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Indigenous coalition urged Albanese, Burney to push for alternative legislation in wake of Voice defeat

Dechlan Brennan -

An Indigenous coalition urged the Australian government to move quickly in the wake of the "devastating" Voice referendum result to help remedy Indigenous disadvantage whilst Australians were heavily focussed on the issue.

Documents released under freedom of information laws reveal Gudanji-Arrernte woman Pat Turner, head of the Coalition of Peaks, wrote to both Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's department in the day after the Voice referendum which saw more than 60 per cent of Australians vote to reject the proposal.

In the letter, Ms Turner argued the core proposal of the Voice - to enable Indigenous input into government decisions that impact Aboriginal people - could be feasibly achieved with amendments to the Commonwealth Public Service Act.

This, she said, would "require public servants to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives on matters that significantly impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people".

The Prime Minister has so far resisted calls to legislate the Voice proposal and Ms Turner argued the Coalition of Peaks' proposal would go some way to alleviate the lack of Indigenous consultation in government and bureaucratic decision making.

"This option provides an alternative to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard by government on matters that impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," she said.

Ms Turner said both the Coalition of Peaks and members of the Yes campaign could work together to enable the development of this legislative change.

The letter said both the Yes and No campaigns had enabled greater awareness of Indigenous issues, including "greater public understanding and support" that the government needs to offer more practical support in alleviating the gap in outcomes for Indigenous people compared to non-Indigenous people.

"It is important that the government takes early action on these issues to leverage current public understanding, support and expectation," Ms Turner said.

"Early action is also needed to tackle the divisive that has been perpetuated by the no campaign. Demonstrating strong practical action will also support healing in the nation."

She also argued there was an "urgent need to accelerate action" on initiatives to support First Nations people that had been "put on hold" during the referendum campaign.

Ms Turner's Coalition of Peaks is made up of more than 80 Indigenous-controlled member organisations, represents 800 organisations and have been involved in the National Agreement to Closing the Gap. Post referendum they met in Naarm to discuss the steps forward and noted Indigenous people "overwhelmingly voted for a Voice".

Ms Turner said the Voice and the National Agreement were premised on the same principle: Indigenous people should be heard and consulted by governments on issues that impacted them.

"Re-committing and investing in the implementation of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap enables the government to continue to show its support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices to be part of decision making on policies and programs that have a significant impact on us," she said.

In her letter to Ms Burney, Ms Turner thanked the minister for having the "courage and conviction in taking forward the referendum to a vote" whilst noting it was "a devastating outcome and we are all grieving".

She offered support to Ms Burney as "lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, and also as a friend".

In the aftermath of the referendum, Ms Burney said the government would have more comments to make in the coming months about Closing the Gap. However, she has so far remained largely non-committal to any significant legislative implementation or truth-telling.

Along with calling for a Voice, the Uluru Statement from the Heart features the Makarrata Commission which would supervise a process of 'agreement-making' and 'truth-telling' between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Ms Turner said the National Agreement on Closing the Gap would commit to an Indigenous led Assembly to be held in 2024.

"This Assembly would provide an opportunity to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country to discuss and agree further action on Closing the Gap," she said.

"The Assembly could also consider any other actions needed arising from the no outcome, including truth telling actions."

The Coalition of Peaks was contacted by National Indigenous Times for information on the proposed Assembly.

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