Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

4.7.        What are the key Aboriginal perspectives?

A constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament is a key recommendation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.[77] After the Interim Report of the Voice Co-Design Process was published, feedback from First Nations people indicated significant support for a Voice at both local and national levels.[78] While there are several arguments in favour of the establishment of a Voice from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, concerns have also been expressed about how it would function. There are those who would prefer a focus on a treaty, and there is debate over whether we should seek a Voice at all.

A crucial argument in support of a Voice is that it will make it possible for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure more effective policy decisions.[79] Patrick Dodson raises the example of the Royal Commission proposed to combat supposedly high crime rates in Alice Springs, arguing that a Voice would be more effective.[80] Both Patrick Dodson and Marcia Langton have urged the public to take advantage of the opportunity of the upcoming referendum, which they feel is ‘a once-in-many-lifetimes event’.[81] 

The Voice is perceived by many Indigenous people as the beginning of a process towards healing and reconciliation as well as to greater equality and justice. Dodson notes that a Voice established in accordance with the Uluru Statement from the Heart would initiate a ‘reconciliation process’ that would continue towards a Makarrata commission and the establishment of a treaty.[82] This sentiment is echoed by Glenn Loughrey, who calls the path laid out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart a ‘heart healing process’,[83] and Jesse John Fleay and Barry Judd, who assert that recommendations from the Statement would help ‘heal historic grievances’.[84]

In addition to a healing process, it is suggested that a Voice to Parliament would also pave the way for greater equality.[85] Dialogues held at Uluru in the lead-up to the formation of the Uluru Statement revealed a high level of mistrust in government and ‘anger’ over having opinions ignored in the past.[86] The Voice to Parliament is widely seen as a response to this which would instigate a ‘program of equality’.[87]

Many people argue that it is crucial that a Voice to Parliament is enshrined in the Constitution because it would otherwise likely become redundant. For example, Jason O’Neil criticises the idea of a Voice protected only by legislation as a ‘weak-form Voice with questionable influence and a limited mandate to represent First Peoples’.[88] Following the publication of the Co-Design Process Interim Report, much feedback focused on the need for constitutional enshrinement as the most effective way to prevent the Voice from ‘abolition’ at the hands of future governments.[89] Thomas Mayor notes that this has been an issue for representative organisations in the past, which have been disbanded as different parties with different ideologies have come into power.[90] Constitutional enshrinement is also seen as assurance that politicians ‘are required to hear us’[91] and as a form of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in general.[92]

A different perspective regarding the Voice comes from those who want to concentrate on Indigenous sovereignty. Some members of First Nations communities feel that the Australian Constitution is inherently racist,[93] and that the nation-state called ‘Australia’ remains ‘illegitimate’ due to the nature of colonisation.[94] These people therefore do not support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations being written into the Constitution.[95] This belief is linked to advocacy for the establishment of a treaty before considering the need for a Voice.

While the original reason for establishing a Voice to Parliament before a treaty was that having a direct channel of communication to parliament would make the treaty-making process more ‘productive and successful’,[96] some have labelled the proposition an inadequate form of change that distracts from, or even undermines, progress towards a treaty. The theme of the 2023 Invasion Day rally was ‘Treaty before Voice’.[97] Speakers such as Gary Foley and Lidia Thorpe warned the audience of the prospect of a ‘cosmetic’ Voice, which would not advance equality or achieve tangible change. Thorpe stressed the advisory nature of the Voice and called for greater change, such as a treaty. Ronnie Gorrie asserted that First Nations communities had ‘no trust’ in the value of political reform, even when they seem promising in theory. She also asserted that ‘We want our land back … And we want reparations’ instead of a representative body.[98]

Continue readingExcerpts 5.7.

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