PM told an constitutional ‘voice’ must be priority

Scott Morrison has been told by his indigenous advisory council that a proposed “voice” to parliament should be established as a matter of priority, that it must be free from the whims of the political cycle and should ­draw on existing governance structures such as land councils and the ­national ­Aboriginal health ­network.

The council’s co-chairs, ­Andrea Mason and Roy Ah-See, have told the Prime Minister of “an urgent need to future-proof our place in this nation” — a reference to establishing the advisory body by referendum in the Con­stitution so that it cannot be ­summarily disbanded by the ­government of the day.

 Indigenous advisory council co-chair Roy Ah-See.

Indigenous advisory council co-chair Roy Ah-See.

The submission to the parliamentary committee highlights the ­discredited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which was ­disbanded by the ­Howard government in 2005.

The submission suggests that the ATSIC, along with the current National Congress for Australia’s First Peoples, could be used as the basis for structuring a new body.

It says while ATSIC “developed, supported and empowered the emergence of a critical mass of … public administrators, equipped to navigate the machinery of government”, its demise could “largely be attributed to personalities ­rather than principles or the intent of the organisation”.

It accuses politicians of having “generated confusion within the Australian public” on the role of a voice when it took centre place in last year’s Uluru Statement ­from the Heart as the only form of ­constitutional recognition that would satisfy indigenous ­Australians.

The submission cites Mark Leibler — who ­­co-chaired the Referendum Council — and constitutional law experts Anne Twomey and ­George Williams as having ­“rejected the suggestion that a voice would intrude on ­parliamentary sovereignty”.

Mr Morrison said on ABC radio yesterday morning that the voice would constitute a “third ­chamber” of parliament — a characterisation that has been dismissed by experts, ­including the lawyers cited in the submission.

The joint parliamentary ­committee is due to ­report in ­November.

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This article appeared in the Australian on 27 September 2018

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