Liberal Senator for New South Wales, Andrew Bragg has further voiced his support for constitutional recognition in his speech at the SIETAR Conference on the Celebration of Indigenous Knowledge on Tuesday.

Senator Bragg debunked the idea that a Voice to Parliament will create a third chamber, saying in his speech that the Uluru Statement from the Heart “does not require an Indigenous body with the standing, scope or power of the Senate of the House of Representatives.”

“All Australians will always be equal, but we cannot have Indigenous people feel estranged in the land of their ancestors,” Senator Bragg said in his speech.

Suggesting a way forward, Senator Bragg advocated for former Indigenous Advisory Council Chair Warren Mundine’s ‘Speaking for Country’ model.

In his 2017 essay Practical Recognition from the Mobs’ Perspective: Enabling our mobs to speak for country, Mundine suggested a bottom-up approach that involved creating local bodies for Indigenous communities and maintaining the bodies that are already existent.

Each body would structure itself without Government input as they believe best fits their respective communities.

A larger, national body would then act as a conduit to facilitate direct communication between the Federal Government and the local bodies.

The Senator acknowledged that this in itself would not constitutionally guarantee a Voice to Parliament, and suggested the Constitution be “amended to require the Australian Parliament to establish bodies for the various Indigenous peoples across Australia.”

Speaking to NIT after delivering his speech, the Senator remained adamant that his role as NSW Senator would focus on supporting the co-design process and working with groups such as Uphold and Recognise who, according to the Senator, are committed to maintaining Parliament sovereignty.

“[Today’s speech] was a good opportunity to speak about the ‘Speaking to Country’ model which I think is a good approach,” Senator Bragg said.

“I have to say that I think the academics largely in the room probably haven’t thought about [a Voice to Parliament] in detail.”

Senator Bragg said what attracts him to the ‘Speaking to Country’ model is its local element.

“You see the strength and the capacity of some of the land councils and other community organisations [in Indigenous communities] … a lot of those groups already have a mandate from their community,” Senator Bragg said.

“Those groups are connected enough … across the issues and therefore would be the ideal organisations to [engage and consult with].”

The Senator also said he was an advocate for organisations such as Uphold and Recognise – an organisation established by Liberal Party members that promotes a Voice to Parliament that operates in unison with the Constitution.

“Uphold and Recognise … is designed to … [have] conservative and Liberal voters talking to conservative and Liberal voters, which is an important part of the equation,” Senator Bragg said.

“The best thing that I can do as a member of the Government is to work with groups like Uphold and Recognise to ensure that people understand exactly what [ the Uluru Statement from the Heart] and constitutional recognition would look like.”

The Senator for NSW said most in Government are open-minded about constitutional recognition and the co-design process, but for those who aren’t supportive and flag the third chamber fallacy – it just reflects a diverse party room.

“No one has ever asked for a third chamber, but there are many ways that the co-design process could unfold, and I think that groups and organisations like Uphold and Recognise have a really important role in doing some of the thinking on how the model could look,” Senator Bragg said.

“If people are worried about a third chamber … then the best rebuttal … is to say it’s a local, bottom up community [approach] which is connected to community and connected to country.”

Senator Bragg said a top-down model is problematic, as it risks not being directly connected to communities.

“I’m going to support [Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt] … in co-design … and I’m going to work with groups like Uphold & Recognise to profile some of the issues talked about today [in my speech],” Senator Bragg said.

The Coalition has already committed $7.3 million to a co-design process and another $160 million for a future referendum once a model has been settled on.

Should a Voice to Parliament become constitutionally enshrined, it will be only the ninth change ever made to Australia’s Constitution.

By Hannah Cross