Maggie Miles, Lead Creative
West Footscray VIC 3012 m
30 April 2021
Submission to the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process, Interim Report to the Australian
Government, October 2020, National Indigenous Australians Agency
I am on the producing team for the Australian feature film High Ground starring Simon Baker,
Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Jack Thompson, Witiyana Marika and Aaron Pedersen amongst others,
that has recently finished its highly successful run in Australian cinemas. High Ground was
produced in collaboration with the Yolngu and Binninj people of the Northern Territory, guided
by key Traditional Owners and Rirratjingu Senior Cultural Ambassador Witiyana Marika, who is
also on the producing team.
The film is set in the early 1900’s in Arnhem Land and begins with the terrible massacre of an
Indigenous tribe. The story explores the connection between two survivors of this event and the
men responsible, and an un-burying of the past occurs. It’s a nuanced story exploring the
reverberations of the impacts of colonisation produced through a both-ways process, Indigenous
and non-Indigenous collaborating together.
I have been overwhelmed by the response to High Ground from Indigenous and non-Indigenous
audience members. Largely, Indigenous Australians have voiced their sorrow for the past and their
pride that High Ground told one of the old stories, thereby raising up the truth. Non-Indigenous
audience members have largely been grateful for the opportunity to engage in conversations about
the history of this country. Many have referred to High Ground as being part of a process of truth-
telling that is taking place in Australia.
First Nations people were living on this land before colonisation, that is known. Australian
Indigenous culture is widely regarded to have existed for at least 60,000 years and yet it is only three
lifespans (give or take), since this culture was completely untainted by outside influence. It is within
our reach therefore and it is the responsibility of all who live here to raise up the voices of First
Nations Australians and provide Constitutional protection for a Voice.
In May 2017 I was inspired by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which I believe came from the
largest gathering of First Nations people ever to have taken place in Australia, no small
achievement. I welcomed the invitation to walk with First Nations Australians towards a better
future and I believe that my life in Australia, and the lives of my children and the communities I
inhabit would be far richer if, as the Uluru Statement from the Heart proposes, First Nations
sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood with the
establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in Australia’s Constitution.
I have been dismayed by opposition to the call in the Uluru Statement from the Heart for a
Constitutionally enshrined Voice. I note former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in an interview
with Karla Grant NITV 16 June 2020 said, “Noel presented us with a beautifully written bit of
poetry but in practical terms it’s like a column of smoke.” It is hard to understand what lies behind
Mr Turnbull’s words, perhaps there is a clash of male-ego, certainly in that one dismissive statement
he attributed the work of the hundreds if not thousands of people leading up to the creation of
Uluru Statement from the Heart, to one man. This is simply not good enough.
I am not alone in my views and have no doubt that when there is a referendum on this question, a
referendum that must surely ask Australians to consider whether there should be a Constitutionally
enshrined Voice, they will vote YES. This is not a frightening prospect for the ‘ordinary’ Australians
I know, and I’m perplexed that so many ‘in power’ find it to be so.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart sought full recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people 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.
I understand the proposals from the Coalition Government in the Interim Report on the Co-
Design process to be a range of Voice options at the national and regional levels that are primarily
about advising government, rather than the Parliament, on potentially all matters involving policy
and programs impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It will have no Constitutional
protection. The Coalition Government 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. 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 have not been made clear by the government. The government’s Voice
proposals are very different from a Constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to the
I am 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 people across the country.
On 26th January 1938 the Aborigines Progressive Association led by Mr Jack Patten and Mr William
Ferguson, supported by the Australian Aborigines League led by Mr William Cooper called for
plain speaking about the treatment of the ‘Old Australians’, for justice, decency and fair play, and
this call remains current today.
The foundation stones of this country are not secure and will not be until the foundational
framework of Australia, being its Constitution, includes an enshrined First Nations Voice to
Parliament. To not allow a Voice, is to disempower. Perhaps this is the rationale. What is clear is
that the Federal Government is ignoring the wishes, the rights and the requests from First Nations
peoples who have widely called for a Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution and is not
reading the powerful wave of public sentiment in support of this, support that I have witnessed
first-hand in the responses to our film.
Lead Creative, Savage Films