In the 2017 Uluru Statement, Indigenous advocates put forward a so-called “voice to parliament”.
Four years on, most Australians are unaware of what a voice would do.
That’s one of the reasons that I wrote a book called “Buraadja” setting out the liberal and conservative case for a voice.
At the most basic level, an Indigenous voice would provide a mechanism for Indigenous people to provide direct advice to the Parliament on laws and policy.
Why would one group of Australians need a voice? On face value, it sounds unfair.
Well, there are at least two reasons: the ‘gap’ and the existence of special laws.
To close the gap on life expectancy, economic participation and incarceration for instance, we need to get better advice from the Indigenous people. Specifically we need better advice on the laws and policies which affect them.
On the special laws, Indigenous people are the only Australians that have a slew of race based laws made for them, there are in fact 18 of them.
These special laws range from native title, land rights, heritage protection and Aboriginal corporations. At the moment we have these laws but we don’t do any special consultation - we should.
There are two voice mechanisms that we should have.
First, a local voice.
I have travelled extensively throughout the state I represent, New South Wales, and I have met with Aboriginal communities.
It is patently obvious there can be no one set structure. The fact is the needs of outback NSW, places like Bourke, Brewarrina and Nowra are very different to those of inner city Redfern.
For example, in Western New South Wales, a system called Murdi Paaki allows Aboriginal people living in the region to attend meetings of the local community working groups, becoming voting members and elect a chairperson.
There are other models across the country. The important point is that the view on the ground, whether it’s bush or concrete, is clear about the concept.
It’s about community advice on service delivery. It’s about getting children on the bus or providing antenatal services to pregnant women with community input.
From the bottom up, a Voice can deliver a form of community decision making.
Secondly, there should be a national voice.
The national voice could advise on legislation which is made specifically for Indigenous Australians such as the Native Title Act. There is a broader cultural role it could play as well.
You can’t have one Voice without the other. We need them both.
The next step of how we bed it down is trickier.
The question is whether it would be legislated or referred to in the constitution.
I favour the position that we make a commitment to hold a referendum in the next Parliament and then legislate after a successful referendum.
We have 18 different laws on the federal statute books which are made for Indigenous people. We have no system to engage those people on those special laws and that’s the crux of the argument.
It’s time to improve the system we already have and a Voice can do that.
It’s a complex issue, but there can be a simple solution. That is more advice and input from the citizens. There are worse things that we could do !
Andrew Bragg is a Liberal Senator and author of “Buraadja”