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The Voice Debate | Educational Series Article Five: Why IAP2A Supports the Voice to Parliament

Why IAP2A Supports the Voice to Parliament

While IAP2A adopts a bipartisan approach on many issues, we support the ‘Yes’ vote for the upcoming referendum. The Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to Parliament align powerfully with our Core Values and with our purpose as an organisation championing engagement that improves environmental, social and governance outcomes.

A First Nations Voice to Parliament protected by the Constitution is a key element of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Voice will provide a way for First Nations Australians to have a stronger voice in decision making and will ensure that their unique perspectives and knowledge are consulted in policy development and implementation. The Voice is seen as a critical step towards reconciliation and addressing the ongoing injustices and inequalities faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Voice to Parliament is consistent with IAP2A’s Core Value 1: ‘Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process’. Our Core Value 5 recognises that ‘public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate’. Every one of our Core Values <LINK TO VALUES HERE> is reflected in the process that led to the Uluru Statement of the Heart, which gave birth to the concept of the Voice to Parliament.

A consultative process from the start

In 2015, The Referendum Council was jointly appointed by the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, and tasked with advising on progress and next steps towards constitutional reform.

In 2016 and 2017, the Council led a series of 12 regional dialogues and one regional meeting to discuss options for constitutional recognition with First Nations people from all over the country. The purpose of these dialogues was to ensure that Aboriginal decision making was at the heart of the process. The stories told at the dialogues were collated and read to the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May 2017, as ‘Our Story’. The Convention endorsed the work of the dialogues and issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people.

‘The purpose of these 12 Dialogues and one regional meeting was to consult and educate, resulting in the most proportionally significant consultation process of First Nations peoples Australia has ever seen.’ Ulurustatement.org.

According to the Referendum Council, the Dialogues provided an opportunity for participants to discuss the main options for recognition, understand what they mean, combine or modify existing options and rank options in order of priority.

Attendance was by invitation only to ensure each dialogue was deliberative and reached consensus. Meetings were capped at 100 participants: 60 per cent of places were reserved for First Nations/traditional owner groups, 20 per cent for community organisations and 20 per cent for key individuals. The Council worked with host organisations in each area to ensure local communities were represented.

Over six months of discussions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples considered five options presented in the Referendum Council’s discussion paper. First Nations peoples told the Council they don’t want constitutional recognition if it means a simple acknowledgement, but rather constitutional reform that makes a real difference in their communities.

At the regional dialogues, consistent themes emerged and these were used to develop guiding principles. All options raised over the course of the dialogues were tested against these principles and three emerged as meeting all of them: truth-telling, treaty and a voice to Parliament. These became the focus of discussion at Uluru.

The Referendum Council delivered its Final Report on 30 June 2017. The report stated that the regional dialogues that culminated in the National Constitutional Convention at Uluru, empowered First Peoples from across the country to form a consensus position on the form constitutional recognition should take.

‘This is the first time in Australia’s history that such a process has been undertaken. It is a significant response to the historical exclusion of First Peoples from the original process that led to the adoption of the Australian Constitution.’ Report of the Referendum Council.

The Report added that the findings of their broader community consultation supported the findings of the First Nations Regional Dialogues and concluded that ‘the consensus view of the Referendum Council is that these recommendations for constitutional and extra-constitutional recognition are modest, reasonable, unifying and capable of attracting the necessary support of the Australian people’.

As the peak body for the community and stakeholder engagement sector, IAP2A believes that engagement, when done well, improves social, environmental and economic outcomes and increases trust in the democratic process.

We are mindful that the Voice is a point of contention in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and believe the environment of the referendum should be used as an opportunity for truth telling, and to build and strengthen relationships across the nation. 

The process that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart gave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the chance to have their say on constitutional reform and the model they would support. IAP2A supports the First Nations Voice to Parliament because the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process is central to our ethos.

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