The Federal Government’s Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has toured the country and heard from individuals and organisations interested in the future of constitutional recognition. 

The Committee, chaired by Senator Patrick Dodson, pictured, was established after a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution was recommended by the Referendum Council and then soundly rejected by the Prime Minister.

The First Nations concept came out of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was created following a national regional consultative process involving Indigenous people across Australia.

Referendum Council leaders originally rejected the call for the Joint Select Committee, calling it a “time wasting exercise”, established for political reasons.

Uluru Convention delegate and advocate Thomas Mayor has since called on Australians to express their support for the Voice to Parliament and Uluru Statement.

“The Uluru Statement carries the weight of an unprecedented First Nations process that was more proportionately representative than any other constitutional dialogue in the nation’s history” he wrote when the Committee commenced.

“Therefore, it must be respected for what it is: the majority will of the First Nations of Australia on how we want to be recognised” Mr Mayor said.

SA Native Title Services (SANTS) Chief Executive Officer Keith Thomas spoke at a public hearing of the Committee in Adelaide on Thursday 5 July 2018.

He said that as Native Title Service Provider for South Australia, SANTS supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart and proposal for a First Nations Voice.

“It was the culmination of a lengthy, broad and considered engagement process led by, with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It reflects on the history of this country and provides a basis for the recognition, healing and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It is a powerful statement that must be supported and implemented” Mr Thomas said.

“We also support the related Referendum Council recommendation to establish a First Nations voice through both constitutional and legislative reform.

“The enshrinement of the First Nations voice would acknowledge the unique place and circumstances of the First Nations in Australian history, present and future. It would provide recognition, representation, participation and a voice for First Nations without radical change to the Australian Constitution.

“As such, we support a referendum to be held and a body formed to give First Nations a voice in the Australian parliament. Greater engagement and representation in the Australian democracy by First Nations can only lead to a stronger, fairer and more inclusive country.

“As an advocacy body to the parliament rather than within the parliament, it would not disrupt Australia’s democratic balance and provide unequal rights amongst citizens; to the contrary, it would only strengthen Australian citizenship and democratic processes” Mr Thomas told the Committee.

“The enshrinement of the First Nations voice would acknowledge the unique place and circumstances of the First Nations in Australian history, present and future…”

Other speakers who addressed the Committee in Adelaide included Dr Roger Thomas, previously Treaty Commissioner for South Australia, Kyam Maher, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Klynton Wanganeen, newly appointed CEO of the Narungga Nation.The Adnyamathanya and Ngarrindjeri nations were also represented.

Dr Thomas spoke about his experience in consulting with Aboriginal people across South Australia in the role of Treaty Commissioner and said that “I would like to call upon that experience and what it can lend itself towards the national agenda”.

He said that one key message from his consultation was that Aboriginal people in South Australia favoured a local based approach and that education and discussion needed to assist people to understand the concept and potential of ‘treaty’.

Mr Wanganeen said that he addressed the committee primarily to talk about the Buthera agreement which the Narungga negotiated with the South Australian Government as a part of their proposed treaty arrangements.

“But we will talk more broadly and respond to questions that you may ask because what we are here for is the aspirations of our people to be self-managing and self-determining” he said.

Transcripts of all hearings of the Joint Committee are available here 

An interim report was produced by the Committee in July and a final report is due by 29 November 2018.

By Lucy Kingston


SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.