About this submission
The Business Council of Australia is pleased to provide feedback on the Indigenous Voice co-design proposals
outlined in the interim report of the Senior Advisory Group.
The Business Council strongly supports the intent of the Indigenous Voice and the proposals for a National Voice and Local and Regional Voices as outline in the interim report. The Business Council supports constitutional recognition of the Indigenous Voice. The Business Council notes the Terms of Reference of the Senior Advisory Group of the co-design process and acknowledges that constitutional recognition is out of scope for the co-design process. However, we believe limiting the scope presents a significant challenge to enshrining an Indigenous Voice through constitutional recognition, particularly when it is so fundamental to true progress and the enduring vehicle to offer an historic unifying moment. The Business Council believes legislation should be drafted to set out how the Voice would operate based on the outcomes of the co-design process. The Business Council believes it would be preferable and an important step if constitutional recognition could occur prior to legislating the Voice to drive legitimacy and durability. The Business Council also believes that much work could be done to establish the Voice at a national, local and regional level while a referendum takes place so there is no delay in its operability.
Overview of Business Council position
The Business Council strongly supports the intent of the Indigenous Voice, which is primarily to create a formal channel for authoritative, cl ear, evidence-based advice to be put to the Australian Parliament and government by Indigenous Australians on policy, programs and laws that significantly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (in this submission referred to as Indigenous Australians).
In making this submission, we acknowledge that constitutional recognition is out of scope for the co-design process, however, we take this opportunity to reiterate our support for constitutional recognition of a Voice to the Parliament for Indigenous Australians.
Support for constitutional recognition
The Business Council and its members are committed to the empowerment of Indigenous Australians and the creation of opportunities for full participation in the Australian economy and accordingly supports meaningful constitutional recognition of a Voice to the Parliament for Indigenous Australians. Without recognition of Australia's First Peoples, the Australian Constitution cannot be complete.
Constitutional recognition will be a significant contributor to a more unified and reconciled nation for the simple reason that all Australians can regard it as a significant step forward in addressing past wrongs and failures and enabling greater self-determination for Indigenous Australians. Establishing an Indigenous Voice to parliament is critically important to the empowerment of Indigenous Australians in tackling the challenges their communities face, leading to improved wellbeing and contributions to the economy and nation in general.
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Of particular concern to the Business Council is the urgent need to develop wealth for Indigenous Australians to enable full participation in business and asset development for Indigenous advancement and benefit. Indigenous Australians have, in recent years, advocated strongly for mechanisms and structures to enable participation in the economy with the same opportunities that are available to all other Australians. The recognition that meaningful constitutional change can give Indigenous Australians will, in part, advance prospects for such participation.
The role of constitutional recognition in Indigenous economic prosperity
The Business Council notes that constitutional recognition is no substitute for substantive economic development - through employment, procurement and capital formation for instance, to which the Business Council remains committed.
The Business Council believes completing the Australian Constitution by meaningfully recognising Indigenous Australians is a necessary precondition to closing the gap 1n Indigenous disadvantage and economic participation. Meaningful recognition underpins practical outcomes and ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can enjoy the opportunity of full participation in the Australian economy and society as a whole.
Indigenous engagement and the Business Council
The Business Council and its members have a long record of working to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. Business Council members employ more than 20,000 Indigenous Australians and have spent or contracted billions of dollars with Indigenous-owned businesses and joint ventures. In 2019 the Business Council launched our Raising the Bar project to grow the Indigenous procurement capability and impact of Business Council companies. This is a landmark collaboration between business Council members and Indigenous supplier diversity organisation Supply Nation. Over five years, committed members will collectively spend more than $3 billion to boost Indigenous businesses, create new opportunities and deliver greater economic participation.
Support for the Indigenous Voice
The Business Council supports the proposals outlined in the interim report, resulting from stage one of the consultation process, and specifically the design of the National Voice. The interim report is very clear what is in scope, and what rs not for the National Voice. As the report outlines, the National Voice would advise the: " ... Commonwealth Parliament and Government on matters of critical importance to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing, or which has a significant or particular impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians of national significance. A Natrona! Voice would have a proactive, unencumbered scope to advise on priorities and issues as determined by the National Voice." However, it would "not administer programs and would not be able to veto laws made by the Parliament or overturn Austral ran Government decisions."
For the National Voice to have authority and be a catalyst for improvements to policy and expenditure priorities in programs designed to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, rt needs to work with clear boundaries and expectations, and within the democratic model of the Austral ran legislature. The design proposed by the co-design process achieves this delicate balance.
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The purpose of the National Voice
The Business Council believes that an Indigenous Voice will be most effective and instrumental 1n improving the lives of Indigenous Australians if it has the authority to do the following: determine priority areas of need and priority issues for Indigenous Australians; provide advice to the Parliament and government on proposed and existing policies and programs that have a significant impact on Indigenous Australians; identify where programs and/or policies require evaluation or where evaluation could be more effective, and; provide a central, authoritative body for the Parliament, government, business, other bodies and the community to propose, test and develop ideas and solutions to unresolved challenges of poverty, poor health, poor education, high levels of incarceration and unemployment disproportionately affecting Indigenous Australians. The National Voice - through the input of Local and Regional Voices - should provide a central authority to help advocate and coordinate for the implementation of new Indigenous program proposals and funding priorities. For example, funding for new Indigenous education programs often requires input and approval from multiple portfolios. The National Voice could provide a guiding role and effectively spearhead the coordination of portfolios across government to achieve the outcome, as well as identify and share best practice across the country.
Case study I Studio Schools
An example of a current proposal that would benefit from the National Voice 1s the 1mplementat1on of the Studio School education model. Studio Schools is a new model of secondary school for Indigenous students across Years 7 - 12 located on country in northern Australia. The model brings together Indigenous and non-i ndigenous students to learn together from each other across different cultures and languages and from different worlds. The school is fully residential, developing ongoing life skills and providing wholistic health and well-being support. The curriculum has been specifically designed to offer the best of what we know from educational systems around the world. It offers both an academic and a jobs-ready approach combined with a central focus on Indigenous culture and identity. The model is co-designed and co-led with Indigenous people. A nationally coordinated Indigenous Voice could help drive a proposal such as this, as well as many other new and existing programs and policies.
Business and an Indigenous Voice
As stated above, the Business Council and its members are committed to the empowerment of Indigenous Australians, and particularly to the creation of more jobs and opportunities to participate in the economy by people currently locked out for complex multitudinous reasons.
From the perspective of corporate Australia, the Voice will make it much easier for the groundswell of goodwill to translate into the creation of concrete economic opportunities for Indigenous Australians.
The Business Council and its members are focussed on creating employment and supplier opportunities for Indigenous Australians and Indigenous businesses. By doing so, corporate Australia 1s investing in the economic development of Indigenous communities and working with Indigenous businesses to see them grow and realise their potential. The creation of a National Voice - and Local and Regional Voices as well - will provide a formal and authoritative avenue for corporate Australia, including through the Business Council, to work with Indigenous Australians on the focus, design and implementation of programs and initiatives between business and Indigenous communities. Working with a national representative body to achieve employment and other economic outcomes for
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Indigenous Australians will not only benefit Indigenous Australians, but business leaders as well. For example, the Business Council will look to the National Voice to provide advice on how to best expand and improve our Raising the Bar program in coming years to ensure there is maximum impact.
Design features of the Voice
For the National Voice, the Business Council believes that it should be representative of the diverse needs and population of Indigenous Australians. For this reason, proportional representation more akin to the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament 1s an idea well worth considering.
Indigenous Australians live in very uneven populations across the country. For those who live rn remote areas, or here there is a higher number of Indigenous Australians than rn other parts of the country, their needs and local knowledge will likely not get enough attention under the proposed State/Territory equalisation model. As others have pointed out, 60 per cent of Indigenous Australians who live 1n regional or remote communities are in Western Australia. Indigenous Australians from Queensland and New South Wales would be similarly underrepresented in either membership model proposed.
Local and Regional Voices
An essential element of the National Voice will be its ability to draw on and interact with Local and Regional Voices around the country to ensure local Indigenous communities are able to contribute and the overarching structure 1s underpinned by grassroots action and debate. As the interim report notes, Local and Regional Voices should provide a forum for dialogue between Indigenous Australians and governments on policy, programs and services, and draw on the varying practices of communities rather than a 'one size fits all' model." The Business Council strongly supports the formation of Local and Regional Voices alongside the national body and supports the principles-based design framework outlined in the interim report to ensure that these bodies are reflective of the needs, history and culture of local communities.
The importance of legislating the Voice
The Business Council 1s firmly of the view that constitutional recognition 1s an important part of the process in bringing the Voice to life. Likewise, the development of legislation that clearly describes the purpose, scope and structure of the Voice is also of critical importance in garnering support for constitutional amendments in a referendum, as well as to the success of the Voice itself.
We believe that the co-design process must now use this consultation process to finalise the design of the Indigenous Voice and then turn their attention to drafting the legislation that will bring the Natrona I Voice, and Local and Regional Voices, to life. It is essential that the final design and implementation of national, local and regional bodies provide continuity and durability of Indigenous voices to the Parliament and government. As a nation we cannot afford a stop-start approach that will only result 1n further division and entrenched disadvantage for Indigenous communities. While the Business Council believes it would be preferable and an important step if constitutional recognition occurs prior to legislating the Voice to drive legitimacy and durability, we also suggest that much work could be done to establish the Voice at a national, local and regional level while a referend um takes place so there is no delay in its operability. The Business Council believes this is a practical reform that offers a historic unifying moment for our nation that can and must be seized now.
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Business Council of Australia Submission on the Interim Report to the Australian Government: Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process