PUT AN INDIGENOUS VOICE TO PARLIAMENT IN THE AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION
The Cornell Voice Advisory joins the overwhelming majority of the business community in supporting an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Constitution. We do not support its relegation to legislation, that can come and go with every new government.
As another NAIDOC week passes, this year’s treble invocation of Voice, Treaty, Truth was no fleeting annual theme, but one that’s been resonating across this continent since its colonisation. Of the three notes in that chord, ‘Voice’ refers to the call for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’ as made in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, that this nation-state’s founding document include a guarantee that First Nations peoples have a voice in decisions that affect them.
In essence the ‘Voice’ proposal is for a body to be identified in the Constitution that ‘would review any policy or legislation which would impact on First Nations people, and which could not be abolished like John Howard did with ATSIC in 2005. It would have no veto powers and would be unable to change or enter legislation into the parliament, and instead would be limited to the same recommendation powers held by current parliamentary committees, which the parliament can adopt, or reject.’ (Amy Remeikis, The Guardian 18 July 2019). Former Chief Justice of the High Court Murray Gleeson has stated publically his view that no aspect of this proposal legally threatens the supremacy of Parliament, noting that ‘it’s a voice to Parliament, not a voice in Parliament’.
This is a pretty modest call from Australia’s Indigenous peoples, who could justifiably demand much more: a fundamental re-write of the whole Constitution - to be established as co-founders of the nation, in conjunction with a process of Treaty, for example. But that’s not the current proposal. Those involved in the year-long process of First Nations Regional Dialogues that fed into the historic 2017 Convention at Uluru have already made pragmatic concessions. This is a realistic, constitutionally conservative proposal, arrived at through a remarkable feat of genuine democracy, extraordinarily culminating in a consensus, which even surprised those present. The language has been chosen carefully. The call for change has been structured carefully. And despite the fact that those of us who consider ourselves to be Indigenous allies might wish it called for more, it doesn’t. This is the decision of the biggest, deepest and most far-reaching dialogue and consensus-making process amongst Indigenous Australians that has ever occurred.
In a global climate where our fears for the future of democratic process often seem alarmingly well founded, this is a successful exercise that the broader community should be celebrating, supporting, and carrying through to its logical conclusion. The pride and dignity of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is only enhanced by its unmistakeable yearning, filled with good faith, for a coming-together after discord, and for a nation that makes sense.
Written by Christina Koch for and endorsed by The Cornell Voice Advisory, 24th July, 2019
THE ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.
When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.
We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.