Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Setting straight critics of a Voice to Parliament

  • 15 July 2019


Last Wednesday, in a speech at the National Press Club to mark NAIDOC Week, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt announced his support for a process to co-design a Voice — or Voices — to Parliament. His words were cautious, did not over-promise, and emphasised the imperative to bring everyone along in developing a consensus approach to recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution.

As with any political process, a range of views were aired in the days following. Yet for all the positional jockeying played out in the national media, there appears to be quite a bit of misapprehension about the facts surrounding the modest reform proposals arising from the Uluru Statement, and the nature of work yet to be undertaken.

For some, it seems there is not yet enough detail around the composition and the role of the Voice — the proposal has come too early. It is true that the detail has not yet been resolved to put a full proposal to the public. This is why Wyatt outlined a process of co-design, involving his 'ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, relevant departments and Indigenous communities, organisations and leaders'.

The Uluru Statement itself did not prescribe just how the Voice would look or work, and Wyatt's speech recognises that there remains work to be done. It is especially important that this work keeps the faith of communities nation-wide who participated in the regional dialogues that resulted in the Uluru Statement. Already, Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute is compiling submissions for a model that would 'connect the local with the national through the voice'. Other proposals will inevitably follow extensive consultations.

Because the form and role of the Voice will emerge from a co-design process, it is too early yet to dismiss the concept. In emphasising the importance of Indigenous communities' engagement in the co-design process, Wyatt highlighted the goal of enhancing 'local and regional decision making through expanding empowered communities and other regional governance models' as a means of realising better outcomes for Indigenous Australians — a goal surely we all share.

Some have suggested that Indigenous Australians are already heard in Parliament through Indigenous members. Similarly, Barnaby Joyce has suggested that the solution to boosting Indigenous representation is to give more Senate representation to regional Australia. These kinds of proposals may well stand on their own merits, but they do not answer the question of how we can enhance government's capacity to grasp opportunities for