Statement from Michael Cope, President of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, Josh Pallas, President of New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, and Michael Stanton as President of Liberty Victoria.
Our organisations support the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart – a generous call from First Nations peoples for voice, treaty and truth. We also continue to urge the Commonwealth to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which requires respect for self-determination. Whilst we acknowledge ongoing debate about whether the Voice is the optimal approach to enshrining First Nations representation in the Constitution, the Voice is the only opportunity currently open. If not taken, there is no guarantee any similar or alternate opportunities will present in the near future.
As civil libertarians, we say the referendum should succeed. Not just to acknowledge past wrongs, but to make an important change which will enhance our system of government.
The strength of the Voice proposal is that it is simultaneously modest and significant.
The Voice is modest in that it simply provides a forum for First Nations peoples to make representations to parliament and the executive. No more, no less. It is a proposal underpinned by parliamentary sovereignty. There is nothing unusual about new bodies being created and courts dealing with any legal uncertainty that arises. Our system of government entrusts the courts to interpret new laws. By and large they do this well, and there are appropriate checks and balances on their powers.
The modest nature of the proposed Constitutional amendment may lead some to be concerned that operational detail around the Voice is light. But Constitutional documents cannot provide for everything in a rapidly changing world – nor should they. We need parliament to set the governance framework for the Voice in legislation so that it can adapt and evolve with the world around it. Those who may be struggling to envision the Voice without further clarity of concept need only look to the Sámi parliaments of Norway, Finland and Sweden for living examples of such a representative body in operation. While parliaments can legislate the operational details of the Voice, Constitutional reform is required to secure its ongoing existence.
Notwithstanding this modest proposal, the Voice is significant for the opportunity it presents to enhance the quality of our system of democratic government, and to defend the values of equality and fairness that we often claim as Australians.
Historical injustices perpetrated against First Nations peoples, who are now accepted as the oldest continuing culture on Earth, have given rise to ongoing systemic inequalities that have made it harder for their voices to be heard by governments and others with institutional power. The failure has not been on the part of First Nations peoples to speak, but on governments to listen. The Voice, in this way, is an important step because it encourages more consultative decision-making, and ensures that First Nations peoples’ voices are given an equal footing to be heard. This is necessary to remedy the unique effects of Australia’s colonial past and restore those voices to their rightful place.
We have confidence that the Commonwealth Government has initiated the referendum in good faith and will properly consider the Voice’s representations and adequately resource it. Civil society and history will judge it poorly if it fails to give the Voice the respect that it deserves.
Our organisations support strengthening our democracy. More representation, not less. More consultation, not less. More deliberative decision making, not less. More equality, not less. And most importantly, more courage to build a better Australia.
A vote for the Voice does all of these things. A vote for the Voice enhances our system of government in a way which is safe but has transformative potential. We are voting yes because the Voice is a vital step towards reconciliation, and one that will make our democracy stronger.
Michael Cope, President of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, Josh Pallas, President of New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, and Michael Stanton as President of Liberty Victoria.
Published by Westender Community News.