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What can history teach us to ensure a successful referendum for A First Nations Voice to parliament?

Paul Kildea writes in The Conversation (1.8.22) about the Albanese government’s proposed referendum pathway to establish an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

‘The Albanese government is moving ahead with plans to hold a first-term referendum on a First Nations Voice. The Prime Minister has attended the annual Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land, where the Voice was a key focus.

‘The referendum will ask voters to enshrine in the Australian Constitution a First Nations body that would give non-binding advice to the federal parliament on laws and policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

‘In recent weeks there has been growing debate on whether Australians need to see the full detail of the proposed advisory body before voting on it. Megan Davis, one of the architects of the process that preceded the Uluru Statement from the Heart, says voters should be asked to approve the body’s basic purpose and function, and other details can be filled in later by parliament.

‘Critics of this approach, including Marcia Langton, argue a specific model should be outlined in draft legislation and tabled in parliament before the referendum.

‘The question of whether proposals should be general or specific is a familiar issue in referendum design. So, how much detail should referendum proposals contain? And is there a risk that proposals that are too detailed, or too vague, can end up being rejected by voters?’

Why a First Nations Voice should come before Treaty

Pat Anderson and Paul Komesaroff write in The Conversation (21.10.22) about the important reasoning for first establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament before settling any treaty arrangement.

‘Since the advent of colonisation, the absence of an effective process for conducting dialogues between the broader community and First Nations people has been a festering sore at the heart of Australian society.

‘The notorious doctrine of terra nullius not only led to the denial of the legitimate rights of First Nations people, but also ensured they could never be heard. This malign strategy has produced centuries of unspeakable suffering, sickness and death. Many Australians feel the time has come to start to heal the wound.

‘The Uluru Statement from the Heart advocates for a process of dialogue to set us on a path towards a new way of living together. The statement was agreed to in 2017 by a convention of more than 250 First Nations people after an inclusive and rigorous process of regional dialogues. It proposes a First Nations Voice to Parliament to guide a passage both to a new “coming together” and to the clear articulation of the long-suppressed truth.

‘As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said when announcing the forthcoming referendum that seeks to incorporate these key proposals into the Australian Constitution, the statement is a generous offer to the entire Australian community. It does not harbour grudges and does not seek vengeance. It asks for a secure mechanism whereby the voices of First Nations people can at last be heard – by each other, by the parliament and by the wider Australian public.’

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