It wasn’t planned but an unexpected offer saw Nambucca Shire’s Cr Martin Ballangarry address the close-to 700 delegates at the Local Government NSW annual conference in Albury last month.
The motion was put that the 126 member councils “acknowledge the significance of the Statement of the Heart as an important piece of political writing and gathering of our First Nations’ Peoples.”
The elements acknowledged in the motion included a First Nations Voice to speak to Parliament as well as the establishment of a Makarrata Commission which would oversee truth telling and the lay the foundation for a Treaty between Federal and State Governments and First Nation people.
Delegates also voted in favour of reviewing the Local Government NSW Aboriginal Affairs policy positions in consultation with its members upon release of the Parliament Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples final report due at the end of this month.
Back home in the Valley Cr Ballangarry said as one of the few black faces at the conference, it was good to have the auditorium’s attention when he spoke.
“I told them this matter needed to be addressed at the highest of political levels as another step in the direction of reconciliation,” Cr Ballangarry said.
“I said in my opinion there were some aspects of the Statement that needed to be changed … such as the passage that “their culture will be a gift to their country.”
“My country is not my gift – I share my country but I don’t give it to anyone. We never ceded this land.”
He told delegates Aboriginal people simply wanted to be treated fairly.
“Our rights have been watered down time and again and our lives ruled by bureaucrats. Local Government is grass roots - change can happen here. Please make a conscious decision on how you vote on this.”
The motion was carried unanimously.
Cr Ballangarry said he enjoyed the experience of the conference but was frustrated that he had not been registered to vote.
General Manager Michael Coulter said it had been an oversight on the part of Council staff (including himself) in not registering Cr Ballangarry as a voting delegate.
“He was only registered as a delegate. I tried to get him registered down there but it was too late,” Mr Coulter said.
“Usually it is only the mayor who attends, which means only one voting delegate – I don’t think this was adjusted.”
Read the ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEARTfor yourself:
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.
This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors.
This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. How could it be otherwise?
That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers.
They should be our hope for the future. These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.