1190

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Submission Number
1190
Participant
Andrew Barnum
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

Submission: Stage 2 Co-Design process March 2021
Constitutional Recognition of
The Voice of The Uluru Statement from the Heart
Andrew Barnum

What I am proposing is that Nationalism has to be understood, by aligning it not with self-
consciously held political ideologies, but with large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which —
as well as against which — it came into being. (Anderson 1983)

When Australians are faced with a statement as honest and truthful as the Uluru Statement
of the Heart, they are taken aback by the sincerity and authenticity of its determination.
Culturally, ‘Australia’ has historically seen such expressions as unsettling to its modern,
post-colonial image of ‘Anglo’ identity and security. In short, they may not question the
statement’s honesty, but remain insecure and uncertain about its purpose or intent.

This is arguably an embedded scepticism bred from our contested beginnings and the
hegemony of colonial power structures. Too many Australians defer their reaction, made
socially uncertain about their response to an issue that has been in dispute since the birth of
the colony of New South Wales in 1788. During these 233 years, the nation’s cultural instinct
has been systematically coded to avoid this insistent contest – preferring to let it slide into
the ‘too hard basket’ or forgetfully kicking the can down the road. In 1968 W.E.H. Stanner
gave his Boyer lectures where he summarised this intuitively ‘Australian’ slip of memory:

It is a structural matter, a view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a
whole quadrant of the landscape. What may well have begun as a simple forgetting of other
possible views turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness
practised on a national scale. (Stanner, 1968 Boyer Lecture)

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is intended as a welcoming gift. To invite all Australians
to recall and correct their cultural indecision. The first reminder from The Uluru Statement
states:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of
the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own
laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture,
from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and
according to science more than 60,000 years ago

Submission | Constitutional Recognition of the Voice of The Uluru Statement from the Heart | Andrew Barnum | March 2021 1
This gesture is not a demand. It is a statement of historical fact. The Voice of The Statement
then goes on to confirm its honest intent of creating an understanding for all Australians to
co-exist on this continent. This is an overture to recognise that any ownership of this land is
‘an assumption’ declared by an experienced British colonial mindset informed by the legal
concept of ‘Terra Nullius’:

Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning “land belonging to no one”. British colonisation and
subsequent Australian land laws were established on the claim that Australia was terra
nullius, justifying acquisition by British occupation without treaty or payment. This effectively
denied Indigenous people’s prior occupation of and connection to the land.
(The Mabo Case Decision | Terra Nullius | Australians Together, 2021)

This ‘assumption of ownership’ was legally tested and overturned by the Mabo Case in 1991
(Australians Together, 2021) a landmark decision that overturned Terra Nullius in favour of
indigenous people’s land rights. The Voice of The Statement re-enforces that ruling, but
castes indigenous connection to this continent in a different transactional light. This deeper
relationship to country and custom are conditions regarding ownership of the sovereignty of
ancestral soil, not real estate. From the Uluru Statement:

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother
nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born
therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united
with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of
sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the
sovereignty of the Crown.

I believe that the most profound bequest of The Voice of the Uluru Statement is the promise
of cultural recognition as an appeal to ‘complete’ ourselves as fully formed citizens through
binding our modern understanding of being an Australian to an ancient one. (Pearson 2021)

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this
ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s
nationhood.

Noel Pearson translates this passage best: ‘Australia doesn't make sense without
recognition, Australia is incomplete without recognition’ (Pearson, 2021).

Submission | Constitutional Recognition of the Voice of The Uluru Statement from the Heart | Andrew Barnum | March 2021 2
The simplicity of this transformative cue points to ‘closing the gap’ of understanding between
all Australians, not only as a measurement of a Federal initiative’s goal (Closing The Gap,
2021), but as recognition of a malignant absence of cultural reparation. This irresolution has
scarred our nation’s multi-cultural identities at home and globally. Our reticence and
cultural indecision is underlined through shameful data:

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an
innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at
unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our
youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the
future.

The Voice of the Uluru Statement from the Heart seeks to remove cultural obstacles and
broaden Australia’s understanding of its future self. Here it offers an honest clarity of
purpose. Without recognition of The Voice we remain adrift from the collective compact of
Australia’s multi-national ‘imagined community’ (Anderson 1983). Pearson concludes:

How could there be an Australia without its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Indigenous
peoples? As long as its Indigenous peoples remain unrecognised, then Australia is an
absurdity, a nation missing its most vital heart. Indifference and denial might have worked in
the past but plainly today there are far too many Australians determined to stand with
Indigenous peoples in rejecting the old idea of Australia. It's a disgrace they [the government]
have opposed truth telling and the talks about treaty, and if we had a voice we think that
would make it much harder for them to say no to things that are so obvious that this nation
should achieve. (Pearson 2021)

Senator Pat Dobson, another one of our most tireless indigenous advocates, also reiterates
the glaring inevitability of this moment:

Begin the truth-telling process so the stories here that everyone could tell you get well and
truly understood in the public space, so we don't have to pussy foot around with more and
more delays waiting for someone to come to the numbers in the backbench. This government,
whether it's got an appetite or not, it's got an obligation, a clear obligation given to it by the '67
referendum to occupy the space if necessary, to pass laws in favour of First Nations people in
collaboration with states. (Dodson in Pearson 2021)

The Voice has made the obligation for all Australians crystal clear. This is not ‘a third-
chamber of government’ as unjustifiably stated as a coded cultural reflex by Prime Minister’s
Malcolm Turnbull and then Scott Morrison (Karp, 2021).

Submission | Constitutional Recognition of the Voice of The Uluru Statement from the Heart | Andrew Barnum | March 2021 3
This is about recognition and acceptance of inescapable facts to stabilise a whole-hearted
national identity, and the promise of a treaty to end the 233 year-old contest of ancestral
custodianship. The Voice seeks to address a cultural imbalance that has dogged our national
cultural progression for far too long:

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem.
This is the torment of our powerlessness.

By enshrining The Voice in our Australian constitution, a newly completed cohort of
Australians will inspire and celebrate a coming of age. Not tinkering at the edges of a
recalcitrant understanding, but coming clean with ourselves as honest Australians, and
placing a revised determination at the core of our citizenship.

This proclamation is both an endowment and a validation of indigenous people’s legitimate
claim for a stake in our collective future that’s been hard-won. The process of truth-telling
has already begun with State Governments instituting the Makaratta process (Treaty in
Victoria | Victorian Government, 2021). The proposition of the voice’s invitation is a
nationally compelling cultural moment that we dare not avoid. I encourage every citizen of
this country to get behind this unifying movement and walk The Voice of the Uluru
Statement of the Heart into our Australian Constitution for future generations. Accept this
generous gift of future nationhood with honesty, gratitude and optimism.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in
our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish.
They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle.
It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of
Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-
determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making
between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

Submission | Constitutional Recognition of the Voice of The Uluru Statement from the Heart | Andrew Barnum | March 2021 4
References
Anderson, B, (1936, 1983) Imagined Communities, Verso, London
Australianstogether.org.au. 2021. The Mabo Case Decision | Terra Nullius | Australians Together.
[online] Available at: <https://australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/mabo-nat…-
title/> [Accessed 20 March 2021].
Closingthegap.gov.au. 2021. Home | Closing The Gap. [online] Available at:
<https://www.closingthegap.gov.au/&gt; [Accessed 21 March 2021].
Karp, P., 2021. Scott Morrison claims Indigenous voice to parliament would be a third chamber.
[online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-
news/2018/sep/26/scott-morrison-claims-indigenous-voice-to-parliament-would-be-a-third-
chamber> [Accessed 20 March 2021].
Pearson, N., 2021. Noel Pearson says Australia 'incomplete' without constitutional recognition of
First Nations people. [online] Abc.net.au. Available at: <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-
17/noel-pearson-speech-indigenous-constitutional-recognition/13256956> [Accessed 18 March
2021].
Stanner, W, E, H, (1968) The great Australian silence, ABC Boyer Lectures

Andrew Barnum

Submission | Constitutional Recognition of the Voice of The Uluru Statement from the Heart | Andrew Barnum | March 2021 5