Rachel Perkins earns place to debate Constitution

Respected filmmaker Rachel Perkins is one of 10 Central Australian Aboriginal representatives who will argue for meaningful constitutional change in Australia.

Perkins, whose latest film Jasper Jones premiered in Australian cinemas last month, was elected at a three-day meeting of about 100 Central Australian Aboriginal delegates at Ross River, east of Alice Springs.

The other representatives include Richard James, Barbara Shaw, Geoffrey Shannon, Owen Torres, Valda Shannon, Pat Brahim, Jody Kopp, Natasha Abbott and Damien Williams.

The 10 will represent the region’s priorities for meaningful constitutional reform at a First Nations Convention at Uluru on May 24-26.

The meeting supported a statement of acknowledgement in the Constitution that would prevent discriminatory law making, allow a representative voice to Parliament, prohibit racial discrimination and accommodate a Treaty.

“I was so pleased to see everyone grab this opportunity with both hands and get involved,” Central Land Council director David Ross said.

“It was one of those great moments where everything fell into place and everyone, young and old, participated.

“The interpreters at the meeting did a great job of translating complex legal ideas.”

Mr Ross said the meeting had been respectful, with everyone having an opportunity to voice their opinion.

“Having male and female co-chairs and local facilitators helped to make everyone comfortable,” he said.

Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation general manager Barbara Shaw chaired the meeting with Mr Ross.

She said the delegates had elected mostly young and middle-aged people to seek consensus at Uluru on a referendum question to put to all Australian voters.

“I was quite overjoyed that we had a number of young people who had the confidence to stand up and make comment,” Ms Shaw said.

“They want to learn more. They were really engaged and really excited to be part of this journey.

“One of the things that were quite moving was that we had a lot of people who were starting to get the fire back in the belly.

“They were saying ‘This is the first time we were able to get together from all around the country to talk about an issue that is important to all of us.’”

The 10 representatives plan to meet in the coming weeks to prepare for the Uluru convention.

The Referendum Council last year asked the Central Land Council to help organise both the Ross River and the Uluru gatherings, following the CLC’s request in 2015 to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for an Aboriginal-only meeting in its region.

One of 12 so-called First Nations Regional Dialogues across the country, the Ross River meeting was a chance for Central Australians to debate their preferences for constitutional reform.

CLC delegates last November helped to draw up a list of 100 invitees, including traditional owners, Aboriginal organisations and individual women and men.

By Wendy Caccetta

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