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Pacific News Minute: Indigenous Australian Summit at Uluru

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

An extraordinary meeting is underway in central Australia, where aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders will discuss constitutional recognition, a treaty and compensation.  The summit’s being held at Uluru, the iconic rock revered by aboriginals…we have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


The Australian Constitution that took effect on January first, 1901 makes no reference to indigenous peoples, who were never consulted.


In 1967 a referendum approved a change to the constitution that included aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census and four years ago, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, committed to a referendum on constitutional recognition.


After a drawn-out period of consultation and dialogue, community leaders from 12 regions meet at the four day Uluru convention this week.


Both constitutional recognition and a treaty are under discussion; one does not necessarily exclude the other. Canada and New Zealand’s settlements with their indigenous peoples could be templates for a treaty. Constitutional recognition is trickier, because the only way it can be approved is to win a majority of the votes in a majority of Australian states.  Referendum Council Chairwoman Pat Anderson told The Guardian Australia it would be difficult to persuade non-aboriginal Australians to vote for change, but that the status quo is intolerable. “Aboriginal affairs is in freefall and there’s no bottom to it, “she said. “We are powerless and voiceless in our own lives. And now we have seven year olds drinking aviation gas, for god’s sake.”


Some argue that recognition wouldn’t actually change anything. Tasmanian writer and activist Michael Mansell told Radio Australia he wants a treaty that provides three percent of Australia’s GDP as compensation for the last 200 years.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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