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Charities and NFPs Call for Indigenous Voice to Parliament

6 November 2017 at 1:38 pm
Luke Michael
More than 1,000 organisations and individuals from across Australia have signed a petition condemning the federal government’s rejection of a constitutionally guaranteed Indigenous advisory body, calling on the prime minister to make it a national priority.

Luke Michael | 6 November 2017 at 1:38 pm


Charities and NFPs Call for Indigenous Voice to Parliament
6 November 2017 at 1:38 pm

More than 1,000 organisations and individuals from across Australia have signed a petition condemning the federal government’s rejection of a constitutionally guaranteed Indigenous advisory body, calling on the prime minister to make it a national priority.  

The petition supports First Nations peoples’ right to have a voice in parliament, which was recently outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

This statement was handed down at The First Nations National Constitutional Convention in May, and called for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution”.

But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected this call, labelling an Indigenous-only body “contrary to principles of equality and of citizenship” and neither “desirable or capable of winning [public] acceptance”.

This led to the creation of the petition, which has been signed by a number of the country’s leading charities and not for profits, including Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Australian Conservation Foundation, Mission Australia, Oxfam, World Vision and Social Ventures Australia.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said that it was a “deeply disrespectful act” for the federal government to reject the view of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the Australian community’s behalf.  

“There is broad agreement among the general Australian community for constitutional reform regarding the rightful place of First Nations peoples in our country. We celebrated the Uluru Statement and are now stunned that the First Nations leadership has been treated in this way. We call upon this federal government and parliament to put the issue at the top of their agenda,” Goldie said.

“Australia’s First Nations leaders have been understandably disillusioned and frustrated by what has occurred. Although we cannot change our past, we can determine our country’s future.

“A better future can only start when our federal government finally respects the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and allows the wider Australian community to listen to their views and to seize this historic opportunity to deliver on the rights of Australia’s First Nations peoples.”

Professor Fiona Stanley AC, an epidemiologist who has worked in Indigenous communities for 40 years, said various studies on colonised Indigenous peoples had shown that self-developed solutions had far better outcomes.

“The marginalisation of our First Nations people and their virtual exclusion from having a say in the policies and practices which affect their lives is a major reason for their current poor outcomes… [So] giving them the power to influence and change is urgent,” Stanley said.

“Our research has shown also that the impact of previous practices of marginalisation and removal are responsible for a large part of today’s trauma and First Nations circumstances. Their problems and challenges are similar to other colonised Indigenous populations and we have lots to learn from other countries, with treaties and better ways of giving Indigenous people capacity and power to act and take their rightful places in society.

“Of course there are a multiplicity of First Nations voices, as we have diversity in our opinions. It is therefore imperative that we listen to those different voices to ensure the best outcomes. If we do this and acknowledge this ancient 60,000 year old history in our country, we will all benefit and feel proud to be Australians.”

In his response to the Uluru Statement, Turnbull said: “Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national parliament – the house of representatives and the senate.

“A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.

“Moreover, the government does not believe such a radical change to our constitution’s representative institutions has any realistic prospect of being supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of states.”

However a recent national survey found widespread support for Indigenous constitutional recognition and a “voice to parliament”, contradicting Turnbull’s claims it would struggle to gain majority support.

A total of 71 per cent of respondents generally supported recognition, while 61 per cent supported an Indigenous voice to parliament.

Professor John Parkinson from Griffith University, said the results were stronger than many would have assumed.

“Importantly, there were more supporters in every state than there were opponents, an important factor when it comes to constitutional change in Australia. New South Wales and Victoria were the most supportive states. Only in Tasmania did support for a voice to parliament not have majority support,” Parkinson said.

“Recognition also continues to enjoy support across the political spectrum, with a majority of coalition voters (55 per cent) also supporting the voice to parliament proposal.

“These results give clear reason to doubt assertions that the Uluru Statement is in any way unrealistic or unachievable.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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