Submission regarding a Voice to Parliament
Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to the discussion regarding a Voice to Parliament for Australia’s First Peoples.
I am writing as an Australian citizen and a longstanding researcher and practitioner in the field of efforts to ameliorate violent conflict and deal with its legacy internationally, in regions beyond Australia. This focus, however, also brings things to say regarding Australia, as my own place and my own community. I am currently a co-Director of PaCSIA, a Peace and Conflict research and practice organisation, an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at The University of Queensland (School of Political Science and International Studies) and a member of ANTaR Queensland, a community organisation dedicated to reconciliation within Australia.
A Voice to Parliament promises to help overcome the terrible burden of disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It would create a real opportunity to consider and discuss proposals and legislation relevant to First Peoples and offer advice at every stage of policy development. It would provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with clearer channels to have their perspectives taken seriously and bring new insights into government. This would be a highly practical step. Including the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would contribute substantially to creating policies and practices that work for communities. It is a necessary basis for pragmatic, effective policy and practice across the range of social policy.
Linking a National Voice to Parliament to Local and Regional Voices would also be an important step. This would enable Indigenous Australians’ diversity of experiences, conditions and contexts to be included in discussion and debate. The way that this is done is perhaps best determined by Indigenous communities and peoples themselves.
First Peoples in Australia suffer widespread and deeply entrenched patterns of marginalisation and injustice. The broad picture in terms of short life expectancy, poor health, high rates of incarceration and of suicide is well known and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life chances remains extraordinarily wide, despite numerous inquiries, reports and policy initiatives to ‘close the gap’. This gap is not a matter simply of service delivery but is structural. This situation is not surprising or unusual following many decades of violent conflict and denial. Violent conflict does not have to be a war; it can be the protracted violence that is part of colonisation. Inquiry after inquiry, whether the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody three decades ago or more recent inquests point to the impact of inter-generational trauma and marginalisation on Indigenous people and communities. These inquiries also repeatedly underline the need for genuine self-determination as the fundamental means by which First Peoples in Australia can overcome the marginalisation and disadvantage which distorts their lives and distorts the Australian community more generally. A Voice to Parliament offers a way of gradually achieving meaningful self-determination.
A Voice to Parliament would also be an important step in reframing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in a way that recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original and First Peoples of this country. Being part of a largely fair and just society is important to most Australians. The marginalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is deeply inconsistent with this desire for justice and undermines the quality, inclusiveness and fairness of Australian democracy and community.
A National Voice to Parliament, linked in with Local and Regional Voices, would make a real difference to my own local region. It would help lift an unnecessary and unjust burden of disadvantage from the lives of my Indigenous neighbours and help overcome a serious knot of political and social problems tied in with that disadvantage. It would help non-Indigenous and Indigenous people to learn more from each other and better appreciate the richness and depth of Australia’s ancient history. It would be an achievement for Australia’s democracy. And I feel it would further deepen our love of and connection to our shared country.
A National Voice to Parliament would be much stronger if it is enshrined in the Constitution, and not simply in legislation. Being enshrined in the Constitution means it can’t simply be changed with a change of government. It also recognises the significance of the move. A Voice to Parliament is not simply another piece of legislation, but a fundamental recognition of Australia’s First Peoples. This would be a profoundly meaningful act, with significant practical effects.
M Anne Brown,