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Submission Number
314
Participant
Andy Sammut
Submission date
Main Submission File
Main Submission Automated Transcript

Submission to the Australian Government in
response to Public Consultation on the
Interim Voice Report

Respecting Our First Nations’ Voices

In October 2020, the Australian government through the National Indigenous
Australians Agency released its interim report on the establishment of an
Indigenous Voice at national, regional and local levels.

The interim report calls on submissions from the general public and given the
historical significance of the call from within Indigenous communities (as
outlined in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart) for more effective
engagement, self-determination and autonomy within the Australian
constitutional framework, I lodge this submission in support of their proposals
for a First Nation’s Voice.

I come from the land of the Dharug people - born on the same land that is part
of our First Nations’ people’s story, our story. My parents came from far-away
lands, and like First Nations’ elders sought to build a better future for us, their
descendants - to share their lore and plant new roots in a land we both now
cherish as home.

Though our ancestors together found no honourable way to reconcile our
mutual heritage, we and our descendants must aspire to nothing less - free
from the stain of denial, untruths and injustice.

While this injustice remains our attempts to provide crisis solutions based on
short term goals and political priorities have clearly failed over 200 years of
policy proposals and experimentation.

In response to this crisis, I believe the Uluru Statement from the Heart heralds
our path to mutual respect, honour and justice. And so, I openly welcome our
First Nations leaders’ warm and generous proposal to progress an honourable
way to work together in respect and honest perspective.
We now have the opportunity to lead together the movement to a resolution
based on real partnership, to proclaim the truth and create a genuine future
that is jointly negotiated for our mutual betterment. It is time for us to become
the mature and honourable nation our future generations will respect and
admire.

In so doing, as citizens of this land, we must acknowledge and accept these
truths:

That Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign
nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands. They
possessed it under their own laws and customs.

That their sovereignty of the soil has never been ceded or extinguished
and coexists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

That only with structural reform can we address their powerlessness and
the resulting wholesale incarceration.

That there must be constitutional reforms to empower their people to
take a rightful place in their own country.

I share our First Nations’ vision that with this substantive constitutional change
and structural reform, their ancient sovereignty can creatively reframe, enrich
and embellish Australia’s nationhood. I therefore support their calls for:

The establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

The formation of a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of
agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-
telling about our common history.

I call on all Local, State, Territory and Commonwealth government
representatives to publicly pledge their commitment to the principles and
proposals of The Uluru Statement from the Heart.

In so doing we can demonstrate our commitment to hearing and respecting an
Interim First Nations Voice, as embodied in those present at the gathering in
2017 to frame the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
In this way we also respect their desire to create a permanent legitimate Voice
for the future, built on democratic principles and fully resourced to effectively
reflect the interests of First Nations peoples.

How can we not respect their desire to lead and manage their own affairs and
support a direct forum to parliament to legitimately and openly express their
central interest in the direction of the nation as a whole?

A genuine First Nations Voice provides an enormous opportunity for real
engagement, shared leadership and honest dialogue for a more honourable
Australia in the future.

An effective First Nations Voice enshrined within the Australian constitution
would be democratically representative, appropriately resourced and
legitimately empowered to shape the future for sovereign indigenous nations
within Australia’s borders, while directly shaping the broader legislative
agenda impacting their people.

Proposals in detail
There are three proposals from the Report on the National Voice that
indigenous communities are submitting, and I support them for the following
reasons:

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

The people of Australia must be provided the opportunity to directly
recognise and promote Indigenous rights to self-determination at the
highest level enabled in our constitution.

A referendum to amend the constitution will enshrine the powers of the
National Voice, not as a further level of government but a complementary
advisory group to parliament on wholesale matters that impact the nation
and a determining group on their own Indigenous affairs.

Enshrined as a voice to parliament, rather than voice to government,
constitutional recognition will liberate the Voice from censure over party
politics and ensure the transparency and independence necessary for its
rightful role as a representative voice of sovereign nations within a national
government framework.
The model for the Voice must be developed through First Nations’ ascent
and as with the broader experience of our national parliament will require
significant and ongoing resourcing, engagement and review to remain
relevant in a changing social, political and international environment.

Models of this type of empowerment have been provided in other nations,
notably in Scandinavia, and broadly represent international acceptance of
this approach in demonstrating respect for indigenous nationhood and
promoting indigenous affairs.

2. Enabling legislation for the voice must be passed after a referendum
has been held in the next term of parliament.

Respecting and building on proposals widely promoted through the Uluru
Statement, bi-partisan support of the referendum will be crucial to
achieving electoral support to reflect and carry the consent of the people.

With this consent, every effort must be made to frame legislation to enable
the Voice to effectively articulate First Nations’ perspectives and empower
the community to lead the change they need to thrive within our new
constitutional agenda.

Enabling legislation will require continuing consultation and communication
with First Nations and the broader community, based on the model
endorsed at the referendum. It can provide the architecture for democratic
representation, effective decision-making and meaningful integration with
the broader framework of government.

It will articulate the scope and limitations of powers delegated by the
constitution and frame the mechanism required for the effective
implementation of the positive changes we seek without delay.

Given the long history of failed attempts to address inequality and
disadvantage in First Nations communities, and significant waste of
resources this represents, enabling legislation for the Voice must be given
the highest priority within government and must be delivered within the
next four-year parliamentary term.
3. The membership model for the National Voice must ensure previously
unheard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same
chance of being selected as established leadership figures.

The development of an effective democratically representative body – a
true First Nations Voice - is a complex task made more difficult and
demanding by the range of First Nations peoples and the large and diverse
land area within Australia’s borders from which they come.

As with the broader political landscape, where Members of Parliament are
selected within local areas to represent their interests, it is anticipated that
representatives for the Voice may come from local communities with
representatives from all walks of life and reflect all gender, age, regional
and cultural divides.

What is critical is that the First Nations people be given the opportunity to
develop and promote a membership model that they believe best provides
their representatives an equal opportunity to engage and support in
effective Indigenous leadership.

First Nations communities must decide how to ensure their voices are
expressed and represented. They alone can ensure the leaders represented
in their Voice truly reflect the issues, responses and perspectives that best
ensure their interests.

Conclusion
In October 2020, the Australian government through the National
Indigenous Australians Agency released its interim report on the
establishment of an Indigenous Voice and called on submissions from the
public to have input to the co-design process.

I submit that an Indigenous Voice to parliament enshrined in the
constitution must be supported to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people to lead their own futures within an Australian constitutional
framework.
The resulting legislative agenda must urgently resource and facilitate the
establishment of a program of representative engagement to enable
effective decision-making and promote indigenous leadership.

Finally, there is a pressing need to establish a Makarrata Commission to
supervise a process of agreement making between Australian governments
and First Nations people; to oversee the process of truth-telling about our
past and enable a more honourable future for us all.

We must ultimately respect First Nations’ Voices enunciated through the
Uluru Statement from the Heart. It is time to listen and act on their issues
and solutions to the crises they face within their communities and empower
them to act in their own interests.

This is not merely a call to address past wrongs, but an enormous
opportunity to move forward, acknowledging a more honourable and
respectful path for our common future.

Andy Sammut
Concord – Land of the Eora People
March 2021