• The senior advisory group co-designing the Indigenous Voice to government's interim report has been released to the public for consultation. (SBS News)Source: SBS News
An Indigenous representative body would be consulted on policies and laws affecting First Nations people but would not have the power to strike down any laws or policies put forward by the Commonwealth.
Sarah Collard

12 Jan 2021 - 10:42 AM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2021 - 11:28 AM

An advisory group made up of prominent Indigenous Australians has been examining possible models for an Indigenous Voice over the past 12 months. It's 240 page interim report was released on Saturday after being  handed to the government in October last year.

The group co-chaired by Professor Marcia Langton and former Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma proposes options for what an Indigenous Voice might look like at a national, regional and local level.  

It includes two models for the National Voice - with a smaller more flexible elected representative body made up of two people representing each state and territory and the Torres Strait Islands being the preferred option. 

The second option for the Voice looks at ‘scaled’ representation with two members for every Australian state and the Northern Territory and one member for the ACT and the Torres Strait Islands. 

An Indigenous representative body is vital to ensure Indigenous voices are heard at the highest levels of government, co-chair Professor Tom Calma told NITV News.

"We want to get gender equality and representation, but we believe that there needs to be the voice of youth and the voice of people with disabilities heard in a lot of the matters that we discuss," Professor Calma said.

The Kungarakan and Iwaidja man said both models would give First Nations people a greater chance of being heard by those in power. 

Australia would be divided into between 25 and 35 regions, each with its own Voice to allow communities to have a input on issues. 

Professor Calma said regions could be divided to ensure states with greater Indigenous populations are able to have proportionate representation. 

"Some of the biggest states like Queensland and New South Wales might comprise seven regions.

"Each of the regions will get together and then they'll look at local matters and matters on a statewide basis, and work with the local government, the state government and the Commonwealth Government.

"One of the things that I'd really encourage is for people from the youth sector, from disabilities, LGBTI or other other minority groups that don't believe that they're being heard."

Professor Marcia Langton said feedback from all Australians is essential to create a successful model. 

“These proposals are not finished. Now it’s time for everyone to consider them and provide comment so that we can put a well consulted final proposal to the Government,” Professor Langton said. 

'A safer option'

Back in 2017, after a series of national consultations the Uluru Statement from the Heart called for an enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament.

The then Turnbull government rejection the proposal, while the Morrison Government has committed to instead create a legislated advisory body.

Professor Calma believes a legislated Voice could be the first tentative step towards an Indigenous Voice enshrined in the constitution, with both the backing of the public and the political will to make it succeed. 

"We all want at some stage to have it enshrined... Let's go for a safer option. And do one that the government's willing to to present on." Professor Calma said.

"We all want at some stage to have it enshrined... Let's establish it, and establish it through legislation and in time let's get it into the Constitution." 

"Let's go for a safer option. And do one that the government's willing to present on." Professor Calma said.

"If we waited just to get it into the constitution that could take years and there's no guarantee that it will succeed and then we're were back behind square one.

Dean Parkin facilitated the National Dialogues and is now the Director of the From the Heart organisation which continues to champion the Uluru Statement.

He said veto powers were never part of the Indigenous representative body as outlined by architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. 

"It was never proposed that the voice should have a veto power, and was certainly never proposed by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people through that process," the Quandamooka man said. 

He says it's critical First Nations people are part of decision making and he maintains the representative body needs protection.

"At the moment, laws and policies are made about our people, and there is no voice. There is no input into that process.

"Our focus is ensuring that the vision from Uluru, the idea of a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament is something that we are absolutely still fighting for," Mr Parkin told NITV News.

The government is urging all Australians to provide feedback and comments on the proposed options.

“In the next stage of the co-design process all Australians will be invited to provide feedback on the Indigenous Voice proposals. I want to ensure the voices of all 800,000 Indigenous Australians can be heard," Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt said.

Mr Wyatt said getting the Voice right is critical but the government is yet to decide on what the final form would look like.