Australia

Group of 40 Indigenous leaders to present letter to PM proposing pathway for voice to parliament

“We’ve got systems in place that we use in the state of New South Wales that has been working very, very effectively" - Roy Ah-See. Source: NITV News

Government MPs have been warned that 'history will judge them' if they don't deliver an Indigenous voice to parliament.

A group of 40 Indigenous leaders have come together to discuss their "disappointment" in how the government has handled the Indigenous voice to parliament and offer a way forward.

On the weekend, the group of leaders from across Australia met in Cairns to examine progress on the voice.

As a result of the meeting, they put their names on a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt urging better direction.

Ken Wyatt talks to the press.
Ken Wyatt talks to the press.
AAP

The Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council co-chair Roy Ah-See both attended the meeting and added his name to the letter.

"We're really disappointed that we've come this far down the path and we've got commentators saying that there's not going to be a voice, we've got Ken Wyatt coming out and saying our expectations won't be met," he told SBS News on Monday.

The landmark 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart called for the establishment of a "First Nations Voice" in the Australian Constitution, a process that would require a referendum.

But to the disappointment of many Indigenous groups, the Coalition has dragged its feet on the voice, with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, and then Scott Morrison, saying it could create a "third chamber" of parliament.

The letter suggested the government should better consult with Indigenous Australians on what the voice could look like - a similar process that led to the Uluru statement.

More than 1000 Indigenous people took part in meetings before the statement was successfully finalised.

"What the leaders clearly articulated was that we delivered the Uluru Statement from the Heart through a process of engagement, through what we call the dialogues - regional dialogues with certain members of the public from the Aboriginal community," Mr Ah-See said.

"At the end of the day, as far as we're concerned, that process of dialogues delivered the Uluru Statement from the Heart."

He said this could be a "road map" to achieving the voice, saying "let us manage [this] and we'll do a similar process".

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt during his swearing in at Government House.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt during his swearing in at Government House.
AAP

It came as Mr Wyatt appeared to rule out a referendum on the voice earlier this month, earning the ire of many Indigenous people.

"We're not going to stand for symbolism. The leaders in [the weekend's] forum said that symbolism is not good enough," Mr Ah-See said.

"We want real reform, we want a voice to parliament that is representative of all our communities."

Mr Ah-See said Mr Wyatt was in "a very, very difficult situation", as some in his party do not support the voice.

"But in saying that, leadership is about making the hard decisions," he said.

Leadership is about making the hard decisions

Roy Ah-See

"I was one of the first to praise Ken on his appointment, however, if the party - right, left, centre - if they don't want the best interests of Indigenous people, then history will judge them."

SBS News contacted the office of Mr Wyatt about the letter and the comments.

"We won't be responding," a spokesperson for My Wyatt said.

Mr Ah-See said the voice remains "unfinished business" for Australia.

"I think [the government] can deliver on this but it's going to take leadership and a lot of support from the general public," he said.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch