2809

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Submission Number
2809
Participant
Uniting First Peoples Network; UnitingCare Australia; UAICC
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

c/o UnitingCare Australia
PO Box 4097
Kingston ACT 2604
Phone: (02) 6249 6717
Email: ucaremail@nat.unitingcare.org.au

30 April 2021

Voice Secretariat
National Indigenous Australians Agency
Commonwealth Government
Canberra ACT 2600
Via email: Co-designVoice@niaa.gov.au

Uniting First Peoples Network and UnitingCare Australia Submission –
Indigenous Voice Co-design Interim Report

Dear Voice Secretariat

The Uniting First Peoples Network, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
(UAICC), and UnitingCare Australia welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Indigenous
Voice Co-design process and Interim Report.1 Our submission is grounded in the Uniting
Church of Australia’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and reiterates the
views expressed in the UAICC and Uniting Church in Australia Assembly submission (#1328)
to this co-design process.

We acknowledge the complexity of the task the co-design groups have been appointed to
undertake and commend the immense work that has gone into the development of the Interim
Report. However, it is critical this co-design process does not distract from, nor serve as a
substitute for, constitutional enshrinement of a First Peoples Voice. Accordingly, our
submission does not address the full breadth of issues raised in the Interim Report. Instead, we
focus on the need for the Government to proceed with a referendum for a constitutionally
enshrined Voice to Parliament and to introduce enabling legislation for a Voice after a
referendum. We also emphasise the need to ensure the membership model for the Voice is
diverse and inclusive.

The need for constitutional enshrinement of the Voice
A First Peoples Voice that is enshrined in the Constitution was an unambiguous collective call
of the Uluru Statement. A constitutional guarantee will ensure the Voice endures and is not
reliant on the mere goodwill or whim of the government of the day. The experience of previous
representative or advisory bodies, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Commission (ATSIC) and the National Indigenous Council, demonstrate that legislation alone is

1The Uniting First Peoples Network comprises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from the Uniting
Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and from the Uniting Church and its service agencies.
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) consists of Aboriginal and Islander members of the
Uniting Church in Australia and members in fellowship who may also be members of other denominations.
UnitingCare Australia is the national body for the Uniting Church’s community services network in Australia,
supporting 1.4 million people every year across urban, rural and remote communities.
c/o UnitingCare Australia
PO Box 4097
Kingston ACT 2604
Phone: (02) 6249 6717
Email: ucaremail@nat.unitingcare.org.au not sufficient to provide durability and certainty. As is noted in the Interim Report, advisory or
representative bodies created by legislation alone or administrative fiat have historically been
subject to political pressure and interference, thereby undermining their independence:
A recurring issue with which all historical bodies have had to confront, is the extent of their
independence from government to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the
first instance. The 2008 report of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner found that most previous bodies have to varying degrees, and for various reasons,
tended to prioritise the objectives of the Australian Government of the day first, and those of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples second.1

A constitutional guarantee overcomes the inherent vulnerability of an institutional voice that is
merely legislated. It will make it clear that the Voice is not beholden to the ‘Government of the
day’ or the politics of the moment. It will, instead, provide the enduring structural change
needed to overcome the “torment of powerless” spoken of in the Uluru Statement.

Constitutional entrenchment of the Voice is also important because it would be achieved with
the support of the Australian people at a referendum. This would in turn give it greater
legitimacy and moral authority in the eyes of the public when compared to an entity merely
created via statute. As a result, its advice to Parliament is more likely to be given greater
weight.

Enabling legislation for the Voice must be passed after a referendum
We firmly believe the Voice the Parliament should be enshrined in the Constitution before
supporting legislation is enacted. Implementing the National Voice through legislation prior to a
referendum will undercut its legitimacy and leave it vulnerable to political compromise and
pressure. This approach risks creating confusion among the Australian public, undermining the
momentum for a successful referendum, and creating the conditions for yet more delay, deferral
and prevarication. Constitutional entrenchment of the Voice will provide the essential scaffolding
and long-term security needed, ensuring that the details of the Voice model can be subsequently
set out in legislation and fine-tuned as necessary over time, without fear of the Voice’s abolition
when a government changes hands into the future.

Inclusive of the diversity of First Peoples
The membership model for the National Voice should ensure representation of the diverse
populations and needs of First Peoples. This submission does not consider the details of the
preferred membership structure, methods of election, or other specific aspects of the model for
the National Voice (or for the Regional and Local Voices). In determining these details, the
views of First Peoples should have primacy. However, it is imperative that the Voice has the
necessary capability and legitimacy to undertake its function as an institution that captures and
represents the diverse voices, priorities and aspirations of First Peoples. This includes
structural opportunities for the inclusion of voices that may have been previously unheard in
national-level deliberations, including First Peoples embedded in local communities and
frontline organisations.

1 Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process, (2020). Interim Report to the Australian Government, October 2020, p.118.
c/o UnitingCare Australia
PO Box 4097
Kingston ACT 2604
Phone: (02) 6249 6717
Email: ucaremail@nat.unitingcare.org.au

Sufficient scale of membership will be necessary for a Voice that is inclusive of this rich
diversity. Limiting membership to two representatives per state, as proposed in the Interim
Report, may not be sufficient to achieve this and may risk an outcome where only people with
existing profile and authority are selected. Critically, the membership of the National Voice must
be determined by First Peoples, and should not be determined by government appointment.

In conclusion, we urge the Federal Government to support the collective aspiration of the Uluru
Statement of the Heart, and to commit to a referendum to create an enduring and
constitutionally guaranteed First Peoples Voice to Parliament. As our submission has
emphasised, the Voice to Parliament should be enshrined in the Constitution before it is
implemented and supporting legislation is enacted. We believe this is a fundamental first step in
addressing the unfinished business of our nation’s relationship with First Peoples. It is a
necessary and essential step whose time has come.

Yours sincerely,

Alison Overeem
Gavin Mackey
Co-Chair
Co-Chair
Uniting First Peoples Network
Uniting First Peoples Network

Mark Kickett
Claerwen Little
Interim Chair
National Director
Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian
UnitingCare Australia
Congress