Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has outlined new details about how the Government’s proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament would operate.
In a speech at the National Press Club today, Burney said the Voice to Parliament would focus on accessing “local knowledge”. Burney named health, education, jobs and housing as the four priorities she wants the Voice to focus on.
The public will vote on the Government’s proposal to add a Voice to Parliament to the Constitution later this year.
What is the Voice to Parliament?
An Indigenous Voice to Parliament would be an official representative body giving First Nations people input into laws and policies that affect them.
Later this year, the public will vote on whether to add a Voice to Parliament to Australia’s Constitution, which does not currently recognise First Nations people.
A vote to change the Constitution is called a referendum. To succeed, a referendum must be supported by a majority of voters Australia-wide, and a majority in at least four states.
Why the Constitution?
The Constitution sets out the rules by which Australia is governed. If the Voice to Parliament is in the Constitution, it would become a permanent requirement.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart, delivered by First Nations leaders in 2017, specifically called for a Voice to Parliament to be put in the Constitution. Burney says it would ensure a future government could not “abolish it with a stroke of the pen”.
Under the Government’s proposal, the Constitution would give Parliament power to decide how the Voice should operate.
The question of detail
If the referendum succeeds, the Parliament would need to pass a law to establish the Voice, including the details of its structure and power.
The Government has faced pressure to release the details of the Voice it would like to legislate, but has not committed to specifics.
However, Burney’s speech today revealed some new details.
New details in the speech
Burney said the Voice to Parliament would be an “independent representative advisory body… chosen by local communities, for local communities”.
She said there would be representatives for every state and territory, the Torres Strait Islands and specific remote communities.
The Government has also previously stated the Voice to Parliament would be “gender balanced and include the views of young people”.
Burney said the purpose of the Voice to Parliament would be to connect “local knowledge” to decision makers. She gave the example of a community with an idea to improve attendance at their local school.
“The community [could] approach their representative on the Voice [who would have] the power to make representations on how to improve school attendance in that local community to government”, Burney explained.
Burney said her four priorities for the Voice to Parliament would be health, education, jobs and housing.
“I will be asking the Voice for their input to solve these most pressing issues,” Burney said. “There will be important work in the Voice’s in-tray from day one,” she added.
Recent opinion polling has shown declining support for a Voice to Parliament.
While polling results differ based on sample size and the way the question is asked, support for a ‘yes’ vote has fallen from around 60% early in the year to around 50% now.
Dutton also argues the Voice would “re-racialise” Australia. “Instead of being ‘one’, we will be divided – in spirit, and in law,” Dutton said in Parliament in May.
Separately, Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe, who quit the Greens over their support for the Voice to Parliament, also opposes the idea, calling it “unwanted… We do not want to be part of the colonial Constitution and the attempt to rule over us and our land.”