The head of the Coalition of Peaks and CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Pat Turner has warned shortcomings in the process to develop a Voice for Indigenous people must be addressed urgently.
In her National Press Club address in Canberra on Wednesday, Ms Turner covered a range of topics, including the new national Closing the Gap agreement, but her review of the government's process to find a model for a 'Voice to government' was scathing.
"The proposed Voice to government, like the many incarnations that have gone before, will not stand the test of time and be doomed to fail unless these foundational short comings are addressed urgently," Ms Turner said.
"Whether intended or not, the outcome of the government-controlled process for establishing a Voice is likely to be disjointed, conflicted, and thus counterproductive.
"Most concerning of all is the risk of considerable division arising between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in respect to the government’s Voice – and this is unacceptable."
Ms Turner referenced the significance of 13 regional dialogues with Aboriginal communities that led to the 'Uluru Statement from the Heart.'
The critical assessment of the current process is largely tied to the federal government's dismissal of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the forms of recognition it proposed including a constitutionally enshrined advisory body, a truth-telling process and Makarrata commission.
"The response from government was, once again, not to hear our cry," Ms Turner said.
"This treatment merely serves to reinforce and confirm the torment of our powerlessness, to borrow a phrase from the Uluru Statement,"
"We were not and have not been heard," Ms Turner said in her address.
Instead, the Minister for Indigenous Australian's Ken Wyatt has committed to a 'co-design process,' and maintains a clear distinction between constitutional recognition and establishing what he describes as a ‘voice to government'.
The federal government has put together three separate advisory bodies to co-design a ‘Voice’ for Indigenous people - the Regional and Local Group, the National Group and the Senior Advisory Group - of which Pat Turner is a member.
"After the initial rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, what is now unfolding is a convoluted and flawed process," Ms Turner said.
"That we are there as individuals – not representing or accountable to our own constituencies, organisations, membership or cultural groups – appointed by the government – to support the Minister – immediately compromises the strength of our voices, of us being heard as Indigenous peoples.
"Aboriginal people must elect their representatives rather than be told and the final model must be negotiated rather than decided by governments."
The co-design bodies originally aimed to have at least two models for a 'Voice' ready to be considered by cabinet by October.
Following that process, it would then go to the wider community for consultation.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Minister for Indigenous Australians said the Morrison Government respects the views of all involved the co-design process, and will not be pre-empting the findings of their work.
"Ultimately, if any body is going to advise government or the parliament, it must be established and accepted by government – any suggestion that this detracts from views or contributions of Indigenous Australians is wrong."