Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this discussion paper and the proposals contained therein. I am an academic historian who has spent the last two decades researching, and writing, on aspects of the history of Indigenous governance in Australia. From this I know that Indigenous Affairs is and has been one of the most hotly contested policy portfolios in this nation. And for good reason. There is much at stake for governments and there is even more at stake for Indigenous people. The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for structural reform in the form of a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice to parliament. This is the only viable option for a voice to parliament because it protects the voice from political intervention or interference and it enables an Indigenous voice on policies that impact their lives as First Nations peoples. This is an urgent reform and should be a governmental priority. As I write this submission there are so many outstanding issues in need of redress in and for Indigenous communities, particularly the unacceptable and shameful rates of Indigenous deaths in custody and incarceration. Self-determination and Indigenous empowerment is at the heart of the matter as the participants at the Uluru Convention argued. It is simply not good enough to talk about closing the gap and 'practical' solutions. Indigenous health and well-being is far too important but solutions need to be informed by Indigenous needs and demands. Indigenous-led solutions are critical. A constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament would provide a mechanism - foundation - whereby this could happen.
More importantly the government must honour its election commitment to hold a referendum once a model for the Voice has been settled. Enabling legislation for the Voice must be passed after a referendum has been held in the next term of Parliament and the membership model for the Voice must ensure that previously unheard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same chance of being selected for leadership positions.