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The People must design the Voice

When we left Uluṟu after we issued the Uluṟu Statement to the Australian people we set up a website: Uluṟustatement.org. This website is the digital home of the Uluṟu Statement. We decided too to start the dialogue with the Australian people.

This is an Indigenous built and led dialogue that has organisers and leaders from across Australia - some from the First Nations regional dialogues and many others that were not in the dialogues but supportive of the Uluṟu Statement and its wide-ranging agenda from structural power to history. After all, we have been calling for Voice, Treaty and Truth for a very long time.

We've run meetings over the past five years from the Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW with leaders from across Australia, run "Voice" dialogues, worked with constitutional lawyers on drafting and ballot questions, worked with parliamentary clerks on parliamentary procedure and worked with referendum experts. We have worked on all facets of what is needed to get us to a referendum.

We are now getting down to the business end of the long campaign for constitutional change as the Albanese has committed to a Voice. Over the next few months, we will be travelling the nation and yarning with mob. For mob to support the referendum we need to know that the constitutional power that goes into the text of the Constitution gets us a seat at the table. We don't want an opportunity to have a Voice, we want a Voice. For mob to support the referendum we need to know that we won't be forgotten as all the nation talks about us: nothing about us, without us.

The dialogues were adamant in their rejection of those who purport to represent our views in Canberra but never report back. Two-way accountability is important. It's not just about politicians and parliament and accountability. It's about accountability of First Nations or Indigenous representatives and leaders back to community. If you receive government grants for services and activities on behalf of mob, when do these organisations and businesses go to communities and report back? On procurement policy, do we accept the trickle-down theory of wealth creation? That the privilege of one individual is the triumph of us all? How are resources distributed across communities? These are the many questions people ask.

There are many things that enliven the advocacy of our Voice but none more so than the failure of closing the gap and the need for coherency and organisation across the federation. Mob are entitled to ask: why is the gap not closing? There are so many unanswered questions.

The most critical part of this work comes after a successful referendum, we need the space to design substantive elements of the Voice. This is critical to the long term success of the Voice. This is fundamental to any durable institution: having the First Nations communities design it. Yes, there are fundamental features that can be agreed upon now but a process must follow. As we have already submitted to the government, to follow best practice, respecting the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to self-determination and to engage with the state through political institutions of their own design, a process to finalise the design of the Voice is necessary.

We say that this must be a process in which First Nations select their representatives and are fully apprised of all design options. This further process, to take place immediately after a referendum, is essential for the legitimacy and therefore success of the Voice.
The process to follow should be set out in a Bill that is passed by Parliament and (in an uncommenced form) as an Act available to the public voting at the referendum.

 

Pat Anderson and Professor Megan Davis 

 

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