Malarndirri McCarthy: Time is running out for constitutional recognition
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Malarndirri McCarthy: Time is running out for constitutional recognition

October 17, 2019


Senator McCarthy Thank you madam acting deputy president. Recently, my colleague in the other place, the member for Barton, warned that time is running out if we want to achieve constitutional recognition
for First Nations people in this term of parliament. The path to constitutional recognition has
already been a long one. It isn’t new and it isn’t much to ask. The aspirations of First
Nations people for fair representation and self-determination have been set down many
times—in the 1938 Day of Mourning, the 1963 Yirrkala bark petitions, the 1972 Larrakia
petition, the 1988 Barunga Statement and the 2015 Uluru Statement from the Heart. And I
won’t go through the countless but important inquiries and committees that have been conducted
into the basic question of whether First Nations people should be recognised in our founding
document. You can see some of these important documents,
such as the Barunga Statement, in this building, under glass, preserved and admired but ultimately
ignored by everyone here and those who have gone before us. The Uluru Statement from the
Heart cannot, should not and will not end up under glass, another milestone along the
path that Australia walks past. The powerful and poignant words of the Uluru statement
demand action. They demand action from us here and in the other place. And they demand
that we, the lawmakers, put in place a process that means we cannot dismantle and undo what
has been agreed. This is what constitutional enshrinement means and why it is so important.
It will protect what we put in place so it can’t be pulled apart for future political
expediency. We’re hearing talk from the current minister
and government about a process of co-design, of getting it right, and I fully support this.
Constitutional reform must be done in a real partnership with First Nations people around
the country. There will be different voices proposing different ways and means, alternative
views and ideas; and we must embrace these, not be scared of what will be put forward.
First Nations people are not a homogenous mob who all sing from the same songlines—or,
in my language, tjukurrpa. This is evident in the journey of the Uluru statement that
has been beautifully documented in my comrade Thomas Mayor’s book Finding the Heart of the
Nation. I’d urge you to read this book, hear the voices and the stories of the people,
feel the spirit of struggle and survival and change. It is a uniquely Australian story,
sharing the stories of people from all over this wonderful country. And there is a guest
appearance by US actor Danny Glover. But it’s the stories of First Nations Australians that
are shared in this book that deserve to be listened to not just with our ears but with
our hearts—people like Rob Roy, from the Gurindji nation in the NT, who tells his story
of the land where the Wave Hill walk-off began and the road to land rights; David Collard,
a Whadjak Ballardong Noongar man from WA, who tells of his Noongar forefathers who fought
for Australia in the First World War and is involved in negotiating the largest native
title settlement in this country; and Palawa man Rodney Dillon, from Tasmania, who talks
of his pride in being able to repatriate the remains and artefacts of First Nations Tasmanians
when he was ATSIC commissioner. The Uluru Statement from the Heart itself
also deserves this heart listening. Kunturu Kulini was the Anangu artists who created
the artwork on the statement’s canvas. The art on the statement tells its own story.
Artist Rene Kulitja, a senior Anangu woman, led the team that painted the tjukurrpa, the
songline, that leads into Uluru, the sacred place. It is a beautiful artwork in its own
right that tells of a convergence of songlines—much as the Uluru statement itself is a convergence
of all the voices that have been and the voices that are now—and it illustrates why a voice,
with a capital ‘V’, is important, not new and not too much to ask. In the last minute and a bit that I have,
I want to quote some beautiful words from Thomas Mayor and his son, which he put in
his book. I think it’s something that this parliament and indeed all Australians should
think about. He said: ‘Dad, what will the name of the book be?’
he asked. I closed my laptop, turned to him and said, ‘What would you call my book?’ He
smiled a devilish grin and, with practised precision, he put his hand under his armpit
and responded with a series of armpit farts. We laughed both childishly. I love kids at
this age when the smallest things are still funny. I said him, ‘The name of the book will
be Finding the Heart of the Nation.’ William, my son, looked at me somewhat puzzled and
he said, ‘Finding the heart of the nation? Where is the heart of the nation?’ I pulled
my son close, I looked him in the eyes and I smiled. I put my hand on his heart and I
said to him, ‘William, the heart of the nation is here.’ Read the book, members of parliament, and
listen to the Anangu and the people of Australia as we call for the voice to be enshrined.

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