Constitutional recognition is not enough

5 July 2018

The First Nations Governance Forum that while Constitutional recognition had gained momentum in recent times, particularly following the Uluru Statement last year, there are many options and paths to recognition that must be pursued simultaneously.

The forum heard reform was an "oblique process" that must be undertaken on multiple fronts rather like launching an armada and hoping some ships would find land.

However, the participants and speakers were unified that any reforms must be from the grassroots up and be inclusive of the many and varied voices of Indigenous people across the country.

The forum, which included international visitors from North America, Norway, New Zealand and Scandinavia, was designed to seek out practical solutions to help drive the path to recognition.

An outcomes paper from the Forum will be presented to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, which is due to hand down an interim report by the end of July and a final report by November 29.

Among the compelling and practical ideas aired during the forum was for Indigenous people to organise themselves as a political force before the next federal election.

The forum heard that the 2016 election was decided on just a handful of marginal seats, with at least three in Queensland that had sufficient Indigenous voters to be able to swing the election outcome.

It heard that Indigenous voter turnout did not correlate with Australian Electoral Commission statistics, and if local Indigenous people could be persuaded to vote one way or another, it potentially could be sufficient to deliver government to the side that gave strongest support to Indigenous issues.

The forum also heard that the National Congress of Australia's First People had struggled to maintain its political voice after being defunded by the Abbott government in 2014. However, it still had 9000 members, including all the major Indigenous lobby groups, and had the potential to be reinvigorated as a political force.

While the Uluru Statement was still very much front of mind, there was widespread disappointment among forum participants of the federal government's dismissal of it.

However, there remained tensions over timing and division over who's agenda was at its core. Forum co-convenor Mick Dodson said his main priority at the moment was simply to get the government to reopen the doors to having a full-throated discussion.