Both proposed versions of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament will only have the power to consult with the Federal Government, according to the much-awaited interim report on a Voice released over the weekend.
After a year of discussions and consultations between three advisory groups selected by Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Indigenous Australians across the country, the report proposes two models for a National Voice – both without any veto powers.
The first involves a “structural membership link” with Local and Regional Voices. Members of this model would be selected by Local and Regional Voices at a State or Territory level; State, Territory, Torres Strait Islander-level assemblies; or a “hybrid” of the two.
The second model would see members from each State, Territory and the Torres Strait Islands directly elected to the National Voice. There would also be an option for these members to be drawn from State or Territory assemblies to avoid duplicate elections cross-government.
Both models have options for either 16 or 18 members which would guarantee gender balanced representation and include two members from each State, Territory and Torres Strait Islands.
The report also proposes permanent youth and disability advisory groups to consult with the National Voice as appropriate.
“The National Voice would be an advisory body to the Parliament and Australian Government. This would be a two-way interaction,” the interim report said.
The report says the National Voice would only be able to consult with Parliament and the Federal Government. It would neither be able to overturn or veto any policies nor would it be able to prevent any laws coming into force.
The Federal Government would be “obliged” to consult with the Voice on a “very narrow range of matters” including Native Title, race and racial discrimination and would be “expected to engage more generally” on broader issues that significantly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
While the report appears to be a blueprint for possible Voice models, there is no proposal for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament as championed through the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The report instead proposes models for a less permanent fixture – a Voice to Government.
There are also no suggestions of Treaty, truth-telling or a Makarrata Commission as endorsed by the Uluru Statement as the matters were deemed “out of scope” in the Senior Advisory Group’s terms of reference.
Minister Wyatt said the interim report’s release marked a “significant milestone” in the search for a solution to an Indigenous Voice.
Now open for consultation, all are being encouraged to submit feedback on the proposals to the Senior Advisory Group and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.
“I want to ensure the voices of all 800,000 Indigenous Australians can be heard. The more people that provide their feedback, the greater chance we have to refine the best possible options and set up structures that enjoy long-term success,” Minister Wyatt said.
Senior Advisory Group Co-Chairs, Professor Dr Marcia Langton AO and Professor Tom Calma AO said there will be a range of opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike to participate in the consultation process.
“There’s lots of ways to engage in the process over the coming months. We’ll deliver consultations flexibly, adapting to COVID-19 restrictions as needed to ensure safe discussions are held across the country,” Professor Calma said.
The interim report to the Federal Government, the discussion paper and further resources are available online. Community consultations will also be held during the next four months.
“These proposals are not finished. Now it’s time for everyone to consider them and provide comment so that we can put a well consulted final proposal to Government,” Professor Dr Langton said.
Minister Wyatt said the Federal Government hasn’t decided their preferred option as yet.
A joint statement from Labor heavyweights, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians Warren Snowdon, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Senator Pat Dodson reinforced the Party’s continued commitment to the Uluru Statement.
“Many will be disappointed with the Government’s refusal to consider a constitutionally enshrined Voice to the Parliament,” the statement read.
The Labor leaders said while First Nations leaders across Australia “clearly expressed” their desire for a Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution over three years ago through the Uluru Statement, the Federal Government “banned its own advisory group from even considering this”.
Condemning the report, the Labor statement also said it was “difficult to see any progress being made before the next election.”
“A Voice must be able to provide full and frank advice. It must be secure and it should not be subject to the whims of the government of the day,” the statement said.
“This report fails in that context.”
Consultation events will take place from February to May, with written submissions closing on March 31. The final report is expected between June and August, 2021.
By Hannah Cross