The Fred Hollows Foundation, ANTaR National, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) and Australia’s first Aboriginal ophthalmologist Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker are together calling for the government to commit to a referendum on a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament (the Voice) once the model for the Voice has been settled.
They are also urging other organisations to stand alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples by taking up this call, which was outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The call comes after The Foundation, ANTaR, RANZCO and DCA made submissions to the Australian Government’s Indigenous Voice co-design process.
Their submissions contained insights from each organisation into how a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament should be progressed.
The Fred Hollows Foundation is calling for greater transparency in how decisions are made by the government on the design and implementation of the Voice to Parliament.
The Foundation notes that a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament is the only form of constitutional change that has wide and broad support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The call also recognises a Voice is critical for the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, an invitation for Australians to walk alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in a movement for a better future.
Mr Ian Wishart, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation said Fred Hollows believed ‘inequity diminishes us all’ and this couldn’t be more glaring than when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
“More than 50 years after being granted the right to vote, Australia’s First Nations still do not have a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament which would give them a say in laws and policies that affect them,” Wishart said.
“A Voice to Parliament designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is a vital step towards social justice reform.
“A constitutionally enshrined Voice would ensure First Nations Peoples will always be able to provide frank and fearless advice to the government.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have a right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent.
“This has been recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The government needs to be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples about the design of a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament in the true spirit of self-determination, reconciliation and to Close the Gap.
“The Foundation is proud to stand alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, continue our work to close the eye health gap, and amplify the First Nations voices at the highest levels of decision-making.”
Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker said it is now over 233 years since Arthur Phillip arrived in what was to become Sydney, and Australia embarrassingly remains the only Commonwealth country to have never signed a treaty with its Indigenous Peoples.
“A constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament offers a genuine step forward to rectify that situation and a meaningful pathway to healing the sins of the past,” Rallah-Baker said.
“In a genuine acknowledgement of self-determination and mutual respect, a Constitutionally enshrined promise is the only way forwards to achieve real change, change that is resistant to the malleable and too-often hollow promises of politicians.”
Paul Wright ANTaR National Director said ANTaR National has joined with many other First Nations Peoples and non-Indigenous allies in writing submissions to the Voice Co-Design consultation, the count is now at more than 1,600 submissions made in response to the Interim Report and the vast majority of the submissions will ignore the narrow terms of reference and make clear that the Voice must be enshrined in Australia’s constitution to break with the failure of past attempts.
“Fundamentally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must have a Voice that speaks for their communities and that Voice must be heard in the chambers of Parliament Federally and in each State and Territory jurisdiction,” Wright said.
“The Voice must have agency, be respected for its authority and be quarantined from the political and financial undermining that have plagued previous national representative voices like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and more recently the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.”
Professor Nitin Verma RANZCO president said RANZCO supports the proposed models for a National Voice.
“As a healthcare organisation, RANZCO acknowledges that health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are inextricably linked to self-determination and that there is strong evidence to support improvement in health outcomes when Indigenous peoples take greater control over their health,” Verma said.
Lisa Annese, Diversity Council Australia CEO said constitutional enshrinement of the Voice is the consensus position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as expressed through the Uluru Statement and is necessary to ensure the objectives set out in the Uluru Statement are met.
“DCA is concerned that, should the Voice be established by legislation like many of the bodies that have preceded it, the mechanism could similarly be dissolved by legislation,” Annese said.
“Constitutional enshrinement would protect the existence and primary function of the Voice, giving it public legitimacy and authority to fulfill its functions.
“As almost four years have now passed since the historic Uluru Statement, it’s time to for the Government to commit to a referendum in the next term of Parliament.”
Story source: The Fred Hollows Foundation
Image source: Andrea Piacquadio – Pexels