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.
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.
This article appeared in the Australian on 27 September 2018