Frank Brennan has urged Australians to put their faith in current Indigenous members of Parliament to find the right words for a referendum on constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Highlighting the significance of having a minister and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians who are both Aboriginal, Fr Brennan said “at least we’ve now reached the stage where Aboriginal aspirations can be expressed in Parliament by Aboriginal people themselves.”
“There are Aboriginal voices in our Parliament regardless of what is absent from our Constitution,” he told the Jesuit Education Conference held at St Ignatius’ College in Adelaide this week.
“If we can get agreement amongst Ken Wyatt, Pat Dodson, Linda Burney, Malandirri McCarthy and Jacqui Lambie about a form of words to put to the people at a referendum on Aboriginal recognition in the Constitution, I would be happy to endorse it sight unseen,” Fr Brennan said.
“They are the ones who are not going to sell out their mob, they know how politics works and they know what’s achievable within the nation state.”
In May 2017 a gathering of 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people signed the Uluru Statement from the Heart calling for the Parliament to enshrine a First Nations representative body to advise on policy which affected Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt addressed the National Press Club on Tuesday 9 July and said he wanted to find a consensus way forward on constitutional recognition and hoped to hold a referendum within three years to achieve it.
The first Indigenous person to hold the portfolio, Mr Wyatt said he would work with his Opposition counterpart Linda Burney, parliamentary colleagues from all sides and the community to find “the right set of words” to present to Australia.
He told journalists the concept of the ‘voice’ in the Uluru Statement was not a singular voice.
“I perceive it as a cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians at all levels, who want to be heard by those who make the decisions that impact on their lives,” he said.
“The development of a local, regional and national voice will be achieved. It is my intention to work with the state and territory ministers to develop an approach – underpinned with existing jurisdictional Indigenous organisations and advisory structures.
“The national interest requires a new relationship with Indigenous Australians. My regional managers will be required to make this happen.”
Fr Brennan presented at the conference his own threefold suggestion for amending the Constitution which he has refined since first referring to it in the 2017 Lowitja Oration for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.
It includes, firstly, repealing the outdated, unused section 25 which allows the states to discriminate on the basis of race when prescribing the conditions for elections to state parliaments and, secondly, placing an acknowledgement of the First Peoples at the beginning of the Constitution.
The third and most contentious point relates to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council which “may request the Parliament to enact a law providing protection or support for one or more of the cultures, languages and heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and their continuing relationship with their land and waters; and may advise the Parliament of the effect which a law has or is likely to have or which a proposed law if enacted would be likely to have on the cultures, languages and heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and their continuing relationship with their traditional lands and waters”.
Fr Brennan said the theme of this year’s Aboriginal Sunday (July 7) was ‘Peace to this house and all who dwell within’ and asked “how can we say these words honestly, with feeling, and as a prayer for each other and for our country”.
“Let’s commit ourselves to peace and respectful dialogue as we continue the quest for how best to acknowledge and include all Australians at the table, starting with those who rightly claim the longest heritage in this land,” he concluded.
Jenny Brinkworth is the Editor of The Southern Cross and Director, Catholic Communications, for the Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Republished with permission from The Southern Cross.