First Nations need a Voice, not an envoy

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (JSC) is seeking additional submissions until 17 September 2018.

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has presented its interim report to the Parliament.

The report centres on the proposal for a First Nations Voice, which arose from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The report considers evidence in relation to the constitutionality, structure, function, and establishment of The Voice, and examines past and existing advisory bodies and new proposals that might inform the design of The Voice.

The report also considers other proposals for constitutional change and proposals for truth-telling and agreement making.

The Committee is now seeking additional submissions examining the principles and models outlined in the report, and addressing the questions posed in the final chapter ahead of presenting the final report in November. Additional submissions should be received by 17 September 2018.

1 Voice Uluru have offered the following key points to use in your submission. You are encouraged not copy and paste the points, but try to add your perspective on why each point is important.
You can get support and advice to help you write your submission via:

Lodging a submission 

Final date for submissions is 17 September 2018

You can mail your submission to:
Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
PO Box 6021
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600 

Or simply email it to:

Key Points to Use in Your Submission

Joint Select Committee

  • Welcome the Joint Select Committee’s interim report on Indigenous constitutional recognition, its endorsement of the dialogue process and its focus on the Voice to Parliament.

Uluru Statement From The Heart

  • Called for a constitutionally-enshrined Voice to Parliament as the sole, meaningful form of constitutional recognition.  
  • This historic consensus emerged from the comprehensive regional dialogues that engaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples across the nation. 

Why the Voice must be in the constitution before being legislated

  • Legislating a Voice before a referendum will mean there will never be a referendum to entrench a First Nations Voice in the Constitution.
  • The 13 dialogues and the national convention did not call for a legislated body that is vulnerable to repeal. 

Detailed design of the Voice led by First Nations

  • Support the committee’s call, in its interim report, for a process of deep consultations between the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in every community across the country, in order to ensure that the detail of The Voice and related proposals are authentic for each community across Australia.
  • The 100 design questions for further investigation posed in the report can only be meaningfully answered in an authentic way through this proposal for deep consultations.
  • The proposal for deep consultations is consistent with several of the guiding principles that emerged from the regional dialogues, which informed decision-making at the Uluru Convention.
  • The principles stated that any reform proposal, of which the Voice to Parliament is one, should only proceed if it: advances self-determination and the standards established under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; recognises the status and rights of First Nations; does not waste the opportunity of reform.
  • The Referendum Council’s regional dialogue process is best practice and must be the model on which these consultations are designed.
  • Any such proposal for consultations must be fully funded by the government and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Why a ‘race-out, recognition-in’ approach to constitutional reform should be rejected:

  • Race-out: repealing Section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution (from the Referendum Council’s Final Report)
  • Section 51 (xxvi) is the essential achievement of the 1967 referendum. Delegates to the First Nations Regional Dialogues were conscious of this. Many expressed the view that, as archaic as the term ‘race’ might be according to contemporary standards, the triumph of 1967 and the mostly beneficial legislation that has flowed from it, argues against the deletion of this historically important provision.
  • Delegates placed focused attention on the discriminatory potential of section 51(xxvi). The three most frequently cited examples used in the dialogues were the amendments to the Native Title Act, the Hindmarsh Island Bridge amendments and the Northern Territory Emergency Response, the latter enacted under the Territories power.
  • Amending or deleting the race power was ranked low in many Dialogues and rejected in other Dialogues. Delegates understood there was no iron clad guarantee that Parliament could be prevented from passing discriminatory laws that single out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for adverse treatment.
  • The delegates decided that the solutions to the race power is legally equivalent to maintaining the status quo.
  •  Many participants at the dialogues felt it was too risky to amend section 51 (xxvi) because it could not be assured that the judicial interpretation of words such as ‘benefit’ or ‘advancement’ would accord with the desires and aspirations of the affected peoples.
  • Delegates were concerned that section 51 (xxvi) had empowered significant legislation in cultural heritage protection, land rights and native title that may be placed at risk. Similar concerns were raised by the Joint Select Committee in relation to the implications of altering or deleting section 51 (xxvi) upon the Native Title Act.
  • There was no significant appetite for removing the word ‘race’. Dialogues understood that although the concept of ‘race’ was a social construction, removing the word ‘race’ and inserting ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ does not alter the adverse discriminatory potential of the race power.
  • Therefore, removing the word ‘race’ was not regarded as an improvement on the status quo of the people affected. 

Race-out: repealing Section 25 of the Constitution (from the Referendum Council’s Final Report)

  • Section 25 did not feature because it is a dead letter addressed to past historical circumstances that are unlikely to be replicated in the future. Its original intent was not directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Any attempt on the part of a state or territory to deny the vote to certain races today would fall foul of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Delegates to the Dialogues therefore understood that the removal of section 25 would confer no substantive benefit on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and was not seen as a priority for constitutional reform.

Recognition-in: Statement of Acknowledgement (from the Referendum Council’s Final Report)

  • A statement of recognition or acknowledgement in the Constitution was rejected by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples participating in the Referendum Council Dialogues and Uluru.
  • All Dialogues asserted the fact that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples never ceded their sovereignty. For this reason, delegates were not persuaded of the benefit of acknowledgement inside the Constitution.