More than 100 Aboriginal leaders from the Murchison, Gascoyne, Goldfields, Pilbara and the South West have called for a Treaty between Aboriginal people and the Federal Government.
They also agreed that Aboriginal people were not properly represented in Parliament and that a formal “voice to the Parliament” would help address the problem.
The group agreed that a statement of acknowledgement in the Australian Constitution, which simply acknowledges that Aboriginal people were in Australia first, was the lowest priority because it was symbolic only and something more substantive is required.
First Nations leaders in Perth believe that a Treaty will provide formal recognition of Aboriginal culture. Co-convenor at the Perth Dialogue, Gordon Cole, said, “There are many countries around the world with Treaties with First Nations people and Australia is the only country in the Commonwealth that doesn’t have a treaty”.
Mr. Cole said a formal voice in Parliament could take the form of some designated seats for First Nations people, as occurs in New Zealand, or a permanent body which feeds into Parliament which will enhance First People’s participation in Australian democracy.
Mr. Cole said the conference also spoke about people being referred to as First Nations people, rather than indigenous, which they don’t accept. He said, “First Nations reflect the 260 plus groups that were here in Australia prior to 1788, as part of the collective that is Aboriginal Australia.”
The meeting in Perth is one of 12 Regional Dialogues being held around Australia by the Referendum Council. The Referendum Council was established to advise the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on progress and next steps towards a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution. Supported by both major political parties, the Referendum Council is leading the process of national conversations so that First Nation peoples are able to actively participate in and contribute to an informed dialogue on the pros and cons of reform options. Discussion at each Dialogue is structured around five options for Constitutional reform which the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition agreed would form the basis of consultation.
Participants at the meeting also emphasised Western Australia was a large state, and that there was much diversity across the region, with different cultural practices. Delegates spoke of institutional and structural racism in the delivery of services in First Nation’s communities. First Nations are experiencing unacceptable level of institutional racial discrimination in Western Australia through shire councils, schools, hospitals, police, social media etc.
On the completion of the Regional Dialogues, 10 delegates from each region across Australia will meet at a national convention at Uluru in May to come to a consensus position which will be put the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.