Australia’s Makarrata Moment

Indigenous leaders meeting in Uluru have rejected calls for mere recognition in Australia’s constitution and instead have proposed a formal treaty with Australia’s indigenous people.

The Uluru Statement calls for Makarrata, a Yolngu word meaning “coming together after a struggle.”

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. In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

The idea is noble, a treaty is needed, a treaty would mean much more than token recognition, but enshrining into the constitution how our first peoples are the true founders of Australia’s political and social life and providing a voice for them in Australia’s legislative process.

The question is, what would a treaty look like, and will the Australian people accept it? If a treaty is proposed in a referendum and if it is knocked back, that will set indigenous relations back two or three generations. There is much to gain here, but a high risk as well!

I agree with Barnaby Joyce that adding an indigenous chamber will not work as a tri-cameral legislature will make our already combative and gridlocked parliamentary process even slower and more stifling than they already are. Thankfully, that is not what seems to be envisaged by the framers of the Uluru statement. More likely, they are suggesting the establishment of a permanent council of representatives to advise the government on indigenous issues – a bit like the old ATSIC – which is not a bad idea.

Indigenous recognition, a treaty, and establishing a representative council are things that should be supported by both sides of the aisle as well as by independents.

One can hope that our political leaders will put aside their differences and come together to argue the case for a treaty, a bi-partisan effort to unite in a campaign for recognition and partnership with our first peoples, and to ensure a better future for all indigenous Australians.

Australia needs this Makarrata moment!

If anyone doubts the necessity and legitimacy of the treaty, I urge them to read Noel Pearson’s piece in The Australia on the Uluru Statement.

As Australians, our shared sense of oikophilia unites us: this is the patriotism that propels us to strive for our country and community. The First Peoples also carry this love: we have an ancient, pre-colonial connection to this land. This attachment to our country, our tribe and our kin is exactly why the First Peoples want a voice in our affairs — because no one is better placed to strive for the betterment of our people and our communities than we ourselves, because we have our own best interests at heart more than any government ever could. The Uluru Statement from the Heart confirms that constitutional recognition must ensure the forgotten peoples, the peoples wrongfully omitted from the constitutional compact, a voice in our affairs. This would extend the principles of mutual respect and comity to Australia’s relationship with the First Peoples of this land. It is a proposition that Australian can accept.

  • Ian Teh

    I don’t believe it is a good idea. I used to be a Malaysian – a country with enshrined constitutional rights to a group of people which is different and exclusive to that group. It remains a divisive issue in that country. I believe all citizens should be equally protected by our fundamental law, with no special rights to special groups. All should have one voice. No one should be given an additional voice. I don’t believe that is the way to go to give our disadvantaged fellow Australians a leg up.