ABN: 81 818 839 988
National Indigenous Australians Agency
Reply Paid 83380
Canberra ACT 2601
Via email: Co-designVoice@niaa.gov.au
Dear Voice Secretariat
SUBMISSION: CALL FOR FIRST NATIONS VOICE TO
PARLIAMENT ENSHRINED IN THE CONSTITUTION
The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) welcomes the
opportunity to make a submission in support of the Uluru
Statement from the Heart, which calls for a First Nations Voice
enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice and represents not-for-
profit community service organisations in the ACT. We are a not-
for-profit peak body working collaboratively with organisations and
individuals who support our vision and goals for positive social
We believe deeply in the power of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait
Islander self-determination for enacting positive social change in
this country. As the peak body for the community services sector
in the ACT, we seek to work alongside and in support of Aboriginal
Community Controlled Organisations, Aboriginal and/or Torres
Strait Islander service users and advocates.
The Uluru Statement calls for structural reform that will establish ‘a
new relationship between First Nations and the Australian nation
based on justice and self-determination where Indigenous cultures
Weston Community Hub
and peoples can flourish, and we all move forward’1.
1/6 Gritten St
Weston ACT 2611
Why do we need a Voice to Parliament?
ph 02 6202 7200
We know that in Canberra, as well as throughout the rest of
email@example.com Australia, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
www.actcoss.org.au experience racism and structural inequality. Here in the nation’s
capital, the nature of the historic and embedded injustice is
highlighted by some of the worst rates of Aboriginal imprisonment
1 Uluru Statement: Frequently Asked Questions.
and removals of Aboriginal children in Australia2. Historical
violence is compounded by contemporary practices that do not
respect and take seriously the voices of Aboriginal and/or Torres
Strait Islander people. The Voice to Parliament will give Aboriginal
and/or Torres Strait Islander people a say on the policies and
legislation that impact their lives.
ACTCOSS supports and celebrates the recommendations in the
Uluru Statement from the Heart. In supporting the call for an
Indigenous Voice to Parliament, we ask the Government to:
1.Honour its election commitment to a referendum once a
model for the Voice has been settled.
We support the development of a First Nations Voice to
Parliament that is protected by and enshrined in the Constitution
as defined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. At the 2019
federal election, the Liberal party committed to pursuing
constitutional recognition, including a budget allocation of $160
million to hold a referendum on a Voice to Parliament.
A referendum will demonstrate overwhelming Australian support
for a representative Indigenous body that will allow Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people to have a say in the matters that
affect them. In 2020, the Australian Reconciliation Barometer
found that 81% of the general community support establishing a
representative body and protecting that body within the
Constitution so it cannot be removed by any subsequent
government3. Importantly, the Uluru Statement from the Heart
calling for a Voice to Parliament was endorsed by 250 First
Nations delegates after consultation with 1200 Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people4.
Enshrining the Voice to Parliament in the Constitution will ensure
its permanency. Previous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
representative bodies, including the National Aboriginal
Consultative Committee (1972-1977), the National Aboriginal
Conference (1977-1985) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Commission (1989-2005), have been easily abandoned
or abolished by successive governments because they were set
up by legislation rather than protected in the Constitution.
2 Report on Government Services (2021) Child Protection Services; Corrective Services
3 Reconciliation Australia (2020) 2020 Australian Reconciliation Barometer
4From the Heart (2021) What does the Uluru Statement mean? - From The Heart
The establishment of a national body made up of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people will be able to provide advice to the
Australian Parliament and Government at all stages of the
development of legislation, policies and programs. This
mechanism will ensure rigorous engagement with Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander community groups and organisations.
Importantly, as Professor Gabrielle Appleby, a public law scholar
from the University of NSW notes, an entrenched Voice to
Parliament, as proposed through the Uluru Statement from the
Heart, “is not a constitutional ‘right’ that increases the power of
judges, or a ‘third chamber’ of Parliament”. The Voice to
Parliament cannot introduce or debate legislation, but Parliament
can choose to engage with the Voice in ways that seriously and
respectfully consider the impact of legislation, policies and
programs on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
For any dialogue with Parliament to be effective and sustainable,
power imbalances need to be acknowledged and addressed. A
Constitutionally protected voice will have greater capacity to enact
and sustain positive social change for First Nations people and all
ACTCOSS calls on the Government to honour its commitment to
holding a referendum on Constitutional recognition of a Voice to
Parliament in this term of Parliament.
2.Pass legislation enabling the establishment of the Voice
in the next term of Parliament.
We know that strong public support exists, both in the ACT and
across the nation, for establishing a representative Indigenous
body that is protected within the Constitution. Once a
Constitutional referendum has been taken to the Australian public,
the Government must commit to passing legislation establishing
the Voice in the next term of Parliament.
It is vital that we make the establishment of the Voice to
Parliament a legislative priority so that the Voice can get to work
guiding the Government on systemic and structural issues that
have produced significant disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people.
3.Ensure previously unheard Aboriginal and/or Torres
Strait Islander people have the same chance of being
selected as established leadership figures.
We believe that the first step toward healing the harms of racism
and the legacy of colonisation will be meaningful constitutional
recognition and a protected First Nations Voice to Parliament.
Once the Voice to Parliament is established, it is vital that it
represents the vast and diverse views of the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander communities. Representation needs to be enacted,
not just in principle but also in practice. This means ensuring that
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in local
communities and in front-line organisations can participate fully in
national deliberations. We support From the Heart’s position that
scope of expertise must be appropriately represented in the
National Voice and sufficient scale of membership is necessary to
We have accepted the invitation in the Uluru Statement from the
Heart to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
toward a better future for the whole country. We call on the federal
Government to join this movement by establishing and enshrining
a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Australian constitution.
If you would like to discuss this submission further, please contact
the ACTCOSS office at firstname.lastname@example.org or on (02) 6202
Dr Emma Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
30 April 2021