The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2018 (“the Committee”) has released their interim report. The Committee was appointed in order to inquire into and report on the matter of constitutional and legislative changes required in order to advance self-determination for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Committee’s final report is scheduled to be released on 29 November 2018.
The Committee was created by the Australian Parliament in March 2018, and consists of eleven members of Parliament nominated by their peers.
Co-Chairs to the Committee, Senator Dodson and the Hon Mr Leeser MP commented in the Committee’s first media release in March 2018:
“As a Committee, we are looking for common ground and ways forward on these critical matters for Australia’s future. We hope to hear from Australians about the next steps for recognition of First Nations peoples. We plan to consult widely, starting with First Nations leadership. We understand that a great deal of work has already been done: the job of this committee is to build on that work and to now take the next steps.”
The Committee’s interim report mainly focused on the proposal for a First Nations Voice (“the Voice”). The Voice was first recommended in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, released by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in May 2017. The Voice was to be:
“a constitutionally enshrined representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in.”
On 26 October 2017, this recommendation was rejected by the Government. The Committee was tasked with reviewing the recommendations in the hopes of reaching a compromise.
The interim report of the Committee revisited the rationale underlying the Voice, including its role in empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in policy and law making, and its aim to improve their socio-economic outcomes. The report considered the Voice's possible membership, function and establishment, with the Committee referring to similar past and existing bodies to inform the structure of the Voice.
The interim report found that whilst there is a strong support for the establishment of the Voice, there are differing opinions on how it should be established. This was mainly attributed to the many different circumstances in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live across the nation. Therefore, the Committee found it necessary that design on the Voice must also be representative of this diversity. However, the Committee does note that the autonomy, effectiveness and success of the Voice will depend on its relationship to the current Parliament and Government. On the issue of constitutional entrenchment, the Committee has noted that support for a constitutional Voice is difficult to ascertain as there is not yet agreement on how the body should be structured.
There was division in the submissions as to preferences for either a referendum or legislative change. But the Committee remained undecided in its interim report.
The interim report also released a number of questions that are still to be considered and invited the ongoing participation of the wider community.
Some of the questions the Committee will be considering include:
"What is the role of a national voice? How does it intersect with or differ
from the role of any local/regional voice? ...
What matters should the national voice not deal with? ...
Who should be able to choose national representatives? ...
What is the relationship with state, territory, and local government? − Should the voice have the power to advise the Council of Australian Governments? ...
What should the relationship be between local/regional voices and the
Commonwealth Parliament and Australian government? ..."
The Committee will continue its inquiries and hearings, until the presentation of their final report in November later this year. Submissions will continue to be accepted until 17 September 2018.
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Media Release: Finding common ground and a way forward for Indigenous recognition (Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Parliament of Australia, 28 March 2018)
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