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Constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament a must

29 June 2018

On 15 June 2018, the Law Council made a submission on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2018.

The Committee is currently producing an interim report, having been asked to recommend options for constitutional change and any potential complementary legislative measures to advance self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Law Council has long-supported a constitutionally enshrined representative Voice to the Australian Parliament as called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and adopted by the Referendum Council in its final report.

The Law Council believes that an enshrined Voice to Parliament in the Australian Constitution would play a vital role in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ pursuit of self-determination, a fundamental and non-derogable principle of international law.

A representative Voice would also provide a unique opportunity to reset the nation’s relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia and create a pathway toward a more unified and reconciled nation.

The Prime Minister’s rejection of the Referendum Council’s recommendation to constitutionally enshrine a Voice to the Australian Parliament, last year, was profoundly disappointing. However, the current Committee process provides an opportunity for the Australian Government to revisit its position. The Law Council welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this body of work.

In responding to the original criticism of the Referendum Council’s recommendation for Voice to Parliament, the Law Council has reiterated that the proposal is consistent with parliamentary sovereignty and seeks to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a Voice to the Australian Parliament, not in the Australian Parliament.

It does not call for decision-making power to be afforded to the proposed representative body, the proposal would not affect the structure or operation of a bi-cameral parliament and there is no legal impediment to making provision for such a body in the Constitution.

The Uluru Statement and the report of the Referendum Council are the product of an extremely comprehensive and considered consultation process, one of the most significant consultations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s history.

The opportunity now presented, enables the Committee to support the development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations Voice, guided by the mandate provided by the Uluru Statement and subsequent recommendations of the Referendum Council.

The Law Council will continue to work with the Committee, the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on these issues, including through the provision of assistance and support to progress the realisation of the proposals which emerged from the Uluru Statement and Referendum Council.

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