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Referendum working group returns to base camp at Uluru

Rudi Maxwell -

Coming from all points under the southern sky, more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates met at Uluru for the First Nations Constitutional Convention six years ago.

On May 26, 2017, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people invited Australians to walk with them towards a brighter future.

On Friday, members of the referendum working group return to Uluru for a moment's reflection in the lead-up to the national poll later this year and to mark the anniversary of the Statement from the Heart.

Professor Megan Davis, co-chair of the Uluru Dialogues, told AAP it was emotional to return to Anangu country.

She said it was important to remember that the Statement from the Heart is an invitation to the people of this country.

"We want people to read the statement out loud, and especially read it with or to people who haven't read it before," she said.

"I think we've come through a difficult period.

"Part of the nature of pedestrian conventional Australian politics is that Aboriginal issues are like a political football game with no rules.

"And so we've come out the back end of a very highly technical, highly legal debate and discussion, which needed to be had, but now we're able to say, 'Hey, let's have a reflection on what this is all about'."

Prof Davis said the Uluru Statement from the Heart was the culmination of the most significant discussions about constitutional recognition ever undertaken with First Nations people across Australia.

"It is an invitation to all Australians to recognise the dire need for change to the status quo for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to take a step that will make a difference to the lives of First Nations Peoples," she said.

"The Statement is a powerful invitation to look towards a brighter future – one that provides the best chance to close the gap and allow Australians to walk forward together as a nation with our heads held high."

Prof Davis said it was an emotional day for many who had been part of the process for years.

"But I am as confident today as I was when I read the Statement at Uluru in 2017, that the Australian people will embrace its sentiment and support the overwhelming majority of First Nations Peoples who simply want to have a say over the decisions that impact our lives."

Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney, who was also at Uluru for the meeting, said she was not concerned about opinion polling on the voice, saying there was growing support for the 'yes' vote.

"The momentum is just enormous ... I feel buoyed, I feel confident and I know that we've got six or so months to run, and I am sure the Australian people will rise to this occasion," she told ABC Radio on Friday.

While politicians in Canberra were debating the final form of the referendum question, working group members were at Uluru.

Prof Davis said they had been discussing the final part of the Uluru Statement, about starting a trek across the vast country.

"We're back at base camp again, and this is the last trek to the ballot box, so it's really important to reflect on where we've been," she said.

Uluru Dialogue co-chair Pat Anderson said the anniversary presented a time to acknowledge the work of those who engaged in the grassroots process through the regional dialogues, and paved the way for reform.

"The words of the Uluru Statement are still felt deeply by First Peoples," she said.

"We heard their calls for a better future then and we hear them now.

"This must be the year that Australia makes the words of the Statement a reality and end the torment of our powerlessness.

"Our people can't wait any longer."

Rudi Maxwell - AAP


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