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Thematic Issue: Vulnerability and the Law

‘The Torment of Our Powerlessness’: Addressing Indigenous Constitutional Vulnerability through the Uluru Statement’s Call for a First Nations Voice in Their Affairs


Shireen Morris

This article analyses and explores the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for a constitutionally guaranteed First Nations voice in their affairs, as constitutional reform intended to address the ongoing problem of Indigenous constitutional vulnerability and powerlessness. It contends that a First Nations voice is a suitable solution: it coheres and aligns with Australian constitutional culture and design which recognises, represents and gives voice to the preexisting political communities, or constitutional constituencies. The article evaluates, compares and attempts to refine drafting options to give effect to a First Nations constitutional voice, by reference to principles of constitutional suitability, responsiveness to concerns about parliamentary supremacy and legal uncertainty, and assessment of political viability. The article concludes that the proposal for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice strikes the right conceptual balance between pragmatism and ambition, for viable yet worthwhile constitutional change. With appropriate constitutional drafting and legislative design, such a proposal offers a ‘modest yet profound’ way of meaningfully addressing Indigenous constitutional vulnerability, by empowering the First Nations with a voice in their affairs.

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(2018) 41(3) UNSWLJ 629: