Anthony Albanese has been calling for First Nations recognition and reconciliation under the collective slogan of ‘Voice, Treaty, Truth’ his entire adult life.
In 1986, as a 23-year-old Labor activist on the rise, he signed off on a letter demanding reparations for the ‘invasion’ of Australia, with respected leaders Pat Dodson and Marcia Langton, who are now beside him in his fight to get the ‘Yes’ vote over the line.
Fast-forward to August, 2023, a now 60-year-old prime minister has a chance to write himself into history and go someway in atoning for the sins of the past if a majority of Australians in a majority of the states vote ‘Yes’ to an Indigenous Voice to Parliament sometime between October and December.
But now missing in his calls for a ‘Yes’ vote to the ‘Voice’ is what comes next: namely ‘Treaty and Truth’.
Mr Albanese has vowed repeatedly – most notably after winning the election in May 2022 – to adopt the Uluru Statement of the Heart ‘in full’.
But the latest opinion poll, released on Sunday, shows the ‘Yes’ case is now ‘almost unsalvageable’, with the ‘No’ holding a massive 56-44 lead.
The ‘culmination of the agenda’ from the Uluru Statement is a ‘Makarrata Commission’ which would seek a treaty between the government and First Nations communities and embark on truth-telling. Pictured: The Uluru Statement from the Heart
Anthony Albanese is this weekend celebrating the Garma Festival in East Arnhem land
The Uluru Statement from the Heart was delivered in May 2017, after two years of deliberative ‘dialogues’ with Indigenous communities throughout the nation.
‘As called for in the Uluru Statement, the Makarrata Commission will have responsibilities for overseeing processes for Treaty-Making and Truth-Telling,’ Mr Albanese said after being elected.
The reason why Mr Albanese has walked away from what follows a ‘Yes’ vote is because Australians have started to rightly question whether treaty-making and truth-telling would have a far bigger impact on their lives that the Indigenous Voice to Parliament they are being asked to vote for.
While the Voice would be the only element of the Uluru Statement from the Heart written into our constitution, the statement makes clear treaties follow, which could see millions, or indeed billions, paid in reparations.
One suggestion – outlined within the statement – even suggests a plan to hand a percentage of the nation’s GDP to First Nations people.
Truth-telling could see school curriculums significantly changed, with landmarks and even cities and towns renamed.
Warren Mundine, a former Labor and Liberal politician now leading the ‘No’ campaign, went as far as telling Daily Mail Australia the concept of truth-telling ‘is the biggest threat to our democracy’.
‘Free speech is the cornerstone of our democracy,’ he said.
Mr Mundine criticised the prime minister for ‘treating Australians as mugs’ by refusing to discuss how treaty and truth-telling would work if the ‘Yes’ vote is a success.
‘Now he’s pretending treaty isn’t a part of it – but the fact is that’s what the whole Uluru Statement from the Heart is about.
‘He’s made that quite clear from day one, and if he truly believes this, it’s about time they have some balls and start telling the truth about what they’ll do.
‘Of course they’ll change the names of cities and towns – they’ve argued that for years. Of course they’ll talk about Australia Day – they’ve argued that for years.
‘And of course they’ll talk treaty.’
Mr Mundine criticised the prime minister for ‘treating Australians as mugs’ by refusing to discuss how treaty and truth-telling would work if the ‘Yes’ vote is a success
Any such treaty would be decades in the making. Part of the reason First Nations communities have thrown their weight behind a Voice first is because the elders and ageing population know they won’t be alive to see treaties finalised in Australia.
A recently published report out of the University of Melbourne argued a ‘desire for an official truth may be driven by the need to establish a basis for negotiating treaties and reparations’.
‘Documented historical losses of land, people, language, and culture are an important evidentiary element in such negotiations.
‘There is the hope that with responsibility there will come justice; that truth will lead colonisers to return land, make reparations, and enable Indigenous self‐determination.’
Several key members of the government’s advisory bodies in preparing for the Voice referendum have weighed in on what outcomes they envision from truth-telling.
Referendum advisory group member Mick Gooda said offensive names could change, while Professor Megan Davis argued for more thorough education curriculum surrounding colonisation.
Truth-telling will fall under the remit of the Makarrata Commission, which will also be tasked with overseeing treaty negotiations.
Here, Daily Mail Australia explores some of the key areas identified as possible mechanisms for truth-telling.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese rocked out at the Midnight Oil farewell gig wearing the band’s ‘Voice, Treaty, Truth’ T-shirt at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion last October. It was a band T-shirt
How treaty leads to reparations
Reparations and compensation for the hurt and pain caused to Aboriginal people has long been seen as an avenue to right past wrongs.
A Human Rights report dating back to 1997 included a submission which read: ‘It is our right to receive full and just reparation and compensation for the systematic gross violations of our fundamental human rights.’
It suggested reparations could be claimed by direct victims, their immediate family, dependents and ‘other persons or groups connected with the direct victim’.
In countless reports and community discussions since, reparations have formed a significant part of reconciliation efforts.
And while the right to reparations does not rely on treaties alone, many Indigenous advocates consider treaty an obvious path to compensation.
In the Northern Territory, the state government specifically stated reparations would form part of treaty negotiations.
Thomas Mayo and Teela Reid, who both advised the government on the Voice referendum, have been vocal in their vision for treaty negotiations to include reparations and land back
In listing seven ‘different items’ treaty could explore, the government identified ‘potential reparations for past injustices and for the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their resources and land’.
And one of the suggestions in the extended Uluru Statement from the Heart, released under a Freedom of Information application, revealed compensation could be delivered by ‘seeking a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)’.
This would see part of the GDP ‘allocated to and administered by First Nations’.
Thomas Mayo and Teela Reid, who both advised the government on the Voice referendum, have been vocal in their vision for treaty negotiations to include reparations and land back.
Mr Mayo described his vision for life after a Voice introduced – complete with reparations for Indigenous people, ‘rent’ being paid to live on Australian land and the abolishment of ‘harmful colonial institutions’.
And Ms Reid has publicly called for ‘reckoning, reparations and land back’.
Lawyer Teela Reid, a Wiradjuri woman and public speaker, once described the proposal to change the constitution as a ‘journey with all Australians to demolish the systems that continue to oppress us’
Daily Mail Australia obtained a series of tweets dating back to 2018 published by Thomas Mayo, an architect of the Voice referendum question and signatory of the Uluru Statement
How much could treaties and reparations cost?
How long does it take to make a treaty?
Any treaties that the Australian government embarks on now are not likely to be finalised for decades to come.
Victoria is the furthest state along in treaty discussions – having started in 2016 – but insiders say they’re still at least 10 years away from a resolution.
There are some schools of thought which suggest treaties could cost the Australian public hundreds of millions of dollars.
It remains unclear just how many treaties could emerge – with several states already engaging in discussions at a local level.
But there are some suggestions every Indigenous community could move toward embarking on its own treaty – costing state governments hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are estimates which suggest the state of Queensland alone owes First Nations people ‘up to $500million’ in ‘stolen wages’ dating back to the 1800s, when some governments held First Nations wages in trust accounts only to later refuse to turn the money over.
Many of the treaties in New Zealand – of which there has been about 80 – reportedly cost between tens of millions and hundreds of millions each. The cost varied depending on the number of people killed on each parcel of land, and the amount of land that was seized.
Queensland cabinet minister Craig Crawford recently noted the amount the state government could be liable for would ‘really vary… and be informed by the truth-telling inquiry that will run alongside treaty’.
Truth-telling in schools
One suggestion is that Australian school curriculums could be changed to ‘comprehensively and consistently’ teach the truth about colonisation.
Professor Davis suggested in a 2017 government report that truth-telling could lead to an ‘ongoing change in how Australian history was taught in schools’.
In September 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese threw his weight behind children learning about atrocities committed against Indigenous communities in the classroom.
He said in an interview with 4BC: ‘Part of learning about our history is truth-telling as well.
One suggestion is that Australian school curriculums could be changed to ‘comprehensively and consistently’ teach the truth about colonisation
‘And the truth is that Indigenous people suffered a lot. Not all, but many did. There were massacres (that) occurred.
‘And we need to be truthful about that. Not as a way of being shamed but just as being fair dinkum. It’s the Australian way.’
And even contested parts of Australia’s history could soon be included in lessons.
Dr Jacqueline Durrant argued this should not stand in the way of truth telling, as long as it is ‘made clear that it is contested’.
‘Leave it up to everybody who’s encountering the material to make of it what they will. I don’t think that because a historical event is contested it lessens the importance of it.’
Professor Davis suggested in a 2017 government report that truth-telling could lead to an ‘ongoing change in how Australian history was taught in schools’
In September 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese threw his weight behind children learning about atrocities committed against Indigenous communities in the classroom
Changing names and recognition of massacres
Mick Gooda, who once served as the Social Justice Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, said he hoped ‘an outcome of truth-telling will be to change names, and go back to original names’.
He argued there are ‘things that are offensive that should be changed’, highlighting the examples of ‘Black Gin Creek’ and ‘Mount Wheeler’ in Queensland.
Darumbal Elder Aunty Sally Vea Vea told InQueensland in 2020 that there were 26 ‘Black Gin Creeks’ in Queensland.
She said the names were of areas ‘commonly used by white men as places to rape and murder Aboriginal women’.
The government renamed Black Gin Creek near Rockhampton to Dundula, which means gum tree in the local Aboriginal language.
The Myall Creek Massacre Memorial is often described an early example of how local truth-telling practices can result in something productive
More recently, the Queensland government officially renamed Fraser Island to its traditional name of K’gari.
Another example of truth-telling could come in the form of creating memorial plaques or annual events to commemorate massacres.
The Myall Creek Massacre Memorial is often described an early example of how local truth-telling practices can result in something productive.
After the truth of the violence which took place in the region was established, an annual commemoration was established, where locals gather to pay their respects.
Memorial plaques could be erected in areas of known historic massacres to acknowledge the trauma that was caused.
The pitfalls of treaties: ‘It takes two to tango’
Constitutional lawyer Shireen Morris hit out at ‘progressive No’ voters – such as Lidia Thorpe – who believe that a treaty should be the priority before a Voice during a panel discussion in Sydney last week.
While a treaty is one of the key components of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and is an element supported by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Dr Morris said it should not be treated as a ‘silver bullet’ that will solve all problems for Indigenous people.
‘Look around the world. Treaties have not been silver bullets,’ Dr Morris said.
‘Most were breached because the Crown, the coloniser, is the more powerful party. They reneged on promises.
‘A treaty is subject to political whims, the Voice, however, can’t be taken away by future governments. Nobody can take it away.’
In ‘practical reality’, Dr Morris said there is no guarantee future governments would honour or abide by a treaty, even if the Albanese Government were to sign one.
‘Treaty is an agreement,’ she said. ‘It takes two to tango.
‘If a government is not coming to the table to negotiate a treaty, then none of it will happen. There is a misconception on the progressive left that a treaty is better, stronger.’