Legal machinery for hearing Indigenous voices
The Constitution is a charter of government. It is concerned with rules and divisions of power. The Indigenous leaders who met at Uluru in May 2017 called for one additional rule to establish legal machinery that guarantees the Australian Parliament will hear the voices of Indigenous people.
How do we ensure Indigenous voices are heard in a practical way?
Six “attributes of authenticity” ensure any new constitutional machinery allows local Indigenous voices to speak authoritatively in relation to the development of laws and policies concerning Indigenous affairs.
When and how should Indigenous voices be heard by Parliament?
Two competing concerns need to be reconciled by the proposed machinery:
- Indigenous voices cannot be unduly stifled when Parliament debates Indigenous affairs.
- Parliamentary processes cannot be unduly restricted by the obligation to hear Indigenous voices.
The proposed legal machinery must not restrict the power of the state parliaments, although it should leave open the possibility that a state might choose to use the new arrangements for hearing Indigenous voices.
Two options for the proposed machinery are put forward for further discussion: “Speaking for country option” and “Advisory council option”.
Speaking for Country option
Constitution Alteration (Recognising Indigenous Peoples) Bill amends the Constitution to require Parliament to establish or recognise local entities for each Indigenous group that speaks for Country.
Speaking for Country Bill then provides the detail concerning how these entities will be established, and provides for these local entities to affiliate voluntarily at the national and regional levels, thereby creating a national affiliation that serves as a conduit between the local groups who speak for Country and the Commonwealth Parliament.
Advisory Council option
Constitution Alteration (Receiving Indigenous Advice) Bill enshrines in the Constitution a new Advisory Council, which is responsible for providing advice on Indigenous affairs. The Advisory Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Bill then stipulates the roles, functions and composition of the Advisory Council, and provides for local Indigenous organisations to send delegates to a national conference that selects members of the new Advisory Council.