Push for a Voice to Parliament is a bureaucratic power grab to give Indigenous Australians rights they already have

People ask me why I am opposed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. It is a simple question, and I have a simple answer.

The assumption that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t already have a voice to Parliament, or that Indigenous voices are limited, is ridiculous.

All my adult life there have been Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in Canberra. The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), the National Aboriginal Consultative Council (NACC), National Aboriginal Council (NAC), the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the National Congress of Australia’sFirst Peoples, the Reconciliation Council, the National Indigenous Council, the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, the Coalition of the Peaks, the Torres Strait Regional Authority, and the Torres Strait Regional Council, Northern Land Council, Central Land Council, the National Native Title Council and numerous other Land Councils and Peak Industry Bodies in Health, Education, Law, Justice, Children, etc.

And then we have had advisory committees to Ministers for Education, Health, and more. As well as individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lobbying, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of various political parties and their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy committees. Not to mention festivals and conferences such as Garma and Barunga, which politicians, corporates and special interest groups attend.

I would argue the loudest voices are from individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who communicate all the different viewpoints within our communities. And, yes, there is not one Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewpoint. There are many — just like for the rest of Australia. If the vast array of councils, committees, coalitions and conferences over half a century haven’t delivered the outcomes Indigenous people want to see, what makes anyone think a ‘Voice to Parliament’ will be any different simply because the power to create it sits in the constitution?

I don’t understand why it needs to be in the Constitution at all. And I haven’t been convinced by any argument on this so far. The Constitution is the fundamental law underpinning our nation that all other laws must comply with. If it is to be amended or meddled with, then it should be for a bloody good reason — and it should be something that will make us a better and more united nation (as was the case for the 1967 referendum).

Constitutional amendments are usually to give the Commonwealth some power it doesn’t already have and rightly needs. But the federal government already has the power to create an Indigenous ‘voice’ — or numerous voices, as we’ve seen. So, why does this power need to be added at all? Why not just legislate now? The ‘Voice to Parliament’ will still be at the behest of the government of the day and any change of policy it wishes to make. The whole thing seems to me to be a waste of time — and a hypocritical one at that.

In recent weeks, the new Labor government has abolished the cashless welfare card despite the many voices from remote Aboriginal communities, especially from Aboriginal women, that this would cause pain and destruction. This week we’ve heard the Mayor of Alice Spring tell us “It’s chaos at the moment. Public drunkenness and domestic violence is rising.”

I have personally spoken to Aboriginal women from central Australia who’ve told me they fear it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed as a direct result of increased alcohol abuse and violence arising from this decision. Who in the government or the crossbench is paying attention to these Aboriginal voices?

The Voice to Parliament will be nothing more than another huge bureaucracy to control Indigenous lives. The same old, same old.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO is Director of the Indigenous Forum, The Centre for Independent Studies.

Also by Nyunggai Warren Mundine: Aboriginal Australians have heard the Voice before

Image by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) under CC BY-SA 3.0 license