Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

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Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

4.1.         What are the arguments for voting Yes?

Many of the arguments for voting Yes will be examined in 4.3 – 4.15, with reasons, evidence and opposing views. Here, we will merely list some of the main arguments that have been put forward. Readers are encouraged to consult the remainder of this text for further information.  

Arguments in favour of voting Yes include the need to find a more effective way to address the major health and other challenges faced by First Nations people, the importance of constitutional recognition of the world’s oldest continuous culture, the fact that the proposal for a Voice came from broad consultation across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the failures of past policy decisions regarding these communities, the perceived need for more direct communication with parliament, the importance of involving First Nation people in leading their own communities, and obligations under international laws regarding the rights of Indigenous people.

To take the last point first, according to international law, the First Nations people of Australia have the right to self-determination, as set out in 2007 in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was endorsed by Australia in 2009. This places an obligation on Australia to take steps to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to increase their control of the way their communities are governed and affected by social policies. The creation of a Voice to Parliament would be ‘consistent with’ this obligation.[15]

The proposal for a Voice to Parliament was developed through a comprehensive deliberative process conducted with and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This process involved over 1,300 participants who were able to express their views and concerns in an extended series of dialogues.[16] These dialogues, which culminated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, constituted an ‘extraordinarily comprehensive national consultative process’, driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.[17] The Uluru Statement was approved by approximately 250 delegates at Uluru. The methodical and thorough democratic process, along with the large amount of support the concept has since received, establishes the legitimacy of the Voice proposal.

Another argument for voting Yes is the lack of benefit provided by previous and current policies directed at improving the livelihoods of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – or in some cases, the fact that they have produced actual harm. It has been argued that an example of the lack of effective policymaking concerning Indigenous communities can be observed in events that occurred in Alice Springs in early 2023 where, following lifting of government-imposed alcohol restrictions, a sharp rise in crime occurred, increasing concerns about the safety of residents.[18] Another example is the number of young Indigenous people in detention centres and the gap in education results in comparison to other students.[19] These issues, together with the well-established discrepancies in life expectancies and other health outcomes, are likely to generate ongoing negative effects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the country.

In spite of these clearly recognised problems, there is currently no effective method for communities to convey their concerns to government or to offer suggested responses for them that are based on the knowledge of the communities themselves and are therefore likely to command their support. In the absence of a formal, constructive mechanism to support such dialogue, First Nations are often only able to voice their concerns through angry protests, which are not only rarely heeded by government but often lead to alienation of the broader public, which can become ‘deafened, or confused’ by the sheer number of issues raised.[20] A Voice to Parliament could overcome all of these obstacles by providing a direct method of communication to the Australian Government and making the public aware of the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A result of these would be, according to Gareth Evans, that First Nations people would become ‘agents of policy change’ instead of being subjected to policies which historically have not served their interests.[21]

Dani Larkin and Kate Galloway suggest that a Voice to Parliament would increase the political participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a manner which would be healthy for Australian society and help reverse the long exclusion of Indigenous people from public affairs.[22] In this way, the Voice would extend and enhance representative democracy in this country.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, increasing involvement by First Nations people in the development of policies – policies better informed by people within the affected communities themselves – and a commitment to working cooperatively with government rather than in continuing hostility to it will make positive health and social outcomes much more likely. An example of the way in which cooperative relationships built on mutual respect and dialogue can lead to effective policies and beneficial outcomes can be seen in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[23] Australia’s Indigenous population was acknowledged to be at higher risk not only of infection but also of hospitalisation and death. However, these risks were effectively mitigated by close consultation between government and an Indigenous leadership that was recognised to be ‘outstanding’ in both the professional and organisational domains.[24] This supports the view that a more formal, permanent process that gives greater responsibility to First Nations people is very likely to lead to greatly improved, and enduring, outcomes.[25]

The arguments in support of the Constitutional change summarised here are fully elaborated in the remaining questions and the excerpts that follow.

Continue readingExcerpts 5.1.  

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