Over two decades ago, a conversation began about how Australia would finally recognise First Nations within the Constitution.
Two decades on, we know the only form that First Nations people agree to and support is an Indigenous Voice protected by the Constitution, as proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
This contemporary form of constitutional recognition would not only shift the national identity of this country to one that is more reflective of modern Australian aspirations, but to one that is more inclusive and respectful of its First Nations cultures.
It is a reform that would bring about meaningful impact and positive transformational change to not only the lives of First Nations, but the legal and political identity of all Australian people, as reflected in the Constitution — that is, if the Government decides to finally deliver.
After years of formal Commonwealth processes, the nation has run five processes and delivered eight reports from 2011-2018. The last process, a parliamentary committee led by Julian Leeser and Senator Patrick Dodson, recommended a co-design process to put meat on the bones of a Voice to Parliament. The Coalition committed to this, allocating $7 million to a co-design process and $160m to a referendum in the 2019
A few weeks ago, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt handed down the interim report on a Voice for consultation with communities.
At this stage, the options the report presents to the Australian public have done their job.
The task was to ensure the Australian public had a clearer idea of what an Indigenous Voice would look like and how it would function. There is plenty of meat on the bones now to show that an Indigenous Voice is viable. The interim report contains proposals for two mechanisms: a Voice to Government and a Voice to Parliament.
By proposing a ‘Voice to Parliament’ which retains the power of the government and bureaucracy over our lives contemporaneously to the Uluru Statement, they have opened the door to submissions on a constitutionally enshrined Voice. They have invited comparison because it is necessary to contemplate the effectiveness of their Voice proposal.
Mr Wyatt’s Voice co-chairs Professor Dr Marcia Langton AO and Professor Tom Calma AO have declared to the Australian public in a National Indigenous Australians Agency webinar, that any submissions which, in their words, go off on “tangents” and speak to the question of constitutional enshrinement of an Indigenous Voice, will hold little weight.
They said submissions made to the agency by the public that include content on the
constitutional enshrinement of the Indigenous Voice are irrelevant. But this is untrue.
A joint submission made by Australia’s top 40 public law experts advised that constitutional enshrinement is essential for the Indigenous Voice to be protected, hold status in parliamentary processes, have legitimacy and be effective.
It is poor process to open a report for feedback via consultation and ‘co-design’ and then tell the Australian people they cannot submit their views on a proposal and consequently not have their voices heard.
This censoring is ironic, given the Voice was a clarion call for previously unheard First Nations voices to be heard.
What is left now, is to timetable a referendum and let the Australian people decide how they wish to be represented as a nation according to their constitution. Political processes must be followed through with, so that all voices — including non-Indigenous Australians who support such a referendum — are heard.
For more information on the Uluru Statement, visit: https://ulurustatement.org/.
By Dani Larkin
Dani Larkin is a proud Bundjalung/Kungarykany woman and is a Lecturer/Director of Higher Degree Research and Nura Gili at the University of NSW.