Noel Pearson at the launch of Upholding the Big Ideas

Noel Pearson at the launch of Upholding the Big Ideas.

Upholding big ideas for reconciliation

The Uluru Statement from the Heart, a coming together of more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to call for a First Nations voice in Parliament, sparked a groundswell of public support across Australia. 'In 1967 we were counted,' the statement read. 'In 2017 we seek to be heard.'

But despite popular celebration of its sentiment, political figures called for more detail to transform 'big ideas' into concrete suggestions for implementation.

Just over a year later, Allens has provided pro bono support to non-profit organisation Uphold & Recognise to progress the Uluru Statement's 'movement of the Australian people for a better future'.

With the launch of Upholding the Big Ideas on 26 June, Uphold & Recognise put forward a set of proposals for Constitutional reforms to ensure Parliament hears Indigenous voices. This included options for both a First Nations Voice and a Makarrata Tribunal Bill, which would oversee truth-telling about Indigenous history and agreement-making between Indigenous peoples and Australian governments.

The options are intended to form the basis for further consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and in turn inform parliamentarians of constitutionally conservative options to realise Indigenous aspirations.

The Allens team, led by Reconciliation Action Plan Committee leader and Partner Ian McGill, provided pro bono legal support to Uphold & Recognise to draft Commonwealth legislation.

In particular, two Allens teams drafted two distinct options for a First Nations Voice.

One option, the Speaking for Country Option, was presented as a new section 70A of the Constitution by a Constitution Alteration (Recognising Indigenous Peoples) Bill 2018 and a cognate Speaking for Country Bill 2018.

The second option, the Advisory Council Option, was presented as a new section 60A of the Constitution by a Constitutional Alteration (Receiving Indigenous Advice) Bill 2018 (drafted by Professor Anne Twomey) and a cognate Advisory Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Bill 2018.

'The Bills we've drafted take entirely different approaches to implementing the Uluru Statement's proposed Voice to Parliament: one suggested by Noel Pearson and Professor Twomey, and another by Warren Mundine,' Ian said.

'The point of those different approaches is to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a choice: it is theirs to make, not ours.

'The suggestions in Upholding the Big Ideas are not meant to be prescriptive, but to provide the detail that enables an informed and intelligent conversation to continue, as part of a civil society.'

Allens' advice to Uphold & Recognise continues a long tradition at the firm of advocating and leading on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Constitutional Recognition has been a pillar of Allens' Reconciliation efforts since the firm's first Reconciliation Action Plan in 2009. Throughout this time, lawyers across the firm have provided pro bono support through submissions to Parliament, presentations to clients and industry peers, and support for bodies such as the Referendum Council, Recognise, and the Business Council of Australia Business Indigenous Network.

'We passionately believe that technical legal support for Constitutional Recognition is one of the most powerful ways that Australia's oldest law firm can help to achieve practical and lasting reconciliation and closing the gap,' Ian said.

'More than just symbolic recognition in the Constitution, we believe substantive constitutional reform is required to achieve practical reconciliation.

'We are committed to provide whatever support is in our power to advance that cause.'

The Allens team advising Uphold & Recognise on this matter included Ian McGill (Partner), Ted Hill (Partner), Elyse Adams (Managing Associate), Clare Bradin (Senior Associate), Jerome Entwisle (Senior Associate), Phoebe Boyle (Lawyer) and Kat Tsatsaklas (Law Graduate).

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