Voice of Real Australia: Well, I heard it on the radio and I saw it on the television

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Mount Isa-based Derek Barry.

One of the great tragedies of recent Australian politics was the failure to take action on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The 2017 statement, delivered by First Nation people from across Australia, offered a way forward to conduct long overdue action on problems that afflict our country's least prosperous citizens.

It was the first time Indigenous Australia had come together to tell the rest of us exactly what it wanted and they delivered a passionate but measured statement in just 417 words.

"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," the statement read.

It called for a "Makarrata" an Arnhem Land Yolngu language word meaning "coming together after a struggle".

The closest concept in English would be "treaty" but that remains a loaded word in Australia, as the only settler country without a Treaty with its First Nations.

Australia needs to engage with the Uluru Statement from the Heart

Australia needs to engage with the Uluru Statement from the Heart

A treaty would require constitutional change and the then-Turnbull government rejected the Uluru Statement out of hand saying it was neither "desirable nor capable of winning acceptance at referendum".

It made no effort to enlighten or educate, instead just baldly ruled out constitutional recognition and shoved the matter to the back of the too-hard basket.

Twas ever thus, a failing anthropologist WH Stanner identified in the 1960s as "the great Australian silence".

This silence about Indigenous matters wasn't absent-mindedness, Stanner argued.

It was "a structural matter, a view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape."

Half a century later, the view remains obscured.

Indigenous people are disadvantaged by nearly all the Closing the Gap measures and in 2019 the only talk of Uluru is about access to the rock itself and whether mainstream Australia is offended by the closure of the climb. Not a peep about the fact it is sacred to traditional owners who wanted this outcome for decades.

When the 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders met at Uluru in 2017 they called for a 'First Nations Voice' in the Australian Constitution and a 'Makarrata Commission' to supervise a process of 'agreement-making' and 'truth-telling' between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

While there is bipartisan support for that "voice" there is less agreement on what form it should take, with the federal government still opposed to constitutional change.

But while federal parliament dithers, the states have taken on the challenge of a treaty directly.

Victoria started the ball rolling in 2016 and passed an act in 2018 to create a framework for negotiating a Treaty. In September Victorians started to elect representatives to the First Peoples' Assembly, which will help determine the framework for a treaty.

The Northern Territory has also pledged to work towards a treaty with former Australian of the Year Mick Dodson named its first treaty commissioner.

In 2018 South Australia signed the Buthera Agreement with the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation to drive development on the Yorke Peninsula. The agreement also incorporate strategies for youth justice, housing, domestic violence, health, child protection, education and cultural studies.

Here in Queensland the government has signed "a statement of commitment" to reframe the relationship and appointed an Eminent Panel to lead a state-wide conversation. One of those first conversations took place in Mount Isa on Friday.

EMINENT PANEL: Jackie Huggins, Shane Hoffman and Dan Crowley come to Mount Isa to talk about a treaty.

EMINENT PANEL: Jackie Huggins, Shane Hoffman and Dan Crowley come to Mount Isa to talk about a treaty.

It was an appropriate location.

North West Queensland has a high indigenous population which means it fares badly in health and education outcomes. First Nations Queenslanders are twice as likely to have chronic kidney disease and the busiest part of Mount Isa hospital is its new renal unit. Last week the state education minister launched an Indigenous Education plan on Mornington Island to try to improve school attendance and education outcomes. Indigenous people are also over-represented in the local criminal justice system.

I asked Eminent Panel co-chair Dr Jackie Huggins how a Treaty would help those disadvantaged people.

She said a treaty was more than just symbolism - though that was important.

"A Treaty would bring a greater sense of empowerment for (Indigenous) people and would address one of the great historical wrongs in our country," Dr Huggins said.

She is correct. But it would also bring a greater sense of empowerment for the rest of us. Witness New Zealand's pride in the Treaty of Waitangi. Or Australia's own joy in the overwhelming result of the 1967 referendum that allowed Indigenous people finally be counted in the census.

Indigenous Australia is calling for our help again.

"We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future," the Uluru statement concludes.

Let's get our boots on now.

Derek Barry

North West Star editor

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