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Next steps in the process for Indigenous Voice to Parliament can not be understated

12 July 2018

The Law Council’s Indigenous Legal Issues Committee Chair, Mr Tony McAvoy SC, provided evidence at the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' public hearing - as part of the inquiry into matters relating to constitutional change.

Mr McAvoy said the Voice was a means of engaging with the Federal Parliament – a plea for a different method of communication and dialogue between First Nations and government and that “the very next step in the process, can’t be understated”.

“In order to ensure that First Nations and First Nations People in this country are participating in a way that reflects their relationship with country and ability to speak for country there needs to be a process of enabling their voice to be heard,” Mr McAvoy SC said.

The Law Council’s primary position remains that respecting the principle of self-determination, and its manifestation in practice by empowering communities and individuals, is a critical piece in any discussion on constitutional recognition.

In its submission, the Law Council noted reluctance in providing evidence about matters which should be essentially the subject of dialogue between a duly mandated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body or bodies and the Australian Government.

However, the Law Council suggested that there is a positive role for the legal profession to play in assisting to realise the aspirations and wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In his opening statement, Mr McAvoy noted the Committee had been given the challenging task of reporting on matters relating to constitutional change.

He reminded the Committee however, that they had the benefit of an enormous body of work that has preceded it - including the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the subsequent recommendations of the Referendum Council and importantly, the extensive consultations and dialogues with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that led to those positions.

The opportunity presented to the Committee enables support for the development of a national First Nations Voice, which can speak for itself as to the detail of how it wishes to engage with the Australian Government in the future, guided by the direction provided at Uluru.

In October 2017, the Law Council, announced its “full and unqualified support” to the Referendum Council’s recommendation for a referendum to be held on the creation of a representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a Voice to the Australian Parliament.

The Law Council has stated on numerous occasions that there is no legal impediment to making provision for such a Voice in the Constitution. The proposal put forward by the Referendum Council 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 representative body, and the proposal would not affect the structure or operation of a bi-cameral parliament.

Mr McAvoy noted there are challenges with ensuring that any Voice to Parliament is a body that is able to represent diverse local and regional views on a national level in an efficient and timely manner. However, these are challenges that are not insurmountable.

“There is a strong willingness amongst legal experts, politicians and most importantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to make this a reality,” he said.

The Law Council welcomes the opportunity to constructively engage with the Committee in supporting the advancement of those objectives expressed in the Uluru Statement, the recommendations of the Referendum Council, and the views of those bodies that have preceded it.

The Joint Select 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.

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