Response to the Indigenous
Voice Co-Design Process -
Interim Report to the Australian
10 April 2021
Acknowledgement of Country
The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the
Traditional Custodians of the land on which we live and work, with deep respect. May Elders, past and
present, be blessed and honoured. May we join together and build a future based on compassion, justice,
hope, faith, and reconciliation.
The St Vincent de Paul Society
The St Vincent de Paul Society (the Society) has worked in NSW for more than 130 years, providing
assistance to people experiencing poverty and disadvantage. We seek to shape a more just and
compassionate society by working to address the causes of poverty and injustice.
As a major provider of services to people experiencing disadvantage, the St Vincent de Paul Society offers
115 services across NSW. These include accommodation, supported accommodation and drop-in services
for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness; services to people with complex mental health
diagnoses and/or complex behavioural support needs; to people experiencing problematic alcohol or
other drug use; to people with disability; and to young people at risk of exclusion.
Our extensive network of member volunteers also provides immediate care and assistance to people in
their communities across the State. This includes financial and material support – food parcels or
vouchers, assistance paying energy and other bills, no-interest loans, clothing, household items and
furniture, assistance accessing supports and services, and companionship.
The St Vincent de Paul Society welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Interim Report to the
Australian Government on the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process (October 2020).
As supporters of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, we value efforts towards establishing an Indigenous
Voice, and the Australia Government’s acceptance of the importance of such a Voice.
As clearly articulated in the Uluru Statement, however, we believe it is critically important that an
Indigenous Voice is enshrined in the Constitution. We recognise that the terms of reference for the co-
design process specifically excluded recommendations about constitutional recognition. However, we
hope the Government will now build on the work done by the co-design groups, through the Uluru
Dialogues, and by so many individuals, groups and committees, and honour its election commitment to a
A Voice to Parliament
The need to ensure the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are heard in decision-
making processes about the laws and policies that affect them is now well-documented and well-
In the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, we see the ongoing impact of colonisation,
dispossession and inter-generational trauma on First Nations people every day. Our members deliver care
and support to approximately 60,000 people across NSW in any given year. Of these people, more than
one in five identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. Our homelessness services
support over 6,000 people per year, approximately one fifth of whom are First Nations people. Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people are similarly over-represented amongst the people supported by our
disability and community inclusion services and by our alcohol and other drug services.
Our statistics reflects the disadvantage experienced by First Nations people across Australia. First Nations
people are more likely than other people in Australia to be living with disability1 (but less likely to access
services)2, more likely to experience harmful substance use and mental health issues,3,4 and ten times
more likely to experience homelessness5.
Our Reconciliation Action Plan pledges to deliver actions aimed at closing these, and related, social and
economic gaps between First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians. However, we recognise
that this can only be achieved if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are afforded the opportunity
to be meaningfully involved in decisions that impact their lives at every level – including nationally.
A Voice to Parliament would commit Parliament to hearing the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people before legislating and making decisions that affect them. This would improve Parliament’s
capacity to perform its functions effectively and to develop laws and policies that improve the lives of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and hasten efforts towards substantive equality. A Voice
would also benefit all Australians; as it would be an important mechanism towards enabling everyone in
1 AIHW (2020) Indigenous health and wellbeing
2 Centre for Health Policy, University of Melbourne (2019) Understanding disability through the lens of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
– challenges and opportunities.
3 Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin (2018) Review of the harmful use of alcohol among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
4 Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin (2016) Review of illicit drug use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
5 AIHW (2019) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness.
our country to better learn from and celebrate the rich and diverse cultures and knowledges of Australia’s
First Nations people.
The importance of enshrining the Voice in our Constitution
The importance of a Voice to Parliament is such that it should be enshrined in our Constitution, protecting
its existence and core function. More detailed design should be set out in legislation once the
Constitution has been amended.
The Constitution of Australia is currently silent on the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people prior to colonisation. There have been many calls, over many years, for this to be rectified. The
Constitution is an important cultural document that should reflect the identity, values, cultures and
aspirations of the Australian people. With a growing majority of Australians describing the relationship
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia as very important for Australia as a nation 6, now is the
time to rectify this serious and concerning exclusion.
While various forms of constitutional recognition have been proposed, a Voice to Parliament is the only
form of recognition collectively endorsed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through the
extensive deliberative process that culminated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It is also supported
by the majority of Australians.7
Constitutional enshrinement of a Voice to Parliament would also improve its capacity to operate
effectively – conferring on it the legitimacy that would come with the endorsement of the Australian
people voting at a referendum and offering stability and certainty that cannot be guaranteed through
What the Voice should look like
The focus of our submission is on the important matter of principle that a Voice to Parliament be
constitutionally enshrined. As the detailed design work progresses, however, we support the call made by
the leaders of the Uluru Dialogues to ensure the membership model for the National Voice gives
previously unheard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the same chance of being selected as
established leadership figures. To achieve this, it will be important to ensure a diversity of voices are
brought to the table, including people of different ages, genders, life experiences, and cultural
backgrounds. A Voice to Parliament will be all the richer for ensuring it is properly reflective of the
diversity that exists within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Thank you for this opportunity to respond to the Interim Report to the Australian Government on
Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process (October 2020). We look forward to seeing this work progress, and
will continue to lend our support to efforts to achieve the historic change that enshrining in the
Constitution a First Nations Voice to Parliament would represent. This is a critical step on the road
towards a future we hope to achieve, walking together with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
brothers and sisters; a future based on compassion, justice, hope, faith and reconciliation.
6 Reconciliation Australia (2020) Australian Reconciliation Barometer 2020.
7 Markham, F. & Sanders, W. (2020), Support for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament: Evidence from o pinion research
since 2017, Working Paper no. 138/2020, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra.