Over the past six months, from Hobart to Broome and Adelaide to Thursday Island, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have reclaimed the movement towards constitutional recognition at twelve historic First Nation Regional Dialogues. On 23–26 May, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 constitutional referendum, representatives from each dialogue will meet at Uluru for the first Australian First Nations Constitutional Convention. There, they aim to agree on whether and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples might be “recognised” in the Australian Constitution.
Each dialogue has reflected the priorities of the communities involved, but the calls for substantive, structural reform have been consistent. As Jeremy Clark and Jill Gallagher, the co-convenors of the Melbourne dialogue, have written:
Aboriginal people will not accept a feel-good, symbolic stamp on a fundamentally unfair system. The system needs to be improved. We need to change the way we do business in Aboriginal affairs. Constitutional recognition must mean real reform. It must create a genuine paradigm shift, or Aboriginal people will reject it.
Some proposals have attracted strong support across the dialogues: structural reforms that provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with an enhanced role in Australian democracy such as a representative body with a voice to Parliament and treaty negotiations, and a prohibition on racial discrimination. Also emerging have been calls for a truth and justice commission. Most importantly, the dialogues have agreed that the conversation must not stop at Uluru, and that the First Nation peoples must be involved in negotiating the model of recognition.
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