2653

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Submission Number
2653
Participant
Victorian Aboriginal Executive Council
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

April 29th 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

The Victorian Aboriginal Executive Council (AEC) writes in response to the draft Indigenous Voice proposals
which we understand have been put forward to “provide a way for Indigenous Australians to provide advice
and input on matters that are important to improve their lives.” The AEC is a peak coordinating council for
Victoria’s Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector and is a member of the National Coalition of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peaks. The AEC is in a formal governance partnership with the Victorian
Government to develop and oversight Victoria’s Implementation Plan under the National Agreement on
Closing the Gap.

The AEC supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its three key elements; Voice, Treaty, Truth.

Consistent with the Uluru Statement the AEC calls upon the Commonwealth Government to support the
establishment of a National First People’s Voice to Parliament that is enshrined in the Australian Constitution. The
Federal Government should honour its election commitment to a referendum once a model for a National Voice
has been settled and then proceed with enabling legislation to be passed through the Federal Parliament to
implement the outcome of the referendum.

We also note that the Indigenous Voice proposals are not accompanied by a commitment to Treaty or Truth. The
AEC highlights that all three elements, Voice, Treaty and Truth are being pursued in Victoria through the
establishment of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria and their work to establish a Treaty negotiation
framework for Victoria and a truth telling process through the Yoo-Rrook Commission. This approach is consistent
with the Uluru Statement from the Heart and should be pursued at the national level.

The draft proposals for a National Voice and for Local and Regional Voice do not meet the key elements of
the Uluru Statement from the Heart which continues to attract strong support from across the Australian
community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

The AEC considers that the draft proposals for a National Voice and Local/Regional Voice are largely based
on a false premise; that the fundamental barrier to the advancement of the rights and interests of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples is that our views are not systematically available to governments. The AEC
contends that the fundamental barrier to be confronted is not the failure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people, organisations and communities to make themselves heard but the failure of Governments,
and in particular the Commonwealth Government, to listen and act on (repeatedly) expressed views.

The Indigenous Voice proposals suggest that it is a lack of organisation, coordination and congruence
amongst Australia’s First Peoples on what needs to be done that is holding back effective government action
to advance the rights, wellbeing and status of Australia’s First Peoples.
There will be limited value in a National Voice, whatever the model, if the Commonwealth fails, across all its
Departments, Statutory authorities, responsibilities, programs and services, to meaningfully embed principles of
Aboriginal Self-Determination. It is in the day to day practice of governments and the agencies they fund that
systemic reform is urgently required. Systemic reforms including combating institutional racism and enabling self-
determination through the transfer of power, authority and resources to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
community control. The AEC highlights the negotiation of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap as an
example of governments embracing shared decision making having previously pursued Closing the Gap as a
government led reform program.

The AEC notes the stated intent behind the Indigenous Voice proposals, ‘that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people have more of a say on the laws, policies and services that impact them, their communities and
their lives.’ The question here is what it meant by “more of a say.” Australia’s First Peoples are rights holders
under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Australia is a signatory.

The Commonwealth Government and the Indigenous Voice draft proposals position Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people as a stakeholder group to be consulted with, and in the case of the proposed National Voice
model, consulted with on a narrowly prescribed set of matters. This is not genuine shared decision making. All
Governments in Australia need to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as rights holders and
construct relationships and conduct dialogue on a negotiation basis not a consultation basis.

The AEC is concerned that that there is a disconnect between the Commonwealth Government and the
Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector in Victoria. The Commonwealth seems reluctant to engage
systematically with Aboriginal community based leadership, structures and organisations in Victoria including the
AEC. We have witnessed this dis-engagement in current work to prepare Victoria’s Closing the Gap
Implementation Plan, a process open to the Commonwealth but in which the Commonwealth has expressed no
interest.

The experience of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector in Victoria is that the Commonwealth Government
relegates the needs and priorities of Aboriginal people in Victoria to a lower status than the needs of other
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is not a call for the Commonwealth to lessen its investment and
support for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. Rather it is a call for the
Commonwealth to proactively engage with and better support the Victorian Aboriginal community. In this
context the Indigenous Voice proposals are viewed with a degree of scepticism.

Noting again the aspiration of the Indigenous Voice proposals, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
have more of a say on the laws, policies and services that impact them, their communities and their lives, the AEC
advises that considerable improvement could be achieved by the Commonwealth providing long-term, flexible
and integrated funding to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations so they can shape and adjust services
and supports in response to the needs of the communities they serve. Better alignment between the current
array of Commonwealth Government programs and the aspirations of local communities could be achieved by
providing greater autonomy to local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

In relation to the models proposed for a National Voice the AEC makes the following comments.

 A National Voice model framed with a ceiling of a maximum of 20 members (including the option of two
appointed members) is a top down model. A consequence of this ceiling is that it limits the number of
members to be drawn from each State and Territory, and generates a set of Regional structure whereby
Victoria would be considered to have two Regions. Structuring a National Voice in this way creates a
Regional structure that is entirely artificial and bears no resemblance to existing local and regional
structures - such as traditional owner groups/country, local government boundaries or existing service
system regional structures.
 While the core function and scope of a National Voice is described as “unencumbered” Government and
the Parliament would only be obliged to consult on a narrow range of proposed laws that are exclusive to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is a very narrow range of matters noting that the scope
is further restricted to proposed laws; each and every existing and proposed law impacts Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people.
 As noted earlier the Indigenous Voice materials state, ‘that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
have more of a say on the laws, policies and services that impact them, their communities and their lives.’
The proposed scope for the work of the National Voice does not fulfil this promise.
 There is a severe limitation on the tabling in parliament of advice from the proposed National Voice.
Government is only obliged to table advice in parliament where government has sought that advice.
Advice prepared at the initiative of the National Voice is not required to be tabled in parliament.
 The proposed parliamentary committee is unnecessarily limited in its scope to examining engagement
and consideration of the advice sought by Government – not all the advice prepared by the National
Voice. Arguably it is the advice that government has not asked for that is the most important to table in
parliament and be subject to consideration through a parliamentary committee.
 The idea of an independent policy body to sit alongside but not be governed by a National Voice is not
supported by the AEC. This would create an unaccountable policy advisory body that Government or
Parliament could seek advice from, as an alternative to seeking advice from a National Voice.
 In relation to how Victoria might be represented on a National Voice the AEC considers that this should
be determined at the State level and that interest in participating in a National Voice will likely depend on
the merits of the model including how it aligns with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

On the proposed Local/Regional Voice the AEC reiterates its earlier comment that the proposed regional
structure for Victoria does not align with existing local and regional structures. We also note that the scope of the
proposed Local/Regional Voice scope extends to providing a voice to the Victorian State Government and to Local
Government in Victoria. The AEC does not consider the Commonwealth Government to have a mandate to
initiate discussions on the establishment of new structures or models to represent the Victorian Aboriginal
community to other levels of government.

The AEC appreciates the opportunity to provide comment on the Indigenous Voice proposals.

Yours Sincerely,

Esme Bamblett
AEC Chairperson