Anthony Albanese has been warned to not drag the Voice to Parliament into his second term, as one of the key architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart declares it is now or never.
In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Indigenous leaders Megan Davis and Pat Anderson – who received the Sydney Peace Prize for their work with the statement – said there was a “fine line between getting everybody ready” and losing momentum.
“This is the best opportunity we have ever had, so it’s time to go, soon. The Prime Minister will make a judgment about when that time is right,” Ms Anderson said.
“But it is time to go.
“There comes a time when you are at the ballot box just you and your conscience. Get yourself ready for that time in your life because (for) all of us over 18 this is probably one of the biggest things we are ever going to do.”
Mr Albanese last week said he was “very confident” that Australia would vote for the referendum to establish an Indigenous voice enshrined in the constitution.
Professor Davis said it was a “good beginning” but the wording was “not set in stone”.
“We welcome the Prime Minister opening with a draft proposal to start that discussion. And the process should not be used to hollow out the meaning and the intent which we sometimes see in commentary of political pundits,” she said.
“The political reality is that Australians won’t accept change in the constitution unless they can be sure that the change is worth making.”
But if Mr Albanese were to put the referendum off until his second term, the opportunity would be “lost”, Ms Anderson said.
“In my view, we (will) have lost the momentum and the government, and all of us, will get sidetracked by a lot of other things,” she said.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart was signed off by more than 250 Indigenous leaders more than five years ago.
Professor Davis told the press club she “vividly” remembered the morning after the 2019 federal election, which the Coalition won, when elders from the dialogues called to ask her to “take me off your list … my heart cannot take this”.
“They had so much hope and felt that they would never see the Uluru Statement from the Heart achieved,” she said.
“Many of our old people are dying and they are acutely aware that Australia approaches the most difficult phase of human existence in global warming and climate change.
“Our old people said that enough is enough and they want peace for country.”
But Professor Davis concluded her speech by saying while she was “not a Pollyanna”, she believed Australia could, and would, change.
“We won in 1967 and we can do it again,” she said.