Time to co-design Indigenous Voice to Parliament, report recommends

Parliament House image by Doc Searles CC 2.0.

The Morrison government will consider a parliamentary report that recommends moving ahead with plans for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, a spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said Tuesday.

“The government will consider the Joint Select Committee’s final report and respond in accordance with the usual processes for government responses to parliamentary committee reports,” the spokesperson said.

In a final report tabled in FederalParliamentlast week, the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition recommended the Australian government begin a process to co-design a voice with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The structure, membership, functions and operation of a voice would be nutted out by a group of mostly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and officials or appointees of the government which would report to the Federal Parliament in the next parliamentary term, it said.

It said national, regional and local elements should be examined in designing the voice.

The report was welcomed by past and present Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice commissioners and Indigenous groups.

In a statement, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar and former commissioners Mick Gooda, Professor Tom Calma, Dr William Jonas and Professor Mick Dodson said they were pleased a Voice to Parliament had been put back on the political agenda after being rejected by two prime ministers.

“We support the committee’s recommendations for an intensive country-wide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led co-design process to consider the national, regional and local elements of a Voice to Parliament,” they said.

“In-line with international human rights standards, it is critical that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the opportunity to discuss what these elements might look like, how they might work, and what functions they might perform.”

“We have consistently called for greater control over our destinies. As First Nations people, we have a right to self-determination, and to be at the decision-making table on all issues that affect us.”

“There can be no delay on this and we are pleased to see the committee’s call for the co-design process to be conducted within the 46th term of Parliament.”

“As we have stated previously, the Voice to Parliament must be constitutionally enshrined and we must do everything we can to ensure a successful referendum.”

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples’ co-chair Rod Little said a lot of work could be done on the report’s recommendations before Australia goes to the polls next year.

“First Australians continue to be locked out of making decisions on matters that impact our families and communities and ultimately rightful recognition in the Constitution will go a long way to improving the lives of future generations,” Mr Little said.

Reconciliation Australia’s chief executive officer Karen Mundine said the report outlined promising measures that could help Australia become more unified, equitable and reconciled.

The report’s four recommendations are:

  • That the Australian government begin a process of co-designing a voice with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • After a co-design, the government consider legislative, executive and constitutional options to set up the voice.
  • The Australian Government support a process of truth-telling which could involve local organisations and communities, libraries, historical societies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander associations.
  • A National Resting Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains be considered for Canberra as a place of commemoration, healing and reflection.

The co-chairs of the committee, Labor Senator Pat Dodson and Liberal MP Julian Leeser said it was too soon to go to a referendum.

“Leaving aside any questions of the need to build further political consensus, it is difficult to proceed to referendum today on the voice when this committee has received no fewer than 18 different versions of constitutional amendments which might be put at a referendum,” they said in the report.

“Our political judgements as to the best approach may differ. However, we fully understand that to succeed a referendum must be passed by a majority of the Australian people and a majority of people in a majority of states. This is a high bar—achieved on only eight occasions in the last 117 years and never without strong bipartisan support.”

Greens senator Rachel Siewert issued a minority report, dissenting against the recommendation that the policy design work come before a referendum.

The 11-member Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was set up in March after former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s idea of an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament.

Its interim report, released in July, also spoke of local, regional and national elements, saying political and fiscal cooperation between the Commonwealth, States, Territories and regional bodies was important for any voice to be effective.

A Voice to Parliament was one of the key elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates released at Uluru in May last year, along with a Makarrata Commission to oversee agreement-making between governments and First Nations, and truth-telling about Australia’s history.

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