Speaking to the media at the Ayers Rocks Resort in Yulara on Wednesday morning, Referendum Council Co-chair, Pat Anderson, reiterated the historic importance of this week’s talks in Uluru.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the nation, we haven’t met as a group, nationally, for about 10 to 15 years, so it’s historic in that sense.
“The timing of it, that is historic. The assembly of the intellect in the room, of the people that are there, we haven't done that for a long time… So we’re gathering together again and hopefully a regeneration of a new energy. We're doing what we need to do because, as I said, when you think things can't get worse for us, they in fact do, so something has to happen. We got to really try hard and pull this off,” Ms Anderson said.
“They can’t keep excluding us and making decisions without us being at the table."
“We’ve got the ingredients if you like, and the heart and the hard heads, so we have to pull it off this time. Because, I personally think our very survival depends on making some really important decisions.”
Ms Anderson also reassured the audience that the council wouldn’t compromise on “big ticket items”, such as relinquishing sovereignty.
When asked if she thought the meeting would achieve a “consensus”, she clarified that wasn’t the real purpose of the talks.
“It really gets us into trouble when you use the word ‘consensus’, because we don't use it. It's a very complicated word for us and it does give the wrong impression, because as you know, with this process, we haven’t been able to ask every single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. What we’ve done is to consult… to talk to a wide cross-section of our diverse community."
“We are very diverse around the country, so we’re trying to get a cross section. So it’s a bit of a litmus test, if you like. But we do need to find some common ground, so we can take this opportunity and move it forward. Because as you know, the terms of reference of the Referendum Council is to go out and talk to Aboriginal [and Torres Strait Islanders]… We’ve done that now, and we’re going to pull it all together."
Ms Anderson is well aware of the challenges ahead, but believes it’s fundamental for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to have a robust discussion on Constitutional recognition.
“It’s not going to be an easy task, but there’s a lot of resolve. People have come to try and make decisions and move things forward."
“They can’t keep excluding us and making decisions without us being at the table. You know, Australia is one of the few liberal democracies in the world where there is no proper settlement or no place in the legislature for their Indigenous people to engage with Government and Parliament and the people,” she added.
Ms Anderson explained that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are not asking Australia for much.
“What we're asking in fact is very modest. Conservative even.”
For her, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are just asking the country to be on par with other democracies around the globe that have taken steps to include their Indigenous peoples in the public and political spheres.
“All other countries in the world where there are Indigenous people, have all kids of structures to do that. But for Australia, it seems like we’re doing something extraordinary, and we’re not.
“It might seem we’re asking for too much, but in fact, what we might ask for and what is happening is just the same for other Indigenous peoples in the world. 'Hear us, we’re here. We have things to tell you. We have to be part of the policy-making and the legislation that affect us',” she added.
Ms Anderson’s final statement for the morning was to call the nation to self-reflection.
“Convincing the Australian public of that argument is going to be difficult, but I think there’s a prospect here of… actually, what we’re doing here is nation building.
“Because if we go to referendum it will say more of the Australian people than us, because we’re asking them to reflect upon themselves and their values and principles.
“What kind of society are we in the 21st century, as opposed to the middle aged men; no women, no black fellas, of course, that wrote the Constitution? So, it’s a good time for reflection on who we all are,” she concluded.