Responding to the Uluru Statement from the Heart

Budget Review October 2022–23 Index

James Haughton

In their election commitment to First Nations peoples, and in Prime Minister Albanese’s election victory speech, the Government committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart (the Uluru Statement) ‘in full’. This article analyses the October budget commitments made towards implementing the Uluru Statement. Constitutional and policy aspects of the Uluru Statement are discussed in the article, ‘Indigenous constitutional recognition and representation’, from the Parliamentary Library’s Briefing Book for the 47th Parliament.

All page references are to Budget measures: budget paper no. 2 unless otherwise stated.

Pre-budget commitments

In their pre-election Labor’s Plan for a Better Future, the ALP committed $27.7 million to ‘implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart’. The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) also costed the commitment at $27.7 million. The ALP did not specify how this funding would be allocated to the various components of the Uluru Statement.

Table 1 Uluru Statement PBO Costing

$ million  2022–23  2023–24  2024–2025  Total
Implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart 7.1  13.7 6.9  27.7 

This is apparently separate from the cost of a referendum. Since the 2016 Pre-election economic and fiscal outlook statement, $160 million has been included in the Contingency Reserve for the cost of a referendum (p. 107). However, the PBO estimated in 2021-22 that due to inflation since 2016, the 2021 cost of a referendum would be $188 million. The government may need to make some provision for this cost increase, although it may be covered by the Contingency Reserve’s Conservative Bias Allowance.

Budget commitments

Budget measures: budget paper no. 2 includes 4 measures associated with the Uluru Statement. Collectively, these total approximately $83 million, exceeding the ALP’s $27.7 million pre-election commitment.

Referendum and voting

The measure Delivery of a First Nations Voice to Parliament Referendum – preparatory work (p. 107) provides $75.1 million over two years from 2022–23, of which $65.3 million is in 2022–23. This includes:

  • $6.5 million to the National Indigenous Australians Agency to support the referendum, including supporting ‘special advisory groups that will engage with stakeholders and provide advice to Government’. This appears to refer to the Referendum Working Group and Referendum Engagement Group.
  • $1.6 million to the Attorney General’s Department and $0.8 million to the Department of Finance for ‘preparation and support work’, such as ballot paper printing and advertising space.
  • $52.6 million to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to prepare for the referendum. It is not clear whether this figure is intended to cover the $28 million plus cost increase of a referendum since 2016.
  • $16.1 million to the AEC to increase First Nations voter enrolment and ‘participation in future electoral events’.

First Nations voter enrolment

Although voter enrolment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens has been compulsory since 1984, their voter enrolment has consistently lagged below that of non-Indigenous Australians. According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), in 2022 Indigenous enrolment rose above 80% for the first time, to 81.7%, while the overall population enrolment rate is 97.1%.

Furthermore, Indigenous enrolment is not uniform. Despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprising relatively high proportions of their populations, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia (and South Australia) have the lowest rates of Indigenous voter enrolment. These states and territories have higher Indigenous populations in remote and very remote communities, which creates challenges for registering and voting. According to one analysis, policy changes in recent decades have created further significant obstacles to voting in such communities.

Figure 1 Indigenous voter registration rate vs Indigenous % of population, by state/territory

Indigenous voter registration rate vs Indigenous % of population, by state/territory

Sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2021; Australian Electoral Commission, ‘Indigenous enrolment rate’, June 2022.

CLP Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, and former Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon, have previously expressed concern about low Aboriginal voter enrolment in the NT and other remote areas, and called on the AEC to improve their enrolment policies and practices. In June 2021, the Mayor of West Arnhem Council, Matthew Ryan, and another complainant (who is now deceased and not named for cultural reasons) lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging that the AEC’s enrolment policies in remote Indigenous communities are racially discriminatory. This complaint has not yet been resolved.

Makarrata Commission

The measure Implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart – Makarrata Commission (p. 171) provides $5.8 million to ‘commence work on establishing an independent Makarrata Commission to oversee processes for agreement making and truth telling’. The description states that this is ‘part of the Government’s $27.7 million election commitment to establish a Makarrata Commission’, implying that the entire $27.7 million will be dedicated to the Makarrata Commission at some point.

Sequencing of a Voice referendum and a Makarrata Commission, and work on truth-telling and agreement making/treaty, has been politically contentious between the ALP and the Australian Greens. While the ALP’s election policy commits to both a Voice and a Makarrata Commission, and they have previously committed to treaty and truth-telling, the ALP argues that implementing the Uluru Statement as intended requires the Voice to be the first substantive reform. The Greens have argued that truth-telling and treaty should occur first, or concurrently with the Voice referendum.

Before the Budget the Greens called for $32 million annually for a truth and justice commission and $8 million annually for a treaty commission. However, they have since welcomed the budget commitment of $5.8 million.

Tax deductibility

The receipt measure Philanthropy – updates to specifically listed deductible gift recipients (p. 17) grants tax deductible gift recipient (DGR) status to the small charity Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition (AICR). AICR had previously undertaken legal action against the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission after its application for DGR status was denied. AICR’s directors are also members of the From the Heart campaign. As the measure also includes DGR status for the Australian Women Donor Network in its $0.8 million cost, it is not clear what fiscal impact AICR’s DGR status will have.

Since announcement of this DGR status, prominent Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yuin politician Warren Mundine has called for a potential future organisation promoting a ‘No’ campaign to receive DGR status. He had previously called for a constitutional amendment enshrining ‘local Indigenous bodies' instead of a single national representative body, but has since shifted his stance to blanket opposition.

First Nations Ambassador

The measure First Nations Foreign Policy (p. 112) provides $2.0 million over 2 years to establish an Office of First Nations Engagement, headed by an Ambassador for First Nations Peoples. This measure was previously costed as $0 (funded from existing resources) in the ALP pre-election Labor’s Plan for a Better Future. The position will be administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is already seeking expressions of interest.

The ALP’s election commitment to First Nations peoples states that the Ambassador will ‘be supported to engage with likeminded countries to share our commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and experience of treaty and truth-telling processes, as well as the implementation of our commitments under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, playing a role in trade, protection of Indigenous intellectual property rights (see the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Articles 11, 24 and 31), and repatriation of Indigenous ancestral remains and sacred objects. The Ambassador’s terms of reference give more detail, specifying that the Ambassador will ‘Establish international First Nations dialogues on Voice, Treaty and Truth with likeminded countries to share experiences and knowledge of reconciliation processes and other First Nations issues, starting with New Zealand and Canada’.

Table 2 below summarises the current position of these countries on indigenous constitutional, representational, treaty and other instruments, and truth and reconciliation, processes.

Table 2 Key First Nations institutions and processes in likeminded countries

Country Australia New Zealand Canada
Constitutional recognition No No entrenched Constitution; Treaty of Waitangi has quasi-constitutional status as the ‘founding document’. Sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 (Can) recognise and protect aboriginal rights, including treaty and native title rights.
First Nations-specific representation No Māori seats in Parliament reserved by the Māori Representation Act 1867 (NZ). No codified representation. The Assembly of First Nations is a longstanding representative body. Section 35.1 of the Constitution Act 1982 requires the Prime Minister and first ministers to consult representatives of aboriginal peoples on any alteration of s 25 or s 35.
Treaty or treaties with First Nations peoples No Treaty of Waitangi (1840) with Waitangi Tribunal and Te Kāhui Whakatau (Office of Treaty Settlements). Numerous historic and modern treaties, ongoing treaty negotiation in British Columbia.
Endorsed UNDRIP Yes (3 April 2009) Yes (19 April 2010) Yes (12 November 2010)
Signed/Ratified Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989 No No No
Truth and reconciliation processes National Apology to the Stolen Generations (2008) and Bringing them Home report (1997); Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (1991–2000); Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987–1991); other inquiries. The ‘treaty-based grievance’ process initiated by creating the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975. National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2015–2019); Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2007–2015) and the Apology for Indian Residential Schools; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1991–1996).


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