RESPONSE TO INDIGENOUS VOICE CO-DESIGN PROCESS INTERIM REPORT TO THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT
The Interim Report states that this co-design process seeks to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the opportunity to provide feedback on a proposed Voice. I therefore hope that in the spirit of respecting our communities, the Senior Advisory Group listens and acts upon whatever emerges from this submission process.
Furthermore, it is important that I also acknowledge how difficult and, at times, inaccessible I found the Interim Report. Even as a member of community with the privilege of formal tertiary education in the law, the Interim Report was an overwhelming and highly technical document.
While I note that constitutional amendment with regard to the Voice was excluded from the terms of reference for the co-design process, the Interim Report acknowledges previous calls for constitutional reform by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This includes the Uluru Statement from the Heart, one of Australia’s most morally and politically profound living documents. I submit that the current co-design process has its genesis in the Uluru Statement from the Heart process and that it should serve as a rich touchstone for the Senior Advisory Group rather than as an object of disdain and disregard.
I submit that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is the most empowering and effective blueprint in designing an Indigenous Voice. I support the demands of the Uluru Statement from the Heart campaign, namely that:
1. the Australian Government honours its election commitment to a referendum once a model for the Voice has been settled; and
2. legislation enabling the Voice must be passed after a referendum seeking to constitutionally enshrine the voice has been held in the next term of parliament.
Constitutional enshrinement provides legal certainty and security, protecting the Voice against removal or serious diminishment by subsequent governments. Moreover, constitutional enshrinement generates the necessary independence of the Voice that will allow it to speak with honesty and rigour to any given parliament of the day. It ensures that the right for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be heard does not rely on the whim of politics, nor contained only to discrete institutional processes like Royal Commissions.
However, members of the Senior Advisory Group have indicated during the consultation phase that the Voice should first be legislated, and that there are few if any reasons as to why this is not an appropriate first step. Whilst legislation is required to further define the structure, composition and operation of the Voice, I submit that a purely legislative Voice fails in two significant ways; first, it does not account for the concerns raised above around protection and certainty, and second, it fails to respond to the substantive recognition that should be afforded to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country. The Voice should be considered as legitimate and as indispensable as the legislative and judicial bodies already referenced in the constitution. By enshrining the Voice, it sends a clear signal that the Australian nation is committed to listening to and empowering the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on matters concerning their own communities.