2840

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Submission Number
2840
Participant
Thomas Mayor
Submission date
Main Submission File
Main Submission Automated Transcript

30 April 2021

Thomas Mayor
Torres Strait Islander
National Indigenous Officer, Maritime Union of Australia

Darwin NT 0812

Professor Marcia Langton and Professor Tom Calma
Co-Chairs
Voice Co-design Advisory Group

Second Written Submission on the Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Peoples

Dear Co-Chairs,

1. I write this submission as a Torres Strait Islander residing on Larrakia land, Darwin. I make
this submission from my life experience, as a stevedore and union delegate for 16 years, as
an elected union official since 2010, and as an advocate for a substantive – and lasting – First
Nations representative body (Voice).

THE VOICE MODEL MUST NOT BE VULNERABLE TO THE WHIMS OF PARLIAMENT

2. As a trade unionist, I understand the great value in self-determining collective structures of
representation (Voice), and how they can politically further the interests of a group of
people. In particular, structures that include local, regional, and national representation,
with democratic processes to determine the rules, protocols, policies and priorities of the
organisation, and mechanisms of accountability of representatives to the people they
represent. My understanding goes beyond a workers Voice, I am aware that such organised
structures furthers the interests of other interest groups: employers and industries through
their chambers and associations for example.

3. I am a beneficiary of a Voice, as a worker and Australian citizen, and the capacity to organise
that comes with it. I benefit directly by way of maritime workers having the power to gain
better wages, safety standards and conditions of employment in our industry through our
membership of the Maritime Union of Australia. I also benefit from a Voice as a worker in
general, and as an Australian citizen, through unions coming together in the Australian
Council of Trade Unions, as a Voice to advance workers rights in state and federal laws and
policies. All workers, including workers who are not members of a union, benefit from
National Employment Standards, Award conditions, safety regulations, workers
compensation and superannuation guarantees that have been achieved and are defended
through our unions. Most Australians would have a much lower quality of life without unions
– without a Voice.

4. Point (2) above applies specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well.
Firstly, through the solidarity from workers and their unions in many First Nations actions for
self-determination, land rights, protecting Country, treaties, equality and justice – such as
the Pilbara Strike, the Gurindji Wave Hill Walk-off and the Noonkanbah Dispute. And
secondly, through representative organisations established for or by First Nations people
during colonisation and to date, such as the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association
(AAPA), Aboriginal Advancement League (AAL) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Commission (ATSIC).

5. Unlike unions of workers that have a potential membership of over ninety percent of the
population and the democratic power that comes with such numbers, and unlike employer
associations that have significant resources to use for political influence, First Nations are
merely 3% of the population without great amounts of pooled resources that we collectively
control. The lands that we do control are still subject to the laws and policies of parliament.

6. The representative organisations established for or by First Nations people during
colonisation and to date, including those mentioned in point (4), have all been silenced
through pressure applied by authorities, or repeal by parliament. First Nations Voices that
status the status quo are always destroyed. There has been no repercussion for the decision
makers who silence First Nations Voices. The repercussion has only been felt by Indigenous
people directly, and all of Australia through the shame of disgracefully disproportionate
incarceration rates, differences in life expectancy, and the list goes on.

7. Some of the same organisations that have silenced First Nations Voices have tried to destroy
the Voices of workers. In my time as a worker alone, I have witnessed multiple attempts,
including the 1998 Patrick dispute, to destroy unions. Our numbers of members, community
solidarity and access to finance has defended our Voice from such attacks. As mentioned in
point (5), for First Nations Voices, defending against moves to silence us, have not the
numbers of affected members, nor the broader community solidarity or finances, and
therefore have been vulnerable.

8. A First Nations Voice that is vulnerable to being silenced by the federal parliament by
repealing the enacting legislation, will be ineffective because of the risk of being silenced,
and will almost certainly be destroyed by a hostile government.

Recommendation 1

The question of the constitutional form that the Voice will take is not separate to the question of the
design of the model. Any Voice model without this constitutional underpinning is likely to fail. The
First Nations Voice model must include that it should be constitutionally enshrined.

Recommendation 2

The Government must honour its election commitment to a referendum once the model for a Voice
has been settled.
SEQUENCE OF REFORMS

9. A First Nations Voice should have the power, capacity and political will to challenge the
decision makers in parliament, among other organisations that may decide to act to the
detriment of Indigenous peoples.

10. A First Nations Voice, like all other human organisations, will have issues with governance
and leadership from time to time. Issues that should be dealt with through the rules of the
organisation, legislation, democratic accountability, and law enforcement.

11. There is great momentum in Australia to change the constitution to recognise and empower
First Nations peoples – to return us to our rightful place as the custodians and as decision
makers on Country.

12. If the First Nations Voice is merely legislated, it is likely there will not be a referendum to
enshrine it. This is because as stated in point (9), the decision makers in parliament, having
been challenged by the advocacy of the Voice, will not want to pass a Referendum Bill
toward enshrinement – and further empowerment of – the very Voice that is challenging
them. As in point (8), a merely legislated Voice – a Voice not constitutionally underpinned –
will almost certainly be destroyed.

13. Also, a referendum held after legislation is enacted, and after the Voice has operated for a
time, will likely have less chance of success because as in point (10), the Voice will have
issues that may be amplified by those who oppose enshrinement of a First Nations Voice.

14. A referendum held after legislation is enacted will have lose the momentum referred to in
point (11). Momentum that is vital to success. This is because some may feel that if the
Voice already exists, why continue to pursue it. This momentum will also be affected by
point (13) above.

Recommendation 3

Enabling legislation for the First Nations Voice must be passed after a referendum has been held in
the next term of parliament.

MODEL DESIGN

15. I am concerned that the current 18 member National Voice is not representative enough of
language groups or needs. I would prefer a model with broader representation.

16. This aspect of the model will be difficult to balance, and will likely need to evolve and be
constantly improved. For this reason, flexibility of the Voice model is import, though any
change must be led by the Voice itself.
17. Importantly, the Voice model must ensure accountability of leaders to the peoples that they
represent. It must also be open to all Indigenous peoples in the region to nominate and
potentially be elected to be a representative.

ALL RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 1

The question of the constitutional form that the Voice will take is not separate to the question of the
design of the model. Any Voice model without this constitutional underpinning is likely to fail. The
First Nations Voice model must include that it should be constitutionally enshrined.

Recommendation 2

The Government must honour its election commitment to a referendum once the model for a Voice
has been settled.

Recommendation 3

Enabling legislation for the First Nations Voice must be passed after a referendum has been held in
the next term of parliament.

Recommendation 4

The Voice must be representative of the diverse populations and needs of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people.

Recommendation 5

The membership model for the National Voice must ensure previously unheard Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people have the same chance of having their voices heard.

Regards,

Thomas Mayor