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Region reflects on proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament

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Grace Frost
Grace Frost
Hi, I'm Grace Frost. I was honoured to report for the Review as their Digital Journalist from mid-2022 to the beginning of 2024. Ive since made a move to the Herald Sun.

By Grace Frost

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament is an issue every resident in the region will have to vote on in a referendum before the end of 2023.

The proposed change would alter Australia’s Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

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The proposition responds to a recommendation made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart – a document endorsed by a cross section of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across Australia at the National Constitutional Convention at Uluru in 2017.

The Uluru Statement called for ‘the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution’.

The City of Whittlesea municipality has the seventh-largest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Victoria, with 2270 Indigenous people in 2021 – an increase of 101 per cent from 2011.

In the Mitchell Shire, the number of people who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander increased by 65.1 per cent, from 650 to 1073, between 2016 and 2021.

If constitutionalised, the Voice will establish policy aiming to recognise Indigenous communities Australia-wide and provide them a ‘greater say on the services, policies and laws that affect their lives’.

If passed, the Voice would mark the first amendment to the Constitution since 1977.

Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said supporting the Voice would demonstrate the electorate as ‘morally conscientious’.

“It’s about recognising that Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people have lived on this land for thousands and thousands of years, and it’s also about bringing consultation to work with them to get better policies and outcomes,” he said.

“It’s going to be a real positive if we get the Voice through. […] It shows a maturity of our nation, of which we are a key part of.”

Mr Mitchell said the Voice would ‘not change a single thing’ for most people.

“It is not going to impact people in their day-to-day lives, it’s not going to impact how you go to work, how you go to sport, where you go to the shops, where you go to the doctors,” he said.

“It is a massive symbol to say ‘yes, we acknowledge things have been done wrong, we want to do things better’.”

Opposition leader Peter Dutton confirmed the Liberal Party would oppose the Voice to Parliament.

He said the party was in support of constitutional recognition and of Indigenous people’s views being heard by the government, but instead through a Local and Regional Voice.

Mr Dutton said having a ‘Canberra Voice’ was ‘not going to resolve the issues on the ground in Indigenous communities’, dubbing it an ‘elitist model’.

Mr Mitchell said Mr Dutton’s opposition to the Voice came as no surprise, and described his statements as shrouded in fear and deflection.

“These falsehoods that are being run around by conservatives – ‘oh, it means they can go to the Reserve Bank’ – it’s just absolute crap used to try and [create] fear and deflect from the reality that the opposition don’t want to support it,” he said.

“[Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people] should be able to talk to government and talk to the executive of government, i.e. cabinet, about issues that impact Indigenous Australians.”

Federal Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell, a member of the Nationals, opposes the Voice and said a perceived lack of detail provided to Australians on the implications of the proposed constitutional changes was concerning.

“If the Australian people are being asked to make such a significant change to the constitution, then we needed more understanding of the details of how the proposed constitutional amendment is going to work,” he said.

“We’re probably too far down the track now, but I think we should’ve had a constitutional convention, and have this really thrashed out.”

Mr Birrell said he supported acknowledgment of Indigenous people and the contribution their culture had made to the nation within the Constitution, but had reservations regarding ‘a bureaucratic body set up to advise the government on the basis of race’.

He said a particular focus should be placed on investment into Indigenous education and health to address health status and Close the Gap, while also remaining interested in the prospect of local and regionally based system models.

Mr Birrell said he would ‘keep an open mind’ and consider the findings of the Joint Select Committee on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice Referendum, which he considered ‘a good process to go through’.

He said the vote would be ‘a very personal decision for everyone’, and voters should ‘respect each other’s different approaches as to how Australia should be governed’.

“I have voted to have a referendum, because I want the people of Nicholls to be able to tick the box and make their own decision. […] I’ll accept the outcome of the Australian people,” he said.

The Taungurung Land and Waters Council, empowered by the Taungurung people who live on the land now forming parts of the Macedon Ranges and Mitchell shires, released a statement in support of the Voice last month.

“When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who know and understand the best way to deliver real and practical change in their communities have a say through a Voice, we will finally be able to close the gap that still exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” the statement said.

“The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed.”

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The Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, whose people live on the land now forming the City of Whittlesea and some of the Mitchell Shire, told the Review they were yet to progress to a formal position on the Voice to Parliament.

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