Submission on the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process Interim Report

May 3, 2021

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has welcomed the opportunity to make a submission on the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process Interim Report to the Australian Government (Interim Report).

Australia stands apart from the vast majority of developed countries in its failure to appropriately recognise First Nations people.

We are the only developed Western Democracy bereft of a federal bill of rights or Human Rights Act to guarantee equality for all Australians. We are the only settler colonial country without a founding treaty with its First Nations people. Australia’s First Nations have no dedicated voice in Australia’s political and institutional arrangements. When the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was first conceived in 2007, Australia was among only four countries to vote against its adoption. Despite a shift in Australia’s position to one of support for the UNDRIP in 2009, successive Australian Government’s have thus far failed to develop a national program to implement the UNDRIP and schedule it to the definition of human rights in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth).

We must acknowledge and address our long, significant history of denying First Nations people institutional power and representation in decision-making. 

ALHR acknowledges the significant work that has gone into the Co-Design Process and we welcome the Government’s Interim Co-Design Report. ALHR is, however, concerned that the proposals in the Interim Report do not go far enough to achieve the proposal for a First Nations Voice called for in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart and 2017 Referendum Council report.

ALHR emphatically calls for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution and for a referendum as a priority.

ALHR disagrees with the Federal Government’s decision in setting the terms of reference for the Interim Report to dissect the idea of the First Nations Voice and constitutional enshrinement. The concept of a First Nations Voice was proposed in the Uluru Statement and described in the 2017 Report as being one that is constitutionally enshrined, not merely established through legislation. Constitutional enshrinement to ensure enduring and meaningful protection of the First Nations Voice is the most fundamental element of the First Nations Voice.  It is not therefore appropriate to decouple the First Nations Voice from constitutional enshrinement.

Articles 3 and 4 of the UNDRIP state that Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination, and in exercising that right, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs. The right of self-determination of peoples is also enshrined in binding international law via the Charter of the United Nations, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. While establishing a Voice in the Constitution would be a far cry from self-government, it would go some way to partnering with, and respecting, Indigenous peoples.

ALHR calls for consultation obligations that are consistent with international human rights law standards.

The Interim Report proposes that the Australian Government would only be obliged to engage and consult with the First Nations Voice on an extremely narrow range of matters, and the Australian Government would be expected to consult on a broader range of matters that “significantly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”. ALHR is concerned that the National Voice and Local and Regional Voices will not give sufficient institutional power to First Nations peoples to influence the creation of laws, regulations, policies or administrative decisions that affect them. It is ALHR’s strongly held view that the Australian Government should be guided by international legal principles outlining states obligations regarding the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples and consult the National Voice on:

  • any legislation, regulation or policy which affects the rights of First Nations peoples, as set out in the UNDRIP; and
  • any other matters that significantly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

ALHR’s submission makes 14 key recommendations.

Read ALHR’s submission in full here

ALHR has made its submission in the spirit of constructive contribution with guidance from and reference to the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart (Uluru Statement), the 2017 Referendum Council Report, and submissions made by the Public Lawyers and From the Heart.