Nolan Hunter: The constitutional guarantee
This is a transcript of an interview with Nolan Hunter, first published in The Australian on 16 May 2018.
The conversation about a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice in our own affairs is far from over, despite the PM’s rejection [of the voice to parliament via an advisory body, back in October 2017]. The Joint Select Committee is still examining the recommendations of the Uluru Statement and the Referendum Council. A voice for our First Nations in their affairs would have tangible effects on policy-making and outcomes. Everyone agrees that to make good and fair laws and policies, government should consult with the people they are trying to help. Local communities should be the drivers in their own solutions, in partnership with government. As Noel Pearson says, we have a right to take responsibility in the decisions that affect our lives. A constitutionally guaranteed voice in our affairs is urgently needed to improve outcomes.
Governments are always making top-down decisions about our communities. The decision-makers are in Canberra, disconnected from our experiences on the ground. If we had a way of having our voices heard, policies would improve, duplication and waste would be reduced and policies might be more effective. A voice for our First Nations structuralises and gives force to better engagement with indigenous people. The government spends more than $30 billion on indigenous affairs, but the gap is widening. The bang for buck is not there. We can and must do better. The only way to decisively shift things is through constitutional and structural reform, as called for in the Uluru Statement.