2259

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Submission Number
2259
Participant
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

28 April 2021

Professors Dr Marcia Langton AO and Tom Calma AO
Co-Chairs
Indigenous Voice Senior Advisory Group
c/ National Indigenous Australians Agency
Voice Secretariat
PO Box 2191
Canberra ACT 2600

Email: Co-designVoice@niaa.gov.au

Dear Marcia and Tom

INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE INDIGENOUS VOICE CO-DESIGN PROCESS INTERIM REPORT 2020

Please find attached a submission on the Government’s Indigenous Voice proposals.

I have approved this submission, and can I ask that any enquiries are directed to:

NACCHO
Level 5, 2 Constitution Avenue
Canberra City ACT 2601
Telephone: 02 6246 9300
Email: policy@naccho.org.au
Website: naccho.org.au

Yours sincerely

Donnella Mills
Chair

NACCHO Level 5/2 Constitution Ave Canberra 2601 ACT | All correspondence - PO Box 130 Civic Square 2608 ACT
Ph: +61 (02) 6246 9300 | Fax: +61 (02) 6248 0744 | ABN 89 078 949 710 | reception@naccho.org.au

Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands | www.naccho.org.au
INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE
INDIGENOUS VOICE CO-DESIGN
PROCESS INTERIM REPORT 2020

April 2021

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Introduction
This submission is made by the National Aboriginal Community Community-Controlled
Health Organisation (NACCHO) in response to the Indigenous Voice Co-design process
Interim Report 2020 (Report) and the Commonwealth proposals for an Indigenous Voice
which are intended to provide a way for Indigenous Australians to provide advice and input
primarily to the Australian Government on matters that are important to improve their
lives.
NACCHO requests that our submission is published as soon as it is received by NIAA on the
website established for the consultations on the Commonwealth’s Voice proposals:
www.voice.niaa.gov.au. NACCHO will also be publishing the submission on its own website:
https://www.naccho.org.au
NACCHO is the national leadership body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in
Australia. Our organisation provides advice and guidance to the Australian Government on
policy and budget matters while advocating for community-developed health solutions that
contribute to the quality of life and improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people.
We represent our members – 143 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations
(ACCHOs) that operate in over 300 clinics across Australia, delivering holistic,
comprehensive, and culturally competent primary healthcare services. These ACCHOs are
initiated and operated by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The sector
is the largest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, with
well over half of its 6,000 staff being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
NACCHO is a living embodiment of the aspirations of Aboriginal communities and their
struggle for self-determination. Our roots are deep, and our first members have been
around since the very early 1970s. NACCHO itself was established in 1992, replacing its
predecessor, the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation (NAIHO) which
operated from 1975. Our vision is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enjoy
quality of life through whole-of-community self-determination and individual spiritual,
cultural, physical, social, and emotional well-being.
NACCHO is also a founding member of the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Community-Controlled Peak Organisations (Coalition of Peaks). The Coalition of
Peaks is a representative body comprised of more than fifty Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peaks and organisations from across Australia that have come together as an act of
self-determination to work together with Australian governments on Closing the Gap.
NACCHO’s CEO, Pat Turner AM, is the Lead Convener of the Coalition of Peaks and NACCHO
hosts a secretariat funded by the Australian Government that supports its governance and
operations. With other members, such as the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the National
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, First Nations Media Australia, and First
Peoples Disability Network, NACCHO has been instrumental in the negotiations and
agreement from governments to the historic Partnership and National Agreements on

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Closing the Gap (the Agreements). The Agreements commit all Australian governments to
share decision making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, chosen by
our peoples, on matters relating to improvements in our life outcomes.
In reaching a position on the Commonwealth’s proposals for an Indigenous Voice, it is very
important to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already have a voice
to the Federal Government, whether it is NACCHO or other national and state/territory
community-controlled peak bodies including independent statutory bodies such as Land
Councils in the Northern Territory that have existed for decades. That voice is based firmly
on the principles of self-determination and community-control. Their leaders are
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander persons who are either:

• members of Boards that are elected by community members or community-
controlled member organisations of the peak body; or
• Chief Executive Officers or senior staff of the organisation who are appointed by and
accountable to their elected Boards.
The evidence is that community-controlled organisations have allowed not just established
leadership figures but also unheard of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be
elected leaders. Most national and state and territory leaders of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people have ‘grown-up’ in the community-controlled sector.
The community-controlled voice is unique in Australia and continues to be effective in
advising and providing input to all Australian Governments, even if it is often severely
under-resourced. The Commonwealth more than any other Australian Government
recognised the importance of the community-controlled sector when it led the
development and negotiation of the Partnership and National Agreements on Closing the
Gap with peak bodies. Importantly, the community-controlled peaks organisations came
together at their own initiative to form their own Coalition of Peaks without any
government involvement.
This voice is directly impacted upon by the Commonwealth’s Voice proposals which seek to
establish a new voice to Government that it is developing instead of Aboriginal and Torres
Islander communities. The Commonwealth will decide on its own proposals rather than
representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly their own
community-controlled organisations.
Meantime, NACCHO and other community-controlled organisations across the country face
the risk that their voice will be muted because of the substantial funding and privileged
access that will be given to the Government’s voice. NACCHO does not want this to happen
and proposes that more than anything else, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
communities and their organisations should be able to fully consider, negotiate and reach
agreement with the Commonwealth with respect to its proposals.
NACCHO considers there is significant confusion about what is being proposed by the
Government amongst our communities and organisations and in the public. Accordingly, our

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response and recommendations are only initial at this stage and go to threshold issues that
we think must be addressed before the Government’s proposals are advanced any further.
In putting together this submission and its recommendations, NACCHO has spoken to other
lead community-controlled peaks organisations.

NACCHO’s Initial Response to the Government’s proposals for an Indigenous Voice
1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are being asked to respond to a set of
proposals that are very different from what was envisaged in the Uluru Statement from
the Heart.

The government’s Voice proposals are very different from a Constitutionally enshrined First
Nations Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament. The Uluru Statement from the Heart
sought full recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Peoples
through a Constitutionally enshrined national Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament to
advise on laws that have a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Despite the rejection of all elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart by the Coalition
Government, NACCHO continues to support it and notes that it has been overwhelming
supported by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and peoples and that
this support continues to grow.
NACCHO supports a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament as there is currently no formal
way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to speak to the Parliament about laws
that will have a significant impact on our peoples. That said, any Voice to the Parliament
must include obligations and responsibilities on the Parliament to respond and before any
relevant legislation is passed. These obligations need to be detailed in any final draft of a
proposed model.
Instead of taking forward a Constitutionally enshrined national Voice to the Commonwealth
Parliament, the proposals from the Commonwealth comprise a range of Voice options at
the national and regional levels that are primarily about advising the Government, rather
than the Parliament. That advice will potentially be on all matters involving policy and
programs impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples including those
currently advised upon by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled
sector.
The government’s voice proposal will have no Constitutional protection and may or may not
be underpinned by Commonwealth legislation. The Commonwealth has also put forward
Voice options that may have an advisory role to state and territory governments on matters
relating to policies and programs within their jurisdictions that impact on Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples, but we have not heard that this proposition is supported by
State and Territory governments.

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The Commonwealth has also left open as to whether its national voice will have a role in
advising the Commonwealth Parliament, but this is not definite. What is clear is that the role
of the Government’s Voice will be to advise it in the first instance and there is little
information about the circumstances in which it would also advise Parliament and how
Parliament would be accountable.
The rationale for the changes from the model of the Voice envisaged in the Uluru Statement
from the Heart and the case of the new proposals, particularly to be an advisory body to
Government rather than the Parliament, have not been made clear by the government. The
government has also not articulated a rationale for its changed approach, what the problem
is it is trying to address and how the Voice models respond to the identified problem.
The Report, and during the consultations, the government, its officials, and representatives
refer to the many discussions on Constitutional recognition as providing the basis and
rationale for its proposals. However, this is misleading as the government is not talking
about Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
NACCHO is concerned that without Constitutional enshrinement and the changed role of
the Voice(s), the proposals from the government are not likely to advance the
empowerment, recognition, and self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples across the country.
2. There is a significant risk that the government’s proposals could undermine self-
determination and result in conflict and a weakening of the community-controlled
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative structures and shared decision
arrangements making with governments across the country.

The proposals do not take sufficient account of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander community-controlled representative and self-determined arrangements across the
country. These have represented the needs of our peoples in service delivery and advocacy
and policy advice to governments for decades and are based on the process of community-
control; that is, a process which allows the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
community to be involved in its affairs in accordance with whatever protocols or procedures
are determined by the community.
The government has not made the case for how the voice of these precious arrangements is
to be protected which have led to a world class Aboriginal health sector, to representatives
of our peoples being able to negotiate the original Native Title Act of 1993 and for
Aboriginal radio stations to be heard across the country. This serious issue is hardly
addressed at all in the Government’s proposals and to the extent it is, reference has been
made to our representative and self-determined bodies being able to continue alongside its
new voice.
NACCHO is concerned, however, that the advice and input of the Government’s voice will be
privileged over that of the voice controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
If there were differences in the policy advice or input being provided by our organisations

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and the Government’s voice, it is likely that the Government will take the advice of its own
voice. Its voice will also have the benefit of significant new funding provided by the
Commonwealth that it will wish to control. It is difficult to see how this cannot be the
outcome given the experience of previous Government initiated advisory structures, all of
which have been established by governments and subsequently abolished or defunded.

The proposals from the government also lack clarity about the responsibilities and
accountabilities of the government to any voice structures. There must be clear
accountabilities on government to engage with and respond to any voice structures put in
place.
Further, there needs to be clear accountabilities on the national Voice to consult with,
engage and fully represent the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,
organisations, and peoples in any position it takes and in its advice to government.
Any regional or local Voice structures must be established in a transparent manner and have
a clear mandate from the relevant community. Regional structures must be led by
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and not driven, created, or established by
government(s). Importantly, any new regional and local structures need to take account of
and be agreed with relevant community-controlled organisations operating within the same
area so not to diminish or undermine their roles and representative responsibilities.
NACCHO is also concerned that the consultation process being led by the government and
the way the proposals are being developed and decided is not consistent with the
commitments from all governments in the Partnership and National Agreements on Closing
the Gap. These Agreements commit governments to shared decision making with Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander representatives that have a significant impact on our peoples.
Of equal concern is that the Government’s proposal for an ‘advisory’ Voice falls below the
commitments in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap to share decision making
between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

3. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities need more information about what
is intended by the proposed arrangements and more time to consider whether we
should engage in and support the Voice(s) being proposed by the government.

The face-to-face consultations have not been sufficiently advertised and with enough notice
and NACCHO has received feedback that our members are not being properly supported to
participate.
There is a lack of transparency in how the consultations are being recorded and managed.
Some consultation session reports have been published but they have been prepared by
public servants. NACCHO understands that the consultation session reports are not
checked back with and agreed by participants making it difficult to be certain if the issues
raised are being reflected accurately to government.

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Whilst some written submissions are being made public and are available on the NIAA
website, the records of meetings and summaries of their outcomes from the face-to-face
engagements are not always being made public and in a timely way.
NACCHO is alert to confusion about the role and influence of the NIAA officials and the
members of the Indigenous Voice Advisory Group members in the consultations. NACCHO
has been told that Government officials attending the consultations do not always identify
themselves and their role in the consultations.
The consultations are also being led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
appointed by and accountable to the Commonwealth Government through terms of
reference and contractual arrangements, rather than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
representatives agreed by our peoples for this purpose.
Further, there is significant confusion about the Commonwealth proposals, what precisely is
on the table, and how it relates to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
We note too that written submissions close before consultations are due to finish.
The engagement process led by the Coalition of Peaks in advance of the negotiations to
settle the National Agreement on Closing the Gap is a much better model. It was designed
to respond to feedback from many Aboriginal and Torres Strait people about being
consulted on policies or programs in the past, but not knowing if they had been heard.
Starting in September 2019, the Coalition of Peaks led engagements with Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations in every state and territory to
talk about what is needed to improve their lives and to provide input to the new National
Agreement on Closing the Gap.
Over 2300 people attended nearly 70 face-to-face meetings in capital cities, regional towns,
and remote communities from September to December 2019, with an online survey at the
same time getting nearly 1700 responses. While governments supported the engagements,
they were led by senior representatives of members of the Coalition of Peaks.
A snapshot report of what was heard during the engagements was published as soon as the
engagements were concluded and sent to every registered participant in the engagements.
The Coalition of Peaks also released an independent review of the engagements at the same
time as the snapshot. The reviewer, a 100% Indigenous-owned, Supply Nation registered,
consultancy, concludes that the engagements were open, fair, and transparent.
Subsequently, a comprehensive report on the engagements was put together by the
Coalition of Peaks in partnership with government officials from the Commonwealth and
states and territories and published. Most importantly, the Coalition of Peaks worked with
governments to negotiate how the outcomes of the engagements were reflected in the
National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
This model produced an agreed outcome that was hailed by the leadership of the Coalition
of Peaks and First Ministers of all Australian Governments. Regrettably, it is not being
followed in developing a new Indigenous voice.

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4. NACCHO has significant concerns that the final Voice model will be decided by
government alone. The Voice proposals should not be agreed by government alone
and instead should be negotiated and agreed between the government and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, chosen by our own peoples for
this purpose.

NACCHO believes that further engagement and negotiation between Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander representatives, chosen by our own peoples for this purpose, and the
Commonwealth Government on a possible model is needed before a decision on this matter
can be made.
By the government putting forward its own and very different proposals to the Uluru
Statement, relying on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisers it has appointed,
NACCHO is concerned that there is no genuine community mandate for the proposals as
they have not been developed through a process of self-determination. Should the
government proceed with its proposals there is a significant chance that they will not be
enduring or achieve meaningful change as they are being government driven rather than
arising from a self-determined process.

NACCHO’s Initial Recommendations
In response to the Report and with these matters in mind, NACCHO provides its initial
response and the following recommendations against three broad categories.
1. Recommendations to strengthen the current consultations process
a) A complete list of upcoming face to face consultations should be published on the NIAA
website and where NIAA is working with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
community-controlled organisations to put together the face-to-face consultations in a
way that encourage greater participation.

b) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander facilitators who represent the relevant communities
should be engaged for the face-to-face consultations rather than allowing them to be led
by Indigenous Voice Advisory Group members who are accountable to NIAA and the
Minister.

c) Records and outcomes from the consultations are agreed with participating people and
organisations and made public immediately following each consultation so that other
participants and organisations can understand the issues being raised and how they might
like to respond.

d) Government officials attending the engagements to clearly identify themselves and their
role in supporting the consultations and measures taken to ensure they are not able to
influence or bias the consultation process.

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e) The date for written submissions be extended until the end of May 2021 to align with the
conclusion of the face-to-face engagements.

f) An independent organisation with relevant expertise and experience be engaged in a
transparent manner by NIAA to observe the remaining consultations and provide an
assessment on whether the face to face consultations were open, transparent and
informed and enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be heard on the
issues; if the outcomes of the face to face and written consultations reflect the issues that
were raised; and to make recommendations for future engagements on the issue.

2. Recommendations on the design of the Voice proposals
NACCHO is very concerned that it is being asked to respond to a range of proposals that are
not clearly defined and where the intent of the Commonwealth has not been fully disclosed.
It makes the following recommendations noting this:
a) Consistent with the Uluru Statement from the Heart:
• The national Voice’s central function should be on providing advice to the
Commonwealth Parliament on laws that have a significant impact on Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
• The Voice to Parliament should be enshrined in the Constitution before it is
implemented and supporting legislation is enacted.

b) For a national Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament:
• The obligations on the Parliament to respond to the national Voice and its advice
should be clearly articulated and included in underpinning legislation, ensuring
the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are taken account of
before legislation is passed and how and why the Parliament has responded in a
particular way is made public.
• The roles and functions of regional / local Voices should be clearly linked to the
roles and functions of the national Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament so as
not to confuse, undermine or weaken the roles and functions of community-
controlled organisations across the country.
• Support for the operation of the Voice structures should be independent of
government and funding for its functions, including its own secretariat and policy
support, is protected in Commonwealth legislation.

c) Should the government proceed with the establishment of a Voice to government, instead
of, or as well as, a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament:
• Instead of an advisory Voice, the relationship between the Voice structures and
government should be based on formal shared decision-making arrangement
and agreement, consistent with the Partnership and National Agreements on
Closing the Gap.

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• The Voice structures are determined by representatives of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people, are independent of government and long-term funding is
provided for the Voice structures for their roles and functions, including for their
own independent secretariat and policy support accountable to the Voice
structures, not to government, consistent with the Partnership and National
Agreements on Closing the Gap.
• The roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of government are clearly
articulated, and dispute resolution mechanisms are agreed between the Voice
structures and government, consistent with the Partnership and National
Agreements on Closing the Gap.
• Clear obligations on the national Voice must be in place to consult with, engage
and fully represent the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
communities, organisations, and peoples in any position it takes and in its advice
to government.
• The mandate of the Voice(s) fills an identified and agreed need and the interface
between the government and the Voice is clearly articulated and defined
including whether and how the Voice engages with various portfolios,
departments, and Ministers.
• The roles and functions of NACCHO and other national and state/territory
community-controlled peak bodies are not displaced or undermined by a new
national and regional/ local Voice structure.
• The roles and functions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-
controlled organisations and representative arrangements across the country are
not displaced or undermined by a national and regional / local Voice structures
to the Commonwealth government and how the various structures co-exist and
the empowerment, recognition, self-determination of the community-controlled
organisations and representative arrangements and the responsibilities and
obligations of the governments is clearly articulated and agreed between all
parties.
• The roles and functions of the Coalition of Peaks on Closing the Gap, and the
Partnership and National Agreements on Closing the Gap between the Coalition
of Peaks and Australian governments are not displaced or undermined by a
national Voice to the Commonwealth government and how the structures co-
exist are clearly defined and agreed with the Coalition of Peaks including
NACCHO.
• Any regional or local Voice structures must be established in a transparent
manner and have a clear mandate from the relevant community – regional
structures must be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and not
driven, created, or established by government – and take account of and be
agreed with relevant community-controlled organisations operating within the
same area so not to diminish or undermine their roles and representative
responsibilities.

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3. Recommendations on next steps
From experience, and whether a Voice model is enshrined in the Constitution or not, much
of its strength, longevity, and capacity to further the empowerment, recognition and self-
determination of our peoples relies on its legitimacy and support from Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples.
The Commonwealth’s existing consultation process, led by its own advisers and public
servants, will not achieve this and furthermore, the steps and timeframes following the
conclusion of the consultations are not clear. It is difficult to see how NACCHO, its members
and other community-controlled organisations will be able to understand the issues that
have been raised through the consultation process to inform how they might be responded
to and how they can engage in the next steps.
A negotiated agreement on the final model of the Voice and the steps to achieve it between
the Commonwealth Government and our representatives will provide the best foundation
for an enduring and successful model that is owned by and advances the interests of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whilst fostering responsibility and
accountability of the Commonwealth government to the voice.
At a minimum and as a first step, NACCHO would be very concerned if the Commonwealth
Government were to decide on the final model of the Voice structures without a further
engagement process. Noting it is not clear whether the proposed Voice structures will have
a relationship to the Commonwealth Parliament and government or government alone,
whether a Voice to government will be underpinned by legislation, and what the
relationship will be with state and territory governments, a complete draft Voice structure
should be developed and made public.
In addition to taking immediate steps to improve the transparency and legitimacy of the
current consultation process, it is recommended that:
a) A complete independent report be produced on the outcomes of the whole consultation
process, identifying the issues that were raised so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander organisations and communities can understand the full range of matters across
Australia and consider the best way to respond.

b) A complete draft proposed model for the national and regional / local Voice structures is
put together and is tested through a further round of genuine engagements with
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations, and communities, led by
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, chosen by our own peoples for this
purpose.

c) Should the Commonwealth proceed with its Voice proposals, the final design of the
national and regional / local Voice structures should be determined through a negotiated
and shared decision-making process between the Commonwealth government and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, chosen by our own peoples for this
purpose.

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d) The Commonwealth government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
representatives, chosen by our own peoples for this purpose, should negotiate and agree
the process steps for implementing the agreed Voice model(s), including its legislative
basis and whether it should be protected through Constitutional enshrinement before it
is implemented, and legislation enacted.

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