In October 2023, Australians will have their say in a referendum about whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The Voice would be an independent and permanent advisory body giving advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have called for members of the Voice to be chosen by First Nations peoples based on the wishes of local communities.
Professor Henry Reynolds is a distinguished Australian historian whose work has focused primarily on the frontier conflict between European settlers and First Nations peoples in Australia. Professor Reynolds grew up in Hobart, Tasmania, but began his academic career as lecturer at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland in 1965, sparking an interest in the history of relations between settlers and Australia’s Indigenous peoples. A consultant to the Canadian Royal Commission on Indigenous Rights, Henry was also a consultant for the legal team involved in the historic Wik native title case before the High Court in 1995-96.
On 12 August 2023, as a background to the referendum, Professor Reynolds gave an address to the Brisbane branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A), in which he considered how Australia compares with other comparable nations in meeting our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. At the request of many of those present, a recording of the address has been produced and made available. Professor Reynolds repeated his lecture at the Brisbane residence of Ann Scott (former Executive Editor for the TJ Ryan Foundation), adding some further considerations. The video was recorded by Ann Scott and prepared for publication by Julie Ballangarry; we thank them both, along with Professor Reynolds, for permission to post a link to the video below.
More from Henry Reynolds on the Voice to Parliament
Henry Reynolds writes in the Pearls and Irritations blog (25.8.23) about the historical significance of the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
‘The Voice to Parliament which now meets with both ignorance and misunderstanding has been with us for over fifty years although the bodies in question varied in name, structure and longevity. There was the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, 1977-1985 (NAC), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, 1989-2005 (ATSIC), the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, 2009-2019, the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council,2013- 2019.
‘And then a year after the Uluru Statement 14 Indigenous organisations met with Prime Minister Morrison in December 2018 leading to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap which brought together the Coalition of Peak (Indigenous) Organisations, the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and the Australian Local Government Association. It gives the indigenous organisations unprecedented influence enabling it to ‘strengthen and establish partnerships and shared decision-making’.’