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7 min read

Progressing the Uluru Statement: Update from Professor Megan Davis

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 10/6/2022

National Sorry Day last month marked five years since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was delivered to the Australian people as an invitation to walk with First Nations for a better future.

The newly elected Federal Government is committed to now putting the Uluru Statement into action, but for advocates like Professor Megan Davis, this moment has been a long time in the making.

“It’s been a big five years. We’ve done a lot of work to get ready for this moment,” says Megan, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous UNSW and Professor of Law, UNSW Law.

Professor Megan Davis

Megan is a proud Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrungam nation in south west Queensland.

Through her work in constitutional law at the Indigenous Law Centre UNSW, Megan has become one of the key figures behind the Uluru Statement, working with the Uluru Dialogue to build support for the Statement’s reforms: a referendum to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament in the Constitution, a Makarrata Commission to oversee treaty agreement-making and a national truth-telling process. Collectively the reforms are known as Voice, Treaty, Truth.

The Impact Fund’s support to me personally has been significant

“As we walk together as a nation towards a referendum, the work of the Uluru Dialogue is more important than ever,” says Megan. “The Impact Fund community has had a tremendous impact on our ability to do that work.”

In this Q&A, Megan tells us about progressing the Uluru Statement to this point, what the Impact Fund’s support has meant both for the work and her personally, as well as her advice to funders when it comes to supporting Indigenous self-determination.

Watch: Q&A with Professor Megan Davis

Tell us about the Indigenous Law Centre and the work it leads.

The Indigenous Law Centre (ILC) is the only Indigenous law research centre in Australia. It has been around for 40 years, and it has contributed significantly to the recognition and protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights.

The ILC has been at the forefront of the push for constitutional recognition. The bulk of the work we do is focused on constitutional recognition, and this is because of what we know about structural recognition of Indigenous peoples around the world and the flow-on effect it has in terms of health, wellbeing, educational outcomes, and all of the many facets that we call ‘closing the gap’ in Australia. Self-determination and voice are inextricably linked to this.

At the ILC, we’re lucky enough to work alongside First Nations leaders known collectively as the Uluru Dialogue to progress the Uluru Statement.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart

Tell us more about the partnership with the Uluru Dialogue collective.

The Uluru Dialogue is a collection of First Nations leaders who participated in the Uluru Dialogues of the Referendum Council, many of whom were there at Uluru in 2017 when the Uluru Statement from the Heart was read out for the first time.

The partnership is about matching the Uluru Dialogue’s advocacy for constitutional change with the nuts and bolts of the constitutional reform work that the ILC does. It is a very important partnership and a very good example of knowledge transfer, where an Indigenous legal centre is working very closely on the ground with First Nations peoples and their aspirations for change.

What has the Impact Fund community’s support meant for this work?

The partnership has been able to do so many things because of the Impact Fund’s support. If I think back to the early days, it has helped us in our work in communities in terms of the Dialogues we were able to run with Traditional Owners and many others across the country, educating people on the Uluru Statement. We were able to fund regular meetings of leaders, drafting and design sessions on the voice to parliament, and campaign activity including webinars during Covid lockdowns to educate the broader public.

The Impact Fund’s support to me personally has been significant. In many ways, the funding has enabled me to realise outcomes that I wanted to achieve to set up the pathway to a referendum, particularly the public education work on the ground.

funders are more open to talking about the kind of legal and structural change that is required to actually ‘close the gap’

It can be a lonely road being a constitutional lawyer. In the early days when I tried to raise money, I was told ‘your project doesn’t involve sick children or health issues’. People struggled to understand the connection between constitutional empowerment and health and wellbeing.

After the Uluru Statement from the Heart was issued in 2017, people started to get it and that made it easier to have conversations. I am pleased now that funders are more open to talking about the kind of legal and structural change that is required to actually ‘close the gap’, because Closing the Gap and all those policies are never going to achieve what they seek to achieve without the kind of public infrastructure required to empower First Nations peoples.

Indigenous self-determination is one of the Impact Fund community’s key focus areas and self-determination is clearly central to the Uluru Statement. What’s your advice for funders when it comes to supporting self-determination?

Firstly, in Australia today, self-determination has multiple meanings by multiple entities. It is a complex conceptual right and framework that requires Indigenous peoples to imagine projects and policies, but also visions, of the way their communities should live. If the projects you are funding talk about things like co-design, it’s not self-determination. It is very difficult to look across the landscape and see how many of the projects that are funded will lead to the self-determination of peoples.

Secondly, it is important when you are looking at Indigenous-led initiatives that it is actually the community leading that design. Most organisations are reliant on the state for funding and therefore their projects, which often first look like self-determination, are actually inextricably linked to government policies – and that’s not self-determination.

it is important when you are looking at Indigenous-led initiatives that it is actually the community leading that design

It is a very complex era in which to fund these projects, given that the infrastructure that is required for self-determination to be achieved does not currently exist in Australia. That’s what the Uluru Statement can change, and once its reforms are implemented, the landscape will look very different.

Feature image: Professor Megan Davis and Pat Anderson AO sign the Uluru Statement.