Interview: Dr Megan Davis (Constitutional recognition: 'Politicians' model' faces lukewarm response by Indigenous Australia)
Indigenous Australians are rejecting the "elite", "politicians' model" for changing the constitution, according to a key member of the referendum council that has met with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country.
Instead, they are overwhelmingly voicing a desire for changes that give them "direct" power over their futures, says Megan Davis, a professor at the University of New South Wales's Indigenous Law Centre.
Professor Davis — who is on the 16-member referendum panel — has told RN Drive the option of an elected body and "agreement making", including a treaty, are the ideas Indigenous Australians are most often interested in.
She is taking part in the 12 Indigenous dialogues held around the country to consult on options to change the constitution to acknowledge Indigenous Australians, which will end with a constitutional convention at Uluru at the end of May.
National convention to be held at Uluru
The Uluru meeting will happen on the anniversary of the 50th anniversary of the referendum that gave the Commonwealth powers in Indigenous affairs.
After that meeting, the referendum council, appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with bipartisan support from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, will let politicians know what the Indigenous community prefers as a model.
But Professor Davis said the idea of a simple acknowledgement of Indigenous Australians in a preamble or in the constitution is not energising Indigenous people in the dialogues.
The "minimalist" model is the idea that conservatives in the Government are most likely to support.
"One of the problems with the lack of popular engagement and popular ownership over the recognition process is the dominance of the politicians' model, an elite model, which is just the preamble," she said.
"What we are hearing is that's not enough. They want a bit of action; they want something substantive as well."
Structural change favoured over minimalist model
Professor Davis said when asked about the various models on the table, Indigenous people were most interested in ideas where they have a more direct role in the democratic process.
"They appear to show interest in all of the substantive reforms that actually lead to some sort of structural change: the kind of reforms that will change the way in which business is conducted between the Government and Indigenous communities," she told RN Drive.
Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson's idea of an elected Indigenous representative body the Parliament consults with is also gaining traction.
"What we're finding is a very deep mistrust of government," Professor Davis said.
"There's a very strong feeling of powerlessness, like people don't have control over their lives, and that's why that model is quite popular.
"It's also quite a common model around the world ... as are other options like a guarantee against discrimination and agreement making."
Treaty remains popular
Despite Mr Turnbull and former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott rejecting calls for a treaty with Indigenous people, the idea is popular in the dialogues.
"You could potentially have a national settlement with things that fall underneath that," Professor Davis said.
She said Indigenous people are weighing up whether it was worth going forward with a referendum if it did not give them more power in their lives
"People weigh up: should you spend all your currency on a referendum that might not change much, or save the political currency for something like agreements," she said.
"We will see at Uluru what kind of package is developed by the participants."
Dialogues looking at examples from overseas
Professor Davis said the Indigenous people attending the dialogues were pragmatic people who were aware of the limitations of all the options in the political climate.
"It's very important for them 'to be recognised' to be comfortable with what that form of recognition is, and that's part of the conversations that we're having now," she said.
"Many of the groups from Broome, to Darwin, to Dubbo, to Perth, they see the examples from overseas, comparative jurisdictions ... where other Indigenous groups are able to participate more directly in democracy.
"That is a big theme: how can we, or how can a community, be more direct drivers over their futures or their destinies."
Read the full article here.
Listen to the full interview here.