It is now a little under two months since the government released its final voice co-design report.
Dropped a week before Christmas, the community was given little time to consider the proposed model for a voice to parliament before the coming federal election.
Despite not being tasked with recommending the legal form of the voice, key members of the co-design group have been publicly advocating for a legislate-first approach, rather than constitutionalise, implying it is a recommendation of the committee and the government.
This is concerning for several reasons, not the least that it is misleading the public. No-one is discussing legislate-first versus constitutionalise other than political elites.
“The legislate-first approach is about entrenching the very features of the status quo that are failing First Nations”
The Uluru Dialogues heard directly from communities through an engaged, deliberative dialogue. This was not a tick and flick process that went for a few hours.
This was a process that engaged community members at all stages of the coalescing of agreement on proposals over three days, compared to the limited consultation offered by the co-design process who consulted after they had designed their preferred options.
The Uluru Dialogues said they were failed by current structures and organisations; the failure of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and its legacy of bad policy and the failure of closing the gap brought on by the sabotaging of the Commonwealth of the national infrastructure and leadership needed to make our people well.
The community understood that underlying all of this was the failure of First Nations to be heard from people who live in communities.
We have continued to see this in decisions such as the expansion of the cashless debit card and the new Closing the Gap targets which has the nation again obsessing over targets as the government walks back its obligations from the 1967 referendum while pretending to have an equal relationship with the Coalition of Peaks.
Despite these concerns, the co-design process pushed ahead with the pretence of change using the existing mechanisms and structures grassroots communities say do not work.
The legislate-first approach is about entrenching the very features of the status quo that are failing First Nations.
The structural challenge faced by First Nations communities for decades cannot be resolved through legislation without a constitutional anchor. The destruction of Juukan Gorge and the escalating rate of removal of Indigenous children at record rates do not occur in a vacuum.
They are the result of the same system that fails to recognise and respect the rightful place of First Nations and fails to hear Indigenous voices on the issues that affect us.
Yet the Commonwealth is saying they are only the ATM and that states and territories should lead the heavy lifting of Indigenous Affairs.
It is hard not to view our disadvantage in 2022 as by design.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is about stopping the buck passing and cost shifting that has plagued our people since 1967.
Anyone who has been involved in Indigenous community politics understands this, and that’s why the Uluru Statement calls for a constitutional voice. A legislate-first approach means that the Uluru Statement is no more.
- Eddie Synot is a Wamba Wamba First Nations person and lecturer at Griffith University