The Statement From The Heart
– Myths, Realties and Yes!
Rev. Canon A/Prof. Glenn Loughrey, Wiradjuri Sept 2023
We are a little over 4 weeks out from Referendum Day, the most significant vote of our lifetime. Since March I have presented on 100 occasions to some 7,000+ people within and without the Church and faith communities. Many have been recorded and circulated alongside 4 radio interviews and one National TV interview.
In them, I unpack the gentle and absurd invitation known as the Statement from the Heart, a document designed at the request of the Turnbull government and predicated on 12 consultations with some 1200 plus people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia. It was signed at Uluru by 250 representatives of those communities.
The Statement From the Heart is an invitation to Australians to participate in a process of restorative justice and transformational forgiveness based on the 4 aspirations – Voice, Treaty, Truth, and Makarrata – a process experienced in the restorative redemption gifted to the world by a merciful God through Jesus Christ. It calls us to accept mercy and forgiveness from the First People and to act justly by including them as equals and hearing their Voice.
If you are not heard, you are not seen and if you are not seen, you do not exist. The voice was the most supported element in the consultations. If enshrined in the constitution it recognizes a process of joint or shared sovereignty with power, embedding the spiritual notion of kinship or relationship sovereignty with the hard external linear sovereignty of the Crown. It completes the circle that has remained unfinished due to our exclusion from the Constitution in 1901.
Voice is central to the revelation of God and the experience of his people throughout the Scriptures. He hears the cries of his people (for example in Exodus), the voices of the prophets (examples are numerous), and the humanity of his people including through Jesus when he listens to those who come for healing (What do you want?) and does what they ask.
Once recognized, there is an opportunity to agree that as both are here, we are to work together to live respectfully. You cannot do treaty with those who do not exist. Once heard, you both have the responsibility to agree on how you are going to live together in this space. This is conciliation – a process we have never achieved.
Coming together, there is space, to tell the truth about what happened, why it happened, how it impacted both parties and why and how it continues today. We reflect on how we got to where we are, providing the foundation to resolve what can be resolved, forgive what can be forgiven, and a commitment to work together. This is about how each of us feels to be in this space – one privileged, the other destituted by the other privilege – and how understanding we share the pain and questions. This is reconciliation, dealing with the hard stuff.
Truthtelling sits at the center of Jesus’ interaction with those who come to him (the rich young man, Nicodemus, Matthew, the woman at the well). and it is not just one way (the Canaanite women for example). It is central to mercy and justice.
A Yolgnu word for “coming together after a dispute” means someone must do reparation, and face the consequences of their actions. It is not the romantic conclusion at the end of a Disney movie where all live happily ever after. It involves a spear in the thigh. The person will walk differently afterwards, unable to hunt they learn to rely on and respect others, settling down into a relationship with the wider community. It reminds them and others, that sorry is not enough. This is the story of Jacob at Peniel when he wakes up after wrestling with a young man overnight, possibly the young Jacob who stole Esau’s birthright all those years before. He wakes up with a dislocated hip, always walking with a limp in memory of this graced moment and with a new name.
If we implement the Statement from the Heart, Australia will walk with a limp – a different country with a new name – just.
Interestingly, the last act involving Jesus on the Cross is a spear in the side – makarrata – and when Jesus meets Thomas, he lifts his tunic to show the scar. The implication? We are to live differently because of that act.
Like the invitation to participate in the kin-dom of God, we are invited to accept this process of transformational forgiveness and begin the journey of repair for our fractured nation. To do so we are asked to say yes and accept this invitation, beginning a process to a new Australia.
The lead-up to the 14th of October has been muddied by realities, myths, and FUD.
One of the realities is that Australia and the church are racist. Sometimes seemingly unknowingly, sometimes blatantly so. Racism comes from the lack of understanding that Australia was based on the world’s best practice of colonization and genocide having its roots in race in the 15th century. This led to a world predicated on 3 pillars – race, language, and religion – all of which allowed for those who embraced the universal idea of supremacy, language (first Spanish, then English), and religion (Christianity), to destitute and exterminate those who were not included or did not accept one or all of these key pillars.
At the Federation of Australia, the prevailing view of politicians from all sides was that Australia was the last white supremacy project and it had to be protected from colour within and without, culminating in the White Australia Policy. It resulted in our people being excluded from the Federation based on the idea proffered by Alfred Deakin that we had already died out in the south and were dying out in the north and west despite being treated gently. This was 28 years before the last recorded massacre at Coniston, and 60 years before my father’s instructions to me as a small boy in the early ‘60’s, not to drink anything we hadn’t taken with us because it may be poisoned.
Australia and the church have been and is structurally racist because the framework of our society and our reading of the story of God’s revelation comes from this pre-eminence of race we are yet to address in our Theological colleges and formation processes.
This reality is accompanied by various myths such as:
- This is going to divide the country on race. As noted above that happened several centuries ago. Nothing else to say.
- That we are giving one group special treatment and rights based on their race. It has been argued race is a fabricated category, not an actual one, and that this had its beginning several centuries ago in the development of Western European hegemony. It was enshrined in the 1901 constitution when we were excluded, and all pre-eminent rights given to white people. Yes, we had special treatment although I am not sure you want to share in extermination and genocide (1824 Bathurst war of extermination between the army of England and Ireland and the Wiradjuri resulting in the extermination of the local people where I came from by 1876), in being dispossessed from your land and home, having your children stolen and being invaded again in 2007 in the Northern Territory Emergency Response, or personally, in the extreme violence of my childhood and the trauma-related PTSD I live with daily.
- I am not racist. Yes, you are. It is embedded. Accepting it allows you to transition by unpacking why you think, and how you think, and finding yourself anew as Jesus did when confronted by the Canaanite woman.
Reality number two:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait voices are mediated through whiteness. Throughout this campaign, I have watched as people in leadership, clerical, and lay, make decisions on what I should say and how I should say it, whether I can speak the truth or make it palatable for all. I have been excluded from schools, institutions, and churches because I might upset someone. This mediation of my Voice through white possessiveness is a symptom of racism and the structural inequalities in our society for which the Statement from the Heart, Recognition, and Voice is the antidote.
Our people have been possessed, made into victims, and used as collateral in the economic structures of society. There is an Aboriginal Industry designed to benefit all but our people – prison systems, law and justice systems, welfare and university systems, government systems –swallowing up some $27 billion of the money allegedly spent on our people.
We have been mediated into a product called culture – the oldest living culture – but dismissed as people with a nuanced and sophisticated way of being suited to living on this country in favor of its destruction by Western philosophy. Noel Pearson is right on many levels when he says, “Australians like our culture, but don’t like us.” That is our lived, my lived experience, and is as current as my last breath.
Reality Number 3
Australia and those within the church are deeply fearful. This fear is the colonial memory of stealing this country from others. If you steal something from others, you remain fearful they or someone else will steal it from you. Living on the proceeds of stolen property is all about the fear of being caught out. We are fearful that if we admit our history and its impact on First People, we will have to give up the privilege illegally gained and from which we benefit. The truth will set you free but even those who profess to believe that are unable to embrace the truth. We live with the myth that what we have belongs solely to us.
Reality Number 4:
We believe opinions have the same value as the truth. We believe everyone with an opinion deserves to be heard. We believe we are required to give oxygen to every position no matter how inaccurate, incorrect, or bizarre those opinions are. I am asked to share a stage with the nos. To do so means we must invite Warren & Jacinta, Pauline Hansen, David Littleproud, Peter Dutton, and Lydia Thorpe as they all have very different positions. There is no no position that is cogent and defensible (except Lydia Thorpe’s), the rest are just throw-a-ways creating mischief.
Inside this fourth reality is the idea we must appease those within our communities who say no. We don’t tell the truth for fear of upsetting them. We decide not to have a position, only asking others to consider the proposition prayerfully. This is common within our church and school communities.
Interestingly, as Tim Costello points out, those who spoke out about slavery, apartheid, and racism against African Americans – Wilberforce, Bishop Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr. –confronted this process of appeasement expressed as ‘not now, the time is not right” and ‘it will divide us.’ King’s response was that the time would never be right. Now was as good as any. The failure to confront the evil that spawned WW11 was based on the idea of not saying anything because it would divide us.
In not taking a position we are taking a position – the position not to support yes and do the right thing, the position to support the FUD and to retain the racist status quo – white supremacy.
As a Christian, I say Yes because there is no position allowing those who follow Jesus to say No. James Jeffrey, writing in the Quadrant, argues there are 5 Reasons Why Christians Should Reject the Voice. Interestingly none are particularly Christian.
- Number One is that there can be no “indigenous” voice on the basis we are all different and don’t agree on everything. Just like white people, I would suggest! I could and probably will proffer some theological opinions resulting in very different responses from the gathered masses. The fact that 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People do support the Voice counters his statement.
- Number Two is “Revenge, Not Reconciliation”. Another piece of misinformation. It is a pedagogy of transformational forgiveness and restorative justice repairing what was fractured at the beginning of modern Australia. Galatians 3:28 is not a reason to vote no, but a foundational reason to vote yes. I’ll leave you to read it in context and work out why. (There is an explainer on my website).
- Number Three is “The Voice Enshrines Divisive Racialism”. As I have shown the Voice is about healing that divide, conciliated for the first time.
- Number Four is “The Voice Rejects Forgiveness”. As I have shown it is a document of absurd forgiveness and compassion based on the inclusive concept of My comment in response to Indigenous people as sinners is as follows: we were here for 65,000 years and had a nuanced relationship with the Divine. Nowhere in that time did God feel it necessary to send Jesus to die for us. In fact, on the Cross, Jesus does Makarrata – he takes a spear in the side! I wonder where God got that idea from!
The idea of sinners needing a sacrifice to be redeemed only arrived in 1788 and the question we must answer is whether this theological perspective is to be universally applied or was it originally a local response within its country of origin, or alternatively, a recent interpretation of Jesus death in retrospect? Did God mean it to conspire against humanity in different contexts and spaces for power, control, assimilation, and genocide? I’ll let you work that out for yourself.
- Number Five, “The Voice Distracts from Real Solutions”. Being enshrined in the constitution allows us to focus with a long view on solutions that are not top-down, imposed economic models failing to address the culture and structure of our communities, remote or urban. The solutions of the past have been the products of ideology and changed every time we got a new Government. The Voice, being enshrined, allows the National and Regional Voices to stay the course and develop long-term solutions.
So Where To Now:
I understand this has been difficult to listen to as it has been to experience, write, and present. I understand some of you are uncomfortable with what I have said. Deciding to say what I have said wasn’t easy, but I believe within the context of the Referendum it is appropriate.
The tone of the Statement From the Heart conciliatory gift, a gift extending its hand to say, in the light of these truths, we invite you to walk with us towards a better future for our nation. This Statement doesn’t seek to take from you what you have, it only asks us to be considered as equal in the Constitution and given a Voice on matters pertaining to us, enshrined to honor and respect our place as the First People of this land.
In this statement, and the Voice, are two gifts. The first, is the gift of saying yes. When you open the box, you see a gift voucher saying vote yes. The second is the gift of a mature nation recognizing its past and building for the future. The gift voucher offers the gift of taking your yes and making it fit for purpose through your democratic process of parliamentary legislation. If you say yes, we are not going to tell you how to do it. That is your responsibility through your elected representatives.
Here we again confront the absurdity of this invitation – the gift of trust to honor your yes, building a better future for our nation.
In 1967, 90+% of Australians voted “Yes for Aborigines”. All major institutions, including our church, said, “Vote Yes for The Aborigines”. What has happened to this nation and our church in 56 years that we no longer have the courage to tell our people to “Vote Yes for the Aborigines?”
If the polls in today’s newspaper are accurate, 61% of all here today plan to vote no.
I expect 100% to vote yes.
(No date) ‘https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12473099/Deakin-University-change.html’.
ABC News (2023) What was the intervention era in NT indigenous communities? ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-29/what-was-the-northern-territory-emergency-response/101891110 (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
Briggs, C. (2023) These graphs show the stark difference between generations when it comes to the voice, ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-09/voice-to-parliament-uluru-statement-yes-vote-fallen-no-ahead/102832938 (Accessed: 09 September 2023).
Cochrane, P. (2019) Best we forget: The war for white australia 1914-18. Melbourne: Text Publishing Company.
Five reasons Christians should reject the voice (no date) Quadrant Online Five Reasons Christians Should Reject the Voice Comments. Available at: https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/religion/2023/08/five-reasons-christians-should-reject-the-voice/ (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
Gapps, D.S. (2021) Gudyarra: The first Wiradyuri War of Resistance — the Bathurst War, 1822-1824. NewSouth Publishing.
Mansell, M. (2016) Treaty and statehood: Aboriginal self-determination. Sydney, NSW: Federation Press, 2016. p. 131-133
Martino, M. (2023) Fact check: Do the polls show that indigenous support for the voice is between 80 and 90 per cent?, Anthony Albanese says surveys show between 80 and 90 per cent of Indigenous Australians support the Voice. Is that correct? – ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-02/fact-check-indigenous-australians-support-for-the-voice/102673042 (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
Mignolo, W. and Walsh, C.E. (2018) On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, praxis. Durham: Duke University Press.
An open letter from Rev Tim Costello to church leaders on The Voice (no date) Tearfund Australia. Available at: https://www.tearfund.org.au/stories/an-open-letter-from-rev-tim-costello-to-church-leaders-on-the-voice?fbclid=IwAR3GZRRqvEYzXtjil4eeIwm5Yq_2iBCPKlnvsWRAsYj5OPKf4UhOhQPrmLw (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
Read, P. (2010) The stolen generations: The removal of Aboriginal Children in new south wales 1883 to 1969. Surry Hills, N.S.W.: NSW Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs.
Tony Abbott is wrong – the NIAA doesn’t spend $30 billion a year on indigenous programs (no date) RMIT University. Available at: https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/factlab-meta/niaa-does-not-spend-$30b-on-indigenous-programs-annually (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
View the statement (2023) Uluru Statement from the Heart. Available at: https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement/view-the-statement/# (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
 View the statement (2023) Uluru Statement from the Heart. Available at: https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement/view-the-statement/# (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
 Mignolo, W. and Walsh, C.E. (2018) On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, praxis. Durham: Duke University Press.
 Cochrane, P. (2019) Best we forget: The war for white Australia 1914-18. Melbourne: Text Publishing Company.
 Mignolo, W. and Walsh, C.E. (2018) On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, praxis. Durham: Duke University Press.
 Gapps, D.S. (2021) Gudyarra: The first Wiradyuri War of Resistance — the Bathurst War, 1822-1824. NewSouth Publishing.
 Read, P. (2010) The stolen generations: The removal of Aboriginal Children in new south wales 1883 to 1969. Surry Hills, N.S.W.: NSW Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs.
 ABC News (2023) What was the intervention era in NT indigenous communities?, ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-29/what-was-the-northern-territory-emergency-response/101891110 (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
 Matthew 15:21-28
 Tony Abbott is wrong – the NIAA doesn’t spend $30 billion a year on indigenous programs (no date) RMIT University. Available at: https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/factlab-meta/niaa-does-not-spend-$30b-on-indigenous-programs-annually (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
 An open letter from Rev Tim Costello to church leaders on The Voice (no date) Tearfund Australia. Available at: https://www.tearfund.org.au/stories/an-open-letter-from-rev-tim-costello-to-church-leaders-on-the-voice?fbclid=IwAR3GZRRqvEYzXtjil4eeIwm5Yq_2iBCPKlnvsWRAsYj5OPKf4UhOhQPrmLw (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
 FUD is colloquially Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt although I translate it, in this context, as False Unsubstantiated Disinformation.
 Five reasons Christians should reject the voice (no date) Quadrant Online Five Reasons Christians Should Reject the Voice Comments. Available at: https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/religion/2023/08/five-reasons-christians-should-reject-the-voice/ (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
 Martino, M. (2023) Fact check: Do the polls show that indigenous support for the voice is between 80 and 90 per cent?, Anthony Albanese says surveys show between 80 and 90 per cent of Indigenous Australians support the Voice. Is that correct? – ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-02/fact-check-indigenous-australians-support-for-the-voice/102673042 (Accessed: 06 September 2023).
 Mansell, M. (2016) Treaty and statehood: Aboriginal self-determination. Sydney, NSW: Federation Press, 2016. p. 131-133
 Briggs, C. (2023) These graphs show the stark difference between generations when it comes to the voice, ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-09/voice-to-parliament-uluru-statement-yes-vote-fallen-no-ahead/102832938 (Accessed: 09 September 2023).