Interim report set to test ideas on Recognition

A federal parliamentary committee will “feed the ball into the scrum” with its first report on constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the end of the month, according to one of its chairmen.

The 11-member committee was set up after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s idea of an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament and is headed by Liberal Party MP and constitutional expert Julian Leeser, and Opposition Indigenous Affairs spokesman Senator Patrick Dodson.

Its interim report will be tabled on July 30 ahead of a final report in November. Senator Dodson and Mr Leeser are expected to address parliament on the report when the houses resume next month (August).

While the interim report is not expected to make any recommendations or findings, it is expected to set out some opinions or ideas.

“What we’ve found is a lot of people say, ‘yes we want a voice’, but when you ask them what that would look like they then say ‘I don’t really know’,” Mr Leeser told NIT. “Part of the challenge we face is we’re not being overwhelmed with people coming up with different models.

“What we have had is people saying, ‘here are a few things you might like’. There have been a few models put forward, and that’s good.

“That’s why the interim report is really important. It will provide an opportunity to feed  the ball into the scrum and let people kick it around a bit.

“I’m expecting people to kick the ball around. The ball will come out of the scrum and hopefully we will score a try.”

The interim report deadline looms as two of the Labor States and the Northern Territory make their own moves towards treaties or a voice to parliament.

Aboriginal Victorians are set to go to the polls early next year to elect a representative body to enter treaty talks with the Victorian government after landmark legislation passed through State Parliament.

The NT government recently signed a historic agreement with four powerful Aboriginal land councils to “develop a process to negotiate a Northern Territory treaty”.

And the WA Government is calling for community feedback on a proposal to create a new independent advocacy role for Aboriginal people with WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt favoring a voice to parliament, though the final call will rest with Cabinet.

Senator Dodson said he thought it was good that the States were acting.

“I think it’s good that those other jurisdictions are at least trying to pursue these matters within the confines of their jurisdictions and capacities,” Senator Dodson said. “Because what we’re finding is there is a lot of concern about what would a national entity do and how would it resolve the issues that arise as a consequence of State responsibilities and at the local and regional level.

“What will this national entity do in terms of incarceration rates, children being taken away from their homes, housing needs, suicide rates, those sorts of things that we know about and see in the awful stats. What would this do about that?

“There have been issues raised about existing entities at a local and regional level like native title bodies and prescribed body corporates and their function and responsibilities under determinations and the uniqueness of peak Indigenous bodies in health and law and education. What role could they play in this?”

But Senator Dodson said the Federal Government would have to initiate legislation to set up a referendum if a voice was to be entrenched in the national constitution.

“That’s a matter that’s within the Federal Parliament’s domain and similarly if there is to be legislation setting up a national voice that’s in the federal domain,” he said.

“If the State’s set up voices as is proposed in Western Australia, then obviously the complementarity of the advice given at a national level and how it would translate and have any impact at a State or regional level is important.

“Those discussions are yet to be had, but it’s important that States and Territories are doing this because then it doesn’t make the achievement of a national entity look as if it is something one-off.”

Senator Dodson said many people had also forgotten the history of entities that had had a relationship with Federal Parliament over the years, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was appointed in March.

It is charged with considering the recommendations of the Referendum Council and the Uluru Statement from the Heart, among other matters. It has received hundreds of submissions and held hearings around Australia.

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