At Uluru in 2017 over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people came together as representatives from a series of meetings held around Australia where thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had got together to share their hopes and ambitions on a way forward for this country. The outcomes, after three days of discussion and debate, were clear and unequivocal:
Voice – a constitutionally protected Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament;
Truth - a Makaratta Commission to tell the truth about our history; and
Treaty - the Makaratta Commission to oversee agreement making with governments.
These are not new concepts, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been calling for representation, treaty and truth telling for decades, from William Cooper’s 1937 petition to King George V, to Doug Nicholl’s 1949 letter to Prime Minister Chifley, the 1971 Larrakia petition, and the 1998 Kalkaringa Statement.
While the Coalition Government has not committed full support at the Federal level, States and Territories are advancing with treaty development in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory. The ACT has had an elected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative body since 2008 to provide representation and advocacy.
Earlier this year the Board of the National Rural Health Alliance voted unanimously to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, following a lengthy consultative process with Member Bodies. Elsewhere in the Australian community there has been strong support for the Uluru Statement among business, institutions and the general public. A recent poll reported that 66 per cent of those polled supported a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The opportunity, notwithstanding the Coalition Government’s divided position on constitutional reform, is to start work now at the local level. Alliance members could begin by examining the internal structure, policies, governance, staffing and accountability of their own organisations to see if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are being heard clearly.
Here at the Australian Health Care and Hospitals Association (AHHA) we have been advocating for several years to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices within the governance structures of health care organisations to ameliorate institutional racism which is a significant determinant of poor health care outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have not neglected our own organisation either, with changes to include an Aboriginal person on our board, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment policy, partnerships and MOUs with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, a Reconciliation Action Plan, advocacy and publications on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, workforce development scholarships, and the employment of an Aboriginal person as executive lead on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
Alliance members are encouraged to continue their advocacy for Australian Government action to answer the call from the Uluru Statement and consider whether their own organisations require change to meet the challenge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for a true partnership.