Tuesday 17 March 2020
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Uluru Statement


[11.27 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, it was interesting to hear your welcome today to Aboriginal land - the first time we have heard that.  It is a snap for me because I want to talk about a tragically squandered opportunity.  The Uluru Statement from the Heart of 2017 presented an opportunity for the federal government and opportunities for state governments to make dramatic progress in reconciliation between our First Nation people and all Australians.  It sometimes seems that any step toward reckoning with this nation's colonial foundations and genuinely acknowledging the voice of its traditional owners falters.  This is not a new phenomenon.

Almost 200 years after Governor Arthur reflected on the 'fatal error' of not having a treaty with this island's Indigenous peoples, Australia remains the only Commonwealth country never to have reached a treaty with its Aboriginal peoples - the only one.  This is a matter of great shame and continuing harm.  Why haven't we adequately acknowledged the devastating implications of this truth for generations of Aboriginal people?  Why haven't we created space in our parliaments for Aboriginal people to be heard?

As I learnt in a very public way three years ago, the process of reconciliation is not always straightforward.  In 2017, I proposed that my electorate of Rosevears be renamed kanamaluka, the palawa kani name for the Tamar estuary.  This was proposed as an act of reconciliation with our past through the symbolic renaming of my upper House seat.  However, I was to learn that my perspective and the perspective of the traditional custodians are very different, as the Tasmanian Aboriginal Council Chief Executive, Heather Sculthorpe, explained.  I learnt that Aboriginal people, who feel disenfranchised from the political system that now governs their homelands, consider it incongruous to consent to cultural renaming of a political electorate when the system has not changed to become more inclusive of First Nation people.  Despite internal divisions, the Uluru Statement continues to offer the best hope of a solution.

The three key elements to the reform set out in the Uluru Statement involved enshrining a First Nation voice in the Australian Constitution that would empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  They involved a commission to supervise a process of agreement making with Australian governments and to oversee a process of truth-telling about Australia's history and colonisation.  That is a brief summary of what to my mind is a brilliant, almost poetic statement.  I urge everyone to read it and then read it again.

The key phrase, and I will quote, is 'we seek to be heard'.  As far as the federal government was concerned that fell on deaf ears, but the call of the Uluru Statement will not be silenced.  The federal government may refuse to act, but there is evidence the Uluru Statement continues to resonate among ordinary people, the First Australians and those who came later.

The Tasmanian Premier may not be a great dancer - as we saw on television - but his awareness of Tasmanian Indigenous issues was demonstrated at an Indigenous celebration in Launceston last month.  He aluded to the ongoing journey to mend relationships and recognise the past.  He may well prove to be better at reconciliation than he is at dancing, but he had a go.

The Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, Michael Mansell, believes a treaty with the state Government would help right the wrongs carried out on Aboriginal people.  It could result in more land being returned under the Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 and increasing the lower House to 35 seats could open up the opportunity for a permanent Aboriginal seat.  As Aboriginal historian and author Dr Patsy Cameron says, Tasmania already has a treaty made on three separate occasions in 1831 between the colonial government and three Aboriginal leaders which was never honoured by the government, but was never rescinded.

Aunty Patsy says the Tasmanian Parliament should acknowledge the existence of that 1831 treaty to open the way for Aboriginal people and political leaders to consider what a modern-day treaty might look like.  A revised treaty could provide for Aboriginal voices in parliament and it should ensure returns of land to Aboriginal people and honour those promises made in the 1831 treaty.

Veteran journalist Kerry O'Brien told an audience at last year's Logies that the failure to reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia remained one big glaring gap in this nation's history.  While lamenting, and I quote, 'the awful racism this country is capable of', he said the Uluru Statement endorsing a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous representative body offered hope for the future.  Kerry O'Brien concluded, and I will quote again -

We all have an opportunity to make a genuine effort to understand and support what is embodied in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  We like to be seen as one nation made up of many parts. Now is the time to prove it.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is 12 paragraphs long, 439 words.  Three years on, it is an historical Australian document which I am confident will eventually help shape a dynamic new relationship between First Australians and those who came later.