Response to the Indigenous
Voice Co-Design Interim Report
Western Australian Government submission
LOCAL AND REGIONAL VOICE ................................................................... 2
Proposed number of regions........................................................................................... 3
Proposed principles ........................................................................................................ 4
NATIONAL VOICE ......................................................................................... 6
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The Western Australian (WA) Government welcomes the opportunity to provide
feedback on the interim proposals identified for an Indigenous Voice at local,
regional and national levels.1
It has reviewed the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Interim Report (Interim Report)
developed by the Indigenous Voice co-design groups, in partnership with the
National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).
The WA Government recognises the dual role of both the State and
Commonwealth in Aboriginal affairs, ensuring government programs and
services are delivered in genuine partnership with Aboriginal peoples and
communities for better social, economic, health and cultural outcomes.
The proposals are critical given a range of indicators which show that Aboriginal
people have unacceptably lower levels of health, economic security, social and
emotional wellbeing, and educational attainment, than other Australians.
It is crucial for Aboriginal people to have a say in the decisions, policies and laws
that affect them. A National Voice to the Australian Parliament and Government
is a pragmatic and equitable proposal.
The WA Government’s submission reflects its views and recommendations on
the Interim Report, aspects of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart and WA
Aboriginal peoples and communities’ opinion.
LOCAL AND REGIONAL VOICE
The proposal for a Local and Regional Voice is both timely and relevant to key
Aboriginal policy reforms currently being progressed by the WA Government, in
partnership with the State’s statutory Aboriginal Advisory Council.
The Council is established under section 18(1) of the Aboriginal Affairs Planning
Authority Act 1972 (AAPA Act) and has a direct reporting relationship with the
Minister (for Aboriginal Affairs).
Council’s role is to lead and coordinate dialogue and facilitate decision making
regarding those issues which affect the recognition, rights, leadership and vision,
expertise, wellbeing and integrity of Aboriginal people and communities in WA.
In this submission, the term Aboriginal people is used in preference to “Indigenous” or “Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people”, in recognition that Aboriginal peoples are the original inhabitants of Western Australia.
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Early alignment between the Local and Regional Voice and the Council presents
an important opportunity to improve coordination between State and
Commonwealth processes, reduce any policy duplication and avoid potential
Proposed number of regions
The WA Government strongly recommends an increase in the number of regions
identified for WA as part of the Local and Regional Voice proposal, from seven
regions to nine. The rationale for this increase is to allow alignment with the nine
regions currently represented by the membership of the Council. Accordingly, a
Local and Regional Voice consisting of 35 regions nationally is deemed essential
by the WA Government.
Identification of the Council’s nine regions has been informed by widespread and
long-standing recognition of these regional boundaries by Aboriginal people in
WA. Membership of the Council represents the cultural diversity of regions and
The Council’s membership also reflects a diversity of organisation types, areas
of expertise and genders. There are currently 11 members on the Council
representing eight of the nine regions.
Importantly, Council members live and work in the regions they represent,
allowing them to highlight current local and regional issues of significance at
This local and regional knowledge has been invaluable to the WA Government
during COVID-19 and has been integral to the WA Government’s successful
response in keeping Aboriginal communities safe during the pandemic.
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The proposed principles for the Local and Regional Voice are in broad alignment
with the values and principles developed by Council members. Council plays a
key role in State priorities including development of the draft Aboriginal
Empowerment Strategy, Closing the Gap, Aboriginal youth suicide, and reduced
incarceration of Aboriginal people.
The Council’s values and principles are as follows:
Recognition – respect the prior and continuous occupation of Aboriginal
people, their ongoing role as custodians of the lands and seas of WA, and
their uniqueness of culture.
Culture, Country and heritage – respect the diversity of culture, language,
Country and history of its members and Aboriginal communities across WA.
Aboriginal-controlled and led – recognise Aboriginal people as key
decision makers in issues that affect their rights, prosperity and wellbeing.
Integrity – demonstrate honesty, fairness and transparency, and expect the
same from its partners.
Place based – represent and engage with Aboriginal communities across
Accountability – make and keep agreements internally, be accountable to
Aboriginal communities, and hold partners, including service providers and
policy makers to account.
Positive outcomes – commitment to taking action that achieves outcomes
and solutions which advance the rights and wellbeing of Aboriginal people.
Knowledge based – driven by Aboriginal expertise including lived
experience, traditional law and culture, and scientific evidence and best
Collaboration – work collaboratively with partners and peers, including other
relevant coordination and governance mechanisms.
WA Aboriginal policy reforms also include consideration of accountability
mechanisms and elected regional representative structures. Significantly, the
Council has informed and co-designed these initiatives in partnership with WA
Now in its final stages of development, the draft Aboriginal Empowerment
Strategy will set out key steps to be taken to recognise and address the ongoing
impacts of historical policies and practices on Aboriginal people and
communities, while also acknowledging and celebrating the enduring strength,
resilience and contribution of Aboriginal people and cultures.
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Many of the proposed principles of the Local and Regional Voice are consistent
with the principles published in the discussion paper ‘A Path Forward: Developing
the Western Australian Government’s Aboriginal Empowerment Strategy’.
Central to the proposed Local and Regional Voice and the Strategy is the
fundamental principle of empowerment. Inclusion of this principle in the Strategy
is premised on the recognition Aboriginal people’s empowerment has been
eroded and must be restored to achieve better social, economic, health and
Putting this principle into action will, at times, require governments to step back
to create space for change. In other cases, governments will need to step up and
drive necessary reforms, in genuine partnership with Aboriginal people.
While the exploration of accountability mechanisms and elected regional
representative structures are in the initial stages, the WA Government is keen to
work collaboratively with the Australian Government to ensure that these
initiatives align with the development of a Local and Regional Voice.
The ‘Strengthening accountability and advocacy in Aboriginal affairs Community
Feedback Report’ summarises the findings of submissions from Aboriginal
people and organisations in WA on the proposed establishment of the Office of
Accountability. The following points were highlighted:
‘In addition to the functions, powers, structure and accountability of the
proposed office, submissions raised a range of other factors for the
Government to consider, including:
Ensuring Aboriginal culture, including respect for Elders and
cultural authority, forms the fundamental framework for how the
Ensuring women’s and men’s perspectives and issues are given
equal emphasis, and giving special attention to the needs of
children and young people.
A decentralised structure, which recognises and operates
according to the regional, even cultural diversity of Aboriginal
people in WA.’
The above feedback from Aboriginal people in WA reinforces the need for
regional and cultural diversity to be adequately represented on a Local and
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The WA Government has benefited greatly from the regional insights and advice
of the Aboriginal Advisory Council on a wide range of matters, including draft
legislation and strategic priorities such as COVID-19 recovery planning and
Closing the Gap implementation.
Similarly, a National Voice would provide the Australian Government and
Parliament with valuable advice from the regions and ensure that laws and public
policy decisions concerning Aboriginal communities are appropriately informed
by those most impacted by them – Aboriginal peoples.
Whether membership is ‘structurally linked’ (members selected from Local and
Regional Voices) or ‘elected’ via an election process is a matter for further
The WA Government acknowledges that membership to the National Voice is
designed to be gender balanced and represent jurisdictional, rather than regional
The 2016 census detailed that there were about 75,000 Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people residing in Western Australia. Reflecting its diversity, the
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies (AIATSIS)
map recognises 90 Aboriginal languages in Western Australia.
The vastness of the State and its large and dispersed government service
system, and dispersed community, will add significant logistical and functional
challenges to deliver the Voice in regional WA.
However, due to WA’s large Aboriginal population, distinct cultural blocs and the
magnitude of the State, an increase in the proposed number of appointed
members from WA to the National Voice from two to four is strongly
The increase in membership from two to four will allow for more equitable and
adequate representation of the jurisdictional interests of Aboriginal peoples in WA
at a national level. This is especially critical for WA where there is currently
minimal peak body representation, as identified through the National Agreement
on Closing the Gap (National Agreement).
The WA Government recently committed funding to establish a Consortium of
Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, in line with the sector-
strengthening objectives of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. It is
currently unclear as to whether the National Voice will have any linkages to the
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The WA Government, in partnership with the Aboriginal Advisory Council, looks
forward to working with the Australian Government on the development of an
Indigenous Voice at local, regional and national levels.
Future Indigenous Voice bodies must work with, and build on, existing
mechanisms that reflect the regional and cultural diversity of Aboriginal peoples
and communities in WA.
In conclusion, the WA Government endorsed The Uluru Statement from the Heart
in 2019, which calls for structural reform including constitutional change.
This means establishing a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the
Australian nation, based on justice and self-determination.
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