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‘We have not been heard’: Indigenous leader slams Voice process

The Uluru Statement contained a plea from Indigenous leaders for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to advise on laws affecting First Nations peoples. But ministers have made clear the Voice will not be constitutionally enshrined and will be a “voice to government” rather than to Parliament.

Artists complete their work on the Uluru Statement of the Heart in 2017.

Artists complete their work on the Uluru Statement of the Heart in 2017. Credit:Clive Scollay

Delivering the annual Australia and the World lecture at the press club, Ms Turner will say the Commonwealth’s response to the Uluru statement has been “high on rhetoric” but “what is now unfolding is a convoluted and flawed process”.

“We were not and have not been heard,” she will say. Seeking advice on a model does not amount to “shared decision-making”, Ms Turner argues. “It involves government selecting its own advisers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, three separate committees, including a senior advisory group with potentially overlapping roles and terms of reference that impose limits on wider discussion by participants.”

She says the fact that she and other committee members are “there as individuals – not representing or accountable to our own constituencies, organisations, membership or cultural groups … immediately compromises the strength of our voices”.

“We must choose who speaks for us, how and on what issues,” she adds, saying no compelling case has been made for the shift from a Voice to Parliament to a “Voice to government”.

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“It was a decision by the [federal] government and we were not asked or involved. Whether intended or not the outcome … 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 also convenes the coalition of peak Indigenous community-controlled organisations (or Coalition of Peaks), which earlier this year struck an agreement with state and federal governments to re-draw the Closing the Gap targets.

She stood alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference in July to launch the new agreement, which is supposed to hand Indigenous-run organisations a much greater say in programs to reduce disadvantage in their communities.

The Voice co-design process is in conflict with the spirit of that agreement, she says.

Ms Turner will argue that Australia lags compared with other liberal democratic nations such as Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Finland, where “institutions and structures that allow Indigenous peoples to be heard are much better developed”.

James Christian, the CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, slammed the government’s co-design process as “fake” and poorly designed.

“It is really disheartening that the Australian government continues to follow a path trodden over many years, which is to establish some very divisive processes, where they hand-pick their own advisers and then choose amongst that advice what they take and what they leave,” he told the Herald.

However a spokesman for Mr Wyatt said that community consultation on the Voice would begin later this year, and that “everyone who wants to have a say on the Indigenous voice will be able to do so. This will take place with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in urban, regional and remote locations across Australia”.

“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” the spokesman added.

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