Where has this call for a Voice come from?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been calling for greater self-determination and their voices to be truly heard for the past two centuries. Many were compelled by their faith - Aboriginal Christian Leaders like William Cooper, Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, Aunty Pearl Gibbs, and many who are still alive today including Senior Aboriginal Christian Leader Aunty Jean Phillips. These calls go back as far as the 1887 Maloga Petition; Jimmy Clements and John Noble in their 1927 protest at opening of Canberra Parliament House; William Cooper's 1937 Petition to King George VI; the 1963 Yirrkala Bark Petitions; the 1988 Barunga Statement; the year 2000 Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s Australian Declaration towards Reconciliation; the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 and many more.
The concept of a National Indigenous Voice is not a new one. Previous national Indigenous representative bodies have included the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCATSI), the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC), the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). The most recent of these, the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples (2010 - 2019), had a similar purpose to the currently proposed National Indigenous Voice to Parliament- as an independent national Indigenous representative, advisory and advocacy group to the Australian Government. The National Congress had a model of elected Aboriginal voices, with 120 delegates. This model worked, however was defunded by previous governments, much to the heartbreak of Aboriginal peoples. We must learn the lessons of the past around Voice, and apply these lessons to the current proposed National Indigenous Voice.
In December 2015, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten commissioned a referendum council to provide advice on the next steps on a proposal to amend the constitution in a referendum. The council was made of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous leaders and experts. It consulted broadly through workshops, online meetings, public meetings, and individual and organisational submissions. This included 13 regional dialogues covering every state and territory, where they heard the voices of Traditional Owners, Elders, youth and community leaders. The consultation process itself was built around the values of free, prior and informed consent.
The process culminated in the drafting of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Statement rejected the notion of token recognition and called for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice to Parliament, and a Makarrata commission to auspice a process of Truth-Telling and Treaty development.
When the Uluru Statement from the Heart was presented to the then Turnbull government in 2017, it was rejected. Then in 2022, the Albanese Labor government committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full - with its three asks of Voice, Treaty and Truth.
Explore and learn more about these historic moments here.
Read about the Uluru Statement from the Heart on the Common Grace website here.