Submissions: Your Feedback

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Submission Number
Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

14 April 2021

Voice Secretariat
National Indigenous Australians Agency

By email to: co-designVoice@niaa.gov.au

Dear Voice Secretariat

Re: Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process - Indigenous Report to the Australian Government.

The Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations (the Federation) is a state-wide body
advocating for the rights and interests of Traditional Owners in Victoria. Our members are
Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations (TOC) recognised as cultural custodians of their
Country. We work with our members and other Traditional Owner groups across Victoria.

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process
(Indigenous Voice) and acknowledge the comprehensive work that has been undertaken by the
three co-design committees. On this basis we make the following comments. Our comments are
not comprehensive in scope. Our comments do not address all issues relevant to Victorian TOCs,
nor do they answer all questions posed by the Review. Rather, our comments focus on the areas
of particular interest.

We note that the Stage two of the co-design process is now underway, and that individuals,
communities and organisations are being engaged and consulted with on the proposals for Local
and Regional Voices and a National Voice. We appreciate that the co-design groups will continue
to implement the recommendations and feedback received at these consultations sessions in line
with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Overview of Submission

The general basis of our submission is that Traditional Owners in Victoria already operate through
sophisticated modes of representation, with many Traditional Owner nations constituted as TOCs,
who routinely and actively engage with State government processes. In addition, Victoria is in the
process of potentially fundamental and wide-ranging reform though the Treaty process. Taking
the above into account, it is the Federation’s view that:

• The design of Victorian participation in the national Indigenous Voice must take account
of, and compliment, pre-existing local representative structures; and

• Given that Victoria is in the midst of significant reform, it may be more practical to allow
these reforms to be completed before designing compatibility with national structures.
PO Box 431 North Melbourne VIC 3051
(03) 9321 5388
ABN: 40 164 514 121
The situation in Victoria

Victoria has, and continues to develop, a vibrant and very active landscape of Traditional Owner
representation. This can be seen in the 11 Traditional Owner groups that have achieved
recognition from the State through the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), the Traditional Owner
Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) or the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic).

While Traditional Owner groups exist independent of State recognition, each statutory regime
noted above requires the Traditional Owner group to establish, or nominate, a corporation to
represent their interests. It is then this corporate representative that holds the rights or carries
out the relevant statutory obligations.

In Victoria, these TOCs already work with all levels of the State government, and are routinely
engaged to provide advice about priorities, policies, programs, and service delivery within their
respective Country. While these systems are imperfect, they are well established, and routinely
provide Traditional Owners a seat at the table when decisions are being made. Where
insufficiencies arise, Traditional Owners continue to advocate, either directly or often through
organisations such as the Federation, to have the fullness of their rights and role recognised by
the State.

In addition, Traditional Owners in Victoria are also currently engaged in a Treaty process pursuant
to Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 (Vic). This process has the
potential to develop and reform the representation of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal people
in this State, and potentially provide more direct pathways in relationships with government.

As recognised in the Interim Report, the Treaty process has already resulted in the establishment
of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (the Assembly) to act as the sole representative of
Victorian Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians for the purpose of setting up the structures
to support future State Treaty negotiations. The Assembly’s structure includes 32 Traditional
Owner member seats, made of 11 reserved member seats representing each formally recognised
Traditional Owner group and 21 general member seats. The Assembly was designed based on
recommendations from Victorian Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians after extensive
engagement and is the first time a State-wide representative body has been established in

Local and Regional Voice

Taking account of the above, we make the following comments with respect to the Local and
Regional voice:

• It is unclear how the Local and Regional Voice will build on existing representative
structures or take into account current reforms around representation in Victoria.
PO Box 431 North Melbourne VIC 3051
(03) 9321 5388
ABN: 40 164 514 121
• If the Local and Regional Voice is not designed to complement these structures, they may
unintentionally operate in competition with each other, and threaten the authority and
legitimacy of both.

• The proposed Local and Regional Voice model allows for 2 regions across Victoria. This
would seem inadequate, and incapable of reflecting the complexity and diversity of
Aboriginal and Traditional Owner interests and views across the State.

On the basis of the above we take the view that more work needs to be done on the Local and
Regional voice model. Given that the Assembly, a democratically elected body of Victorian
Traditional Owners are already doing extensive work in this area, we suggest it would be better
to await the resolution of their work before any national processes (in so far as they relate to
Victoria) are finalised.

National Voice

Taking account of the above, we make the following comments with respect to the National voice:

• As above, we would suggest that structures are not finalised until the Treaty process has
settled methods of representation in Victoria, however, would support an interim and
initial process allowing for the representatives to be directly elected.

• Once Victoria has undergone the Treaty process and established representative structures
that are consistent with Victorian standards of self-determination then the National Voice
could potentially be structurally linked through membership, with membership drawn
from the state representative assemblies.

• The Federation support equal representation on the National Voice. The Federation agree
that having two members will put all states, territories and the Torres Strait Islands on an
equal footing and provide more diversity on the National Voice.

• The Federation does not support ministerial appointment to the National Voice. The
Federation note that the National Co-design group suggested appointments could be used
to fill skills gaps and resolve issues of demographic balance, for providing additional
representation for remote areas if needed. However, the Federation believe that this role
could more appropriately be filled by independent entities or experts.

PO Box 431 North Melbourne VIC 3051
(03) 9321 5388
ABN: 40 164 514 121
Constitutional Recognition

Finally, we acknowledge and applaud the comprehensive and considered work that the co-design
groups have undertaken, however we also note that the Uluru Statement’s call for constitutional
enshrinement should not be overlooked.

As the Interim Report identifies, funding has been a reoccurring issue for historical representative
bodies. The expectation of appropriate funding from the Australian Government will be
particularly important and sensitive consideration in establishing the Indigenous Voice. The
Australian Government needs to provide surety that the Local and Regional Voices and the
National Voice will be adequately funded.

Yours sincerely

Paul Paton

Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations

PO Box 431 North Melbourne VIC 3051
(03) 9321 5388
ABN: 40 164 514 121