The “Yes” posters are going up in the windows of our office this week, physically adding our collective voice to the call that this moment be firmly grasped.
Will it? We don’t know; perhaps not. Maybe Australia will say No, its definitive answer to the offer made by the Uluru Statement, and if that’s the answer then we as a nation will have to live with it and what it says about us.
We hope it doesn’t come to that. As lawyers, we have thought and talked through all of the arguments and concerns. We are comfortable that the advocated risks are immaterial; more importantly, we see why this is not just uncontroversial as a constitutional reform, but needed.
Race is in Australia’s constitution. It always has been. Since 1967’s referendum, First Nations people have been counted as humans – that was the only positive change it made. The historical facts underpinning the constitution’s establishment remain unchanged. The land on which we all live was taken from its original owners by acts of violent acquisition, without negotiation, treaty or compensation.
When it came to federating the various colonies into a single nation in 1901, First Nations people were not consulted or even discussed, other than through a common consensus that they were in the process of dying out anyway.
Australia was thus created and has been maintained on a racist lie, which the law treated for a long time as a legal fiction called terra nullius but which continues with the conceit that the offences of dispossession and destruction of ancient culture were mere pragmatic expedients at the time and don’t matter now.
The Uluru Statement was an act of generosity, an open-handed invitation to a process of healing and reconciliation. After long and comprehensive consideration, it represents what First Nations people are asking all of us to do. The Voice is an essential first step. It will do no harm, upset no balance apart from the balance of privilege which needs to be changed.
Giving a voice to the dispossessed, disadvantaged and wounded descendants of the victims of colonisation is a small measure with profound benefits. Saying no to the request now in front of us would be an act of denial that would resonate equally deeply and for all time.
We embrace the call to walk together on this journey. We say Yes.
This opinion piece is provided by TEDxSydney partner, Marque Lawyers.