A union of voices, comprising The Fred Hollows Foundation, ANTaR Nations, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) and Australia’s first Aboriginal ophthalmologist Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker, have together called for the government to commit to a referendum on a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament.
The call came after The Foundation, ANTaR, RANZCO and DCA made submissions to the Australian Government’s Indigenous Voice co-design process. The submissions contained insights from each organisation into how a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament should be progressed.
Fred Hollows Foundation says a Voice to Parliament will be a vital step towards social justice reform.
A constitutionally enshrined Voice would ensure First Nations Peoples will always be able to provide frank and fearless advice to the government
“Fred Hollows believed ‘inequity diminishes us all’ and this couldn’t be more glaring than when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples,” said Ian Wishart, Fred Hollows Foundation CEO.
The Foundation has called for greater transparency in how decisions are made by the government on the design and implementation of the Voice to Parliament, noting that a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament is the only form of constitutional change that has wide and broad support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
“More than 50 years after being granted the right to vote, Australia’s First Nations still do not have a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament which would give them a say in laws and policies that affect them.
“A Voice to Parliament designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples is a vital step towards social justice reform. A constitutionally enshrined Voice would ensure First Nations Peoples will always be able to provide frank and fearless advice to the government,” said Mr Wishart.
Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker emphasised the fact that, while it’s been over 233 years since Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney, “Australia remains the only Commonwealth country to have never signed a treaty with its Indigenous Peoples.
“A constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament offers a genuine step forward to rectify that situation and a meaningful pathway to healing the sins of the past. In a genuine acknowledgement of self-determination and mutual respect, a Constitutionally enshrined promise is the only way forward to achieve real change, change that is resistant to the malleable and too-often hollow promises of politicians,” said Ass/Prof Rallah-Baker.
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) is a national advocacy organisation dedicated specifically to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. ANTaR National joins the call alongside many other First Nations Peoples and non-Indigenous allies who have written submissions to the Voice Co-Design consultation.
Paul Wright, ANTaR National Director, said “the count is now at more than 1,600 submissions made in response to the Interim Report and the vast majority of the submissions will ignore the narrow terms of reference and make clear that the Voice must be enshrined in Australia’s constitution to break with the failure of past attempts.”
Further to this, RANZCO, has pledged its support of the proposed models for a National Voice, recognising that health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are linked to self-determination.
“There is strong evidence to support improvement in health outcomes when Indigenous peoples take greater control over their health,” said Nitin Verma, RANZCO President.
DCA CEO Lisa Annese, expressed concern that, “should the Voice be established by legislation like many of the bodies that have preceded it, the mechanism could similarly be dissolved by legislation.
“As almost four years have now passed since the historic Uluru Statement, it’s time to for the Government to commit to a referendum in the next term of Parliament.”