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Listen to the Voice to Parliament

Listen to the Voice to Parliament

By Karin Derkley

Constitutions Discrimination Human Rights 

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Parliament should be required under the constitution to at least consider the advice of a proposed advisory group of Aboriginal leaders, even if it is not obliged to follow it, an LIV submission recommends.

The proposed advisory group, Voice to Parliament, came out of 2017’s "Uluru Statement from the Heart” which called for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations representative body to advise parliament on policy affecting Indigenous peoples.

The federal government has rejected it on grounds it creates a “third chamber of parliament” that has the power to veto proposed legislation.

But the LIV says in its submission to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples that a “middle ground” is possible that would obligate parliament to at least listen to the Voice, without being required to follow its advice.

This would help overcome concerns the group would dictate Indigenous policy, while still giving it weight as an advisory body, says the LIV’s Reconciliation and Advancement Committee chair Michael Thorne.

“So if you’re going to mess with First Nations people, you have to listen to them first, and prove you listened to them, even if you don’t follow what they say,” he says. "That at least allows media to report on what First Nations people are saying (about a measure) and why the government is going against it.” 

“Without that middle ground there is no obligation on parliament to listen or care or respond to the Voice, which would mean there is no difference between that and what currently exists in our political system.”

With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people making up just 3.5 per cent of the population, it is essential they are given a platform on which they can stand and be heard, Mr Thorne says.

The LIV’s submission was among very few to the inquiry that considered a legal framework for the Voice to Parliament. Its solution gives the Voice substantive power without creating a new chamber of parliament.

The proposed constitutional amendment would require a referendum to bring it into being.

Another possibility is through legislation that requires the Minister to table a “statement of reasons” similar to a statement of compatibility under Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights, the LIV suggests.

However, Mr Thorne says legislation could too easily be repealed when parliament wanted to do something that contravened the interests of First Nations people.

This had been the case when the Racial Discrimination Act was partly suspended to allow the former Howard government to launch the Northern Territory Intervention, in which 600 soldiers were brought in and other measures introduced in response to allegations of child abuse and neglect in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

“The point of entrenching the Voice in the constitution is to protect the requirement to listen to and consider the voice,” Mr Thorne says. “If you don’t have that requirement entrenched in the constitution, it can easily be overturned by future governments for political purposes.”

 


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