Final Report of the Referendum Council
“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”.
This was both the headline message and theme of the much anticipated Final Report of the Referendum Council issued on 30 June 2017 (Final Report), having been commissioned by the leaders of the Federal Government and Opposition roughly 18 months earlier to lead the process that would give a voice in parliament to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Referendum Council (Council) was established by Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Shorten in December 2015, and for the first time in Australia’s history joined together both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members and non-indigenous members from a range of expert fields and backgrounds in a formal Constitutional Convention. We reported on this in our August newsletter edition.
The guiding principles that became framework for the National Constitutional Convention were drawn from the First Nations Regional Dialogues (Dialogues). These engaged 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander delegates nationally, and clearly showed the desire of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to move beyond gestures and symbolism to enjoy a level of influence commensurate with their sovereign status as the first peoples of Australia.
In its Final Report, the Council revealed 93% of the 1,111 public submissions received in response to its reform proposals supported the inclusion of an Indigenous voice in Parliamentary decision making in relation to Indigenous affairs, and 91% of submissions supported a statement acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia.
Using the Dialogues as the decision making framework, the Council put forward a single recommendation for constitutional amendment:
That a referendum be held to provide in the Australian Constitution for a body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament.
The Council found that the other matters of great importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be more appropriately addressed outside of the Constitution, being:
An extra-constitutional statement of recognition;
The establishment of a Makarrata (‘Treaty’) Commission; and
A process to facilitate truth-telling to both recognise and address the wars, massacres and systematic abuse against the First Peoples of Australia by colonial forces.
In a joint statement of response to the Final Report issued on 26 October 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis acknowledged the aspirations “which lie at the heart of the Uluru Statement”, but rejected the single recommendation of the Council because of their strongly held views that such a proposal had no real prospect of succeeding at referendum.
The Final Report can be accessed here: https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/final-report
Nathan Gately, Solicitor
Josephine Heesh, Partner