The Uluru Statement must be owned by all Australians — not only the opportunity for a constitutionally enshrined Voice, but also the risk of failure.

The outcome of the federal election gave some cause for optimism that the dark clouds of continuous disappointment in Australia’s reconciliation journey may be lifting. We are now at a time where change feels inevitable.

The new federal government has not only committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full; it has made this commitment a major theme of its forthcoming term.

One can never overestimate the power of symbols. The recognition of First Nations Australians in the Constitution will be an uplifting of our spirits and sense of who we are as people who have owned the lands and waters that make up modern Australia for thousands of generations.

The Voice to Parliament will provide a level of parliamentary accountability to First Nations Australians. Rather than being a third chamber of parliament, it will be a mechanism to promote collaboration and partnership.

Most importantly, the Voice can provide an institutional framework to formalise a settlement or treaty between First Nations Australians and the Australian nation-state, underpinned by a truth-telling process.

We are now in an environment where there is an opportunity to think and work creatively with purpose. There should be a collective will and renewed determination for both public and political change.

But at this critical point in history, First Nations Australians must carefully and strategically plan for the implementation of the Uluru Statement. We cannot allow this process to belong only to the Albanese Government.

First Nations Australians must take control. It is our statement. We developed and endorsed it at Uluru five years ago. We advocated for it to the Australian people who have responded with huge support and gave Prime Minister Anthony Albanese a mandate for its implementation.

We must own the opportunity, but also the risk if we fail to achieve the desired outcomes. The three tenets of the Uluru Statement — Voice, Treaty, Truth — are drawn from fundamental principles of self determination that First Nations Australians have articulated over countless decades.

But this is not just another government policy direction. We are talking about settling our historic grievance of dispossession and colonisation. We are talking about a treaty. We are talking about our nation reconciled.

We can’t allow government, with its embedded practice of incremental management, to control the process. We cannot allow the Uluru Statement’s first tenet — constitutional recognition — to be achieved without a clear pathway for settlement and truth-telling.

In the absence of comprehensive First Nations support for the implementation of the Uluru Statement, the referendum on constitutional recognition will fail. And if that happens the historic opportunity for reconciliation will be lost and may never happen again. An informed and unified First Nations community will be able to rebut the arguments that will inevitably grow as the nation moves forward on Uluru.

We know what the case against us will be. The central argument will be that of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s claim when he rejected the Uluru Statement five years ago: that it would contradict a principle of liberal democracy if one defined group should have a constitutional role in the workings of parliament.

To suggest that the Australian Constitution was founded on democratic principles is a perversion of history. The Constitution that federated the Australian nation was anything but democratic. It expressly excluded us. We were not to be counted in the census. It was founded on racism. It empowered the national parliament to keep non-Europeans from living in Australia. It was a founding document for the governing of white settler Australia.

It explicitly stopped the national parliament from making laws for First Nations Australians. The Australian Constitution did not allow the Commonwealth Government to undermine the laws and practices of colonial state governments that were premised on our disappearance as a people.

The proposed First Nations Voice in the Constitution is a fundamental part of Australia’s reckoning with that history. And Australia will be a more inclusive and democratic country because of it.

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