• Delegates at the Referendum Council's Uluru convention. (NITV News/Steve Hodder Watt)
There has been mixed reaction to the handing down of the now-disbanded Referendum Council’s final report on Monday.
By
Rachael Hocking

Source:
The Point
18 Jul 2017 - 7:26 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2017 - 11:48 AM

The plethora of reactions to the Referendum Council's much-awaited final report has ranged from scathing to enthusiastic.

The report calls for a national vote on enshrining a First Nations' Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, and for a separate Declaration of Recognition, containing “inspiring and unifying words,” to be enacted by legislation.

On Monday the Referendum Council co-chair Mark Leibler said the proposal for the referendum was designed to be as straight forward as possible.

"There is absolutely zero interference with parliamentary sovereignty... because this body will no right of veto, not only that, the parliament itself will define how the body is going to be constituted and how it will operate," he said. 

Labor politicians Linda Burney and Pat Dodson expressed surprise at the report’s two recommendations, only one of which is to go to a referendum.

Ms Burney has labelled the proposal "limited" and expressed disappointment that it doesn’t address the removal of race powers in the Constitution.

But CEO of Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council, Sean Gordon, said the only disappointment was reactions like Ms Burney’s.

Mr Gordon was a representative at the Dubbo regional dialogue and attended the convention at Uluru, and said the removal of race powers was not something the community prioritised.

“[The report] was pretty consistent with the discussions that took place at both those forums. So there were no surprises,” he said.

“I don’t think it will be the end of this conversation, I think our people will continue to fight for proper settlement, treaty agreements and so on. But for now, I think the voice will empower us enough to be able to shift the balance and control away from government, and put it back clearly in the hands of Indigenous people.”

On Tuesday night's episode of ABC's The Drum Shireen Morris, from the Cape York Institute, said the Voice to Parliament will be an 'independent' adviser, different to the Indigenous advisory bodies that already exist. 

"Indigenous people want a constitutionally guaranteed say in [parliament's] decisions. So the bodies of the past, and the hand-picked advisory body of the present, is not representative and it's not constitutionally guaranteed. It can be gotten rid of with the stroke of a government's pen," she said.

Mr Gordon said political leaders now need to accept the report and endorse its recommendations in order for the community to move forward.

“I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull did enough yesterday in his statement to say he absolutely supports this. I think he needs to make clear statements indicating that this has to happen… so that we can start to work on getting the rest of the country behind it,” he said.

Wiradjuri and Ngunnawal elder Les Coe also wasn’t surprised by the report’s recommendations, but for different reasons.

“I wasn't surprised by this; I was actually expecting this," he said. 

Mr Coe said an advisory body does not go far enough, and that treaty and recognition of sovereignty is the answer. 

"If you want a nice and easy question you want to put to the Australian people, the question should be treaty yes or no, it's pretty simple.”

Michael Anderson from the Tent Embassy released a scathing statement about the report’s proposals, saying the Referendum Council “failed to understand the resolve of constructive organised grassroots resistance”.

The report did strongly support the idea from May's Uluru Convention for a Makarrata (treaty) Commission, separate to the Voice to Parliament, to supervise the process of agreement making between governments and First Nations, and facilitate truth-telling of First Nations' histories.

However, the report acknowledged that it couldn’t make any recommendations on either of those ideas because it fell outside of the Council’s terms of reference.

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Constitutional lawyer Professor George Williams said a referendum could give a body like this "authority, weight, and legitimacy," but said it will only be as strong as its members.

"This is an advisory body, we need to be direct about that. It won't be able to overturn the decision of Parliament, and as such its effectiveness will ultimately depend largely on the quality of its leadership and the willingness of parliamentarians to listen to those voices," he said. 

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Mr Williams said the task now is to get the wider community behind the proposal.

He suggested the country goes to another convention, similar to Uluru, but where representatives from all Australian communities are invited.

“I’m talking about a body of representative people who have been elected, perhaps by a postal vote of their local communities. They’d come together perhaps in Old Parliament House or a different location, to debate this issue to decide if it is the sort of proposal that has the support of people across the country: Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” he said.

“And if they say ‘yes,’ that’s the sort of powerful endorsement that can be effective in actually getting this up at a national poll.”

But Sean Gordon disagrees. He said another convention is not needed when there has already been a convention at Uluru, and that gaining public support for the proposal is the responsibility of politicians and other leaders.  

“For me, it’s a no-brainer. They really should be getting behind it, making it happen and making that clear in any statements they put out,” he said. 

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