A meeting of around 100 Central Australian Aboriginal delegates at Ross River, east of Alice Springs, yesterday elected 10 representatives to argue for substantive constitutional change on a national stage.
The three-day meeting chose Richard James, Barbara Shaw, Geoffrey Shannon, Owen Torres, Valda Shannon, Pat Brahim, Jody Kopp, Rachel Perkins, Natasha Abbott and Damien Williams to represent the region’s priorities for meaningful constitutional reform at the national convention at Uluru on 24-26 May.
The meeting supported a statement of acknowledgement in the constitution, dealing with the race power in a way that prevents discriminatory law making, a representative voice to parliament, prohibition of racial discrimination and treaty.
“I was so pleased to see everyone grab this opportunity with both hands and get involved,” said Central and Council director David Ross.
“It was one of those great moments where everything fell into place and everyone, young and old, participated. The interpreters at the meeting did a great job of translating complex legal ideas.”
Mr Ross said the meeting was respectful with everyone having an opportunity to voice his or her opinions.
“Having male and female co-chairs and local facilitators helped to make everyone comfortable,” he said.
Barbara Shaw, the general manager of Anyinginyi Health in Tennant Creek, chaired the meeting with Mr Ross.
She said the meeting elected mostly young and middle aged people to seek consensus at Uluru on a referendum question to put to all Australian voters.
“I was quite overjoyed that we had a number of young people who had the confidence to stand up and make comment. They want to learn more. They were really engaged and really excited to be part of this journey,” Ms Shaw said.
“One of the things that were quite moving was that we had a lot of people who were starting to get the fire back in the belly,” she said.
“They were saying ‘this is the first time we were able to get together from all around the country to talk about an issue that is important to all of us’.”
The 10 delegates plan to meet in the coming weeks in order to prepare for the Uluru convention.
The Referendum Council last year asked the CLC to help organise both the Ross River and the Uluru gatherings, following the CLC’s request in 2015 to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for an Aboriginal-only meeting in its region.
One of 12 so-called First Nations Regional Dialogues across the country, the Ross River meeting was a chance for Central Australians to debate their preferences for constitutional reform
CLC delegates last November helped to draw up a list of 100 invitees, including traditional owners, Aboriginal organisations and individual women and men.
The CLC’s Dr Josie Douglas and Francine McCarthy facilitated workshops along with Peter Renehan, Mischa Cartwright and Graham Dowling.