• Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt believes the development is an important step in preserving national identity. (AAP)Source: AAP
The coalition has launched a co-design process with Indigenous communities on the voice to government.
Jack Latimore, Shahni Wellington

30 Oct 2019 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 30 Oct 2019 - 10:25 AM

The federal government has taken the first steps towards creating an Indigenous voice to government. 

Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, has announced a senior advisory group will be co-chaired by Tom Calma and Marica Langton.

He said the voices of 800,000 Indigenous Australians across the nation must be heard.

“The best outcomes are achieved when Indigenous Australians are at the centre of decision-making," Mr Wyatt said.

"I am committed to being the minister for all Indigenous Australians, and want to make sure that all these voices can be heard loud and clear."

In past weeks, the federal government has seemingly ruled out calls - most prominently made in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart - for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the constitution. 

Mr Wyatt - the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed to cabinet and the portfolio of Aboriginal affairs- has focussed on advocating for a legislated voice to government since his address to the National Press Club in July.

However, the minister’s statement on Tuesday morning also suggests that the government has not completely ruled out constitutional recognition.

It says: “All options are on the table and the co-design process will identify the most suitable options to take forward for wider consultation.” 

What happens now?

The senior advisory group will consist of up to 20 leaders and experts from across the country handpicked by Mr Wyatt.

It will be led by by Professor Calma, a Kungarakan man and co-chair of Reconciliation Australia; and Professor Langton, a Yiman and Bidjara woman and Indigenous academic.

Separate regional and national groups will also be asked to come up with ways to improve local and regional decision-making and a national voice to governments.

The majority of members in each group will be Indigenous. 

Mr Wyatt said the co-design process would hinge on community consultation.

"We need to get it right," he said.

"We know that for too long decision making treated the symptoms rather than the cause."

'Struggling to win over Aboriginal people'

Ahead of Mr Wyatt's announcement, the Central Land Council issued a pre-emptive statement which rejected the government's proposal to legislate the voice.

“We are tired of government changing laws that affect our lives,” it said.

“Our voice needs to be embedded in the foundations of this nation… We reject symbolic recognition in the constitution.”

Sammy Wilson, the chair of the council expressed concerned that a legislated voice could be dismantled like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was in 2004.

“The abolition of ATSIC is still fresh in the minds of our members,” he said.

“This government will be struggling to win over Aboriginal people in the heart of the nation for its plans.”

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