Australian author Richard Flanagan says the Turnbull government wrote itself out of history when it rejected calls for an Indigenous voice to parliament.
5 Aug 2018 - 3:39 PM  UPDATED 5 Aug 2018 - 3:59 PM

Richard Flanagan warns Australia will be undone as a nation unless it re-imagines itself and makes peace with Aboriginal people.

He says that opportunity lies with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The signed declaration, which called primarily for a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament, was the result of an unprecedented gathering of more than 250 First Nations groups at Uluru last year.

But the proposal of an Indigenous voice to parliament was rejected by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Flanagan accused the government of having ‘desiccated souls’ for not being able to acknowledge the concept of such a body.

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“The Uluru statement was a historic moment for our nation and, by refusing it, the Turnbull government chose to write itself out of history,” he said.  

“Of them, only shame will endure.”

Speaking at this year’s Garma Festival, in north-east Arnhem Land, Mr Flanagan told political leaders, bureaucrats, and corporate heavyweights that the nation will fail if cannot find a way of admitting its ‘extraordinary patrimony.’

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“If Australia chooses to remain cloistered in that ignorance at this time of dissolution, it is no less pregnant with catastrophe than anywhere else.”

Mr Flanagan said if the country can "learn and understand some of these things we can also appreciate the second story".

“That is a different story of the past, a story of glory. It is the 60,000-year story that manifests itself here at Garma.”

Last year, Mr Turnbull formally rejected the Referendum Council’s recommendation of an Indigenous voice to parliament saying it 'lacked detail' and that it would effectively be a 'third chamber of parliament'. 

But supporters rejected those claims.

Subsequently, a sweeping set of new proposals were offered up by group, Uphold and Recognise, a collective of legal specialists and Indigenous leaders backed by corporate and institutional organisations.

The group believe they've provided the detail the government was looking for. Their proposal is just one of many being considered by a new Joint Select Parliamentary Committee on constitutional reform. 

It's recently released interim report found broad support for an Indigenous voice to parliament. The committee's final report report is due in November.

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Richard Flanagan believes the government ‘washed it hands’ too quickly of the Uluru statement, saying it "publicly humiliated a generation of great black leaders".

“All that the government has achieved in so doing is to lay a fertile ground for proponents of extremism and violence to preach to the next generation of black leaders who will rightly think Australian democracy is a sham that excludes them,” he said.

He says Australia will only make itself stronger if it says yes to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and will only grow richer if its people know its own truth.

“Most Australians would be horrified to learn the full extent of the massacres, of the fireside killings, of the wars of extermination, of the rapes, of the destruction and desecration of sacred sites, of the children taken, of the countless lives allowed to continue life without living,” he said.  

Mr Flanagan believes owning up to this "story of shame" will bring freedom.

“It must be told, and it must be learnt, because freedom exists in the space of memory, and only by walking back into the shadows is it possible for us all to finally be free.”

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