On 30 October 2020, Ken Wyatt AM MP, Minister for Indigenous Australians, announced the beginning of the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process.
Following this announcement, the Federal government launched stage two of the co-design process by releasing the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process Interim Report (Interim Report) on 9 January 2021 and initiating a four-month consultation process.
Individuals, communities and organisations have been encouraged to provide feedback either by completing a survey or by making a formal submission. Submissions close on 31 March 2021 and the survey will close at the end of the engagement period on 9 May 2021.
It is important to remember that from 2014 when the Voice to Parliament was advocated, the intention behind constitutional reform via a referendum was to ensure the parliament listened to First Nations peoples. Currently the government and policy makers are not obliged to hear what Indigenous people have to say about the laws and policies that affect them. Enshrining the Voice in the constitution would mandate Indigenous input into policies. This would enable laws and policies to be better tailored to address community needs and issues and, as a consequence, they would be less likely to fail.
Failure to clearly specify the obligations of parliament opens the door for the Voice to Parliament being compromised. Pat Turner AM, chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and member of Wyatt’s Senior Advisory Group, warned against this in a National Press Club address on 30 September last year.
In that address Pat Turner warned Australians not to confuse “voice to government” with “voice to parliament.” She insisted that a “voice to government” would not answer the call for a Voice to Parliament if Wyatt’s co-design process merely recommended a voice, or range of voices, speaking to governments.
Wyatt’s emphasis on creating a “voice to government” is inconsistent with the Uluru Statement from the Heart which seeks to transcend existing government structures that have failed Indigenous people. A “voice to government” maintains the bureaucratic status quo. It would fail to guarantee First Nations people their legitimate right to be heard and have meaningful input into the decisions that affect them. Moreover, a “voice to government” would lack transparency and accountability since it would be restricted to governmental and bureaucratic processes alone.
Have Your Say
Stage two of the Indigenous Voice co-design process is now underway. Individuals, communities and organisations are urged to provide feedback on how they think the proposals for a Local and Regional Voice and a National Voice would work for them.
One advocacy group, From the Heart, is calling on all who are inspired by the Uluru Statement to make a submission in support of the following three points:
- The government must honour its election commitment to a referendum once a model for the Voice has been settled;
- Enabling legislation for the Voice must be passed after a referendum has been held in the next term of Parliament; and
- The membership model for the National Voice must ensure previously unheard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same chance of being selected as established leadership figures.
Details on how to make a submission can also be found on From The Heart website. Alternatively, submissions can be made via the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) website. Submissions close on 31 March 2021.
Commonwealth of Australia, National Indigenous Australians Agency, Terms of Reference: National Co-Design Group, 13 March 2020.
Commonwealth of Australia, National Indigenous Australians Agency, Indigenous Voice Co-design Process Interim Report, Canberra, October 2020.
Commonwealth of Australia, National Indigenous Australians Agency, Indigenous Voice Discussion Paper, January 2021.
Australian Human Rights Commission, An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament and Constitutional Reform, 2021.