On 19 March 2018, the Parliament agreed that a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples be appointed to inquire into and report on matters relating to constitutional change, including the proposal for the establishment of a First Nations Voice.
Throughout this inquiry, the Committee has sought to find common ground and identify a way forward on these issues.
As required by its resolution of appointment, the Committee presented an interim report on 30 July 2018 and this, its final report, was presented on 29 November 2018.
Approach to the inquiry
The resolution of appointment requires the Committee to consider a wide range of matters, including recommendations of the Referendum Council (2017), the Statement from the Heart (2017), the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2015), and the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians (2012).
Acknowledging the significant shift in the ongoing discussions about constitutional change and recognition represented by the Statement from the Heart, which was announced only 10 months before the Committee was appointed, the Committee came to the view that its primary task was to expand on the detail of the proposal for a First Nations Voice.
While The Voice has been the Committee’s focus, the Committee has also considered the proposals for truth-telling and agreement making arising from the Statement from the Heart, as well as other proposals for constitutional change and recognition.
In the course of evidence and in speaking with the community, the Committee kept in mind the aspirations of the Statement from the Heart. The Committee acknowledges that for some the conversation is well advanced, while for others it is just beginning.
The Committee acknowledges that it had limited time and resources compared to the Expert Panel and Referendum Council and was therefore not able to undertake consultations to the same extent or in the same level of detail as those bodies. However, by conducting the majority of its work in the public domain, the views of all can be shared and debated with transparency and respect. The Committee was able to draw on the views of a range of stakeholders, as outlined below and in Appendices A and B, and anticipates that community views will continue to develop as these important issues are discussed across Australia.
As noted in the interim report, the Committee acknowledges there is frustration at the length of time taken to advance these issues.
The Committee also emphasises the importance of cross-party support to achieve constitutional change.
While there are diverse views among members of the Committee, as there are among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader community, the recommendations contained in this report represent an agreed position on the path forward which all members could support.
Conduct of the inquiry
The Committee held its first meeting on 27 March 2018, and thereafter called for written submissions addressing the matters set out in the resolution of appointment.
In April, the Committee received private briefings from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and other stakeholders in order to identify the next steps to build on previous work in relation to constitutional recognition. The transcripts of some of these briefings were later published with the permission of those present.
In June and July, the Committee conducted public hearings in Kununurra, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Canberra, Dubbo, Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth. The Committee also attended a meeting of the four Northern Territory Land Councils at Barunga.
Following the presentation of the interim report on 30 July 2018, the Committee called for further written submissions addressing the matters set out in the report. In total throughout the inquiry, the Committee received 479 submissions and 47 supplementary submissions. These submissions are listed in Appendix A.
In trying to get a better understanding of the design of a Voice, the interim report produced a series of nine principles and 15 models and 100 questions. Unfortunately the Committee received far fewer submissions responding in detail to questions set out in the interim report than it had anticipated.
In September and October, the Committee conducted additional public hearings in Canberra, Wodonga, Shepparton, Melbourne, Thursday Island, Townsville, Palm Island, Brisbane, and Redfern. A planned hearing in Cherbourg was cancelled due to sorry business (funerals and mourning) in the community. The Committee also met with community organisations in Albury and Wodonga. Public hearings are listed in Appendix B.
The Committee expresses its appreciation to the many individuals and organisations who contributed to the inquiry and those who provided meeting places throughout the course of the inquiry’s conduct.
Structure of the final report
The final report of the Committee is intended to reflect the evidence received across the wide range of matters included in the Committee’s resolution of appointment. The report sets out the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations in relation to these matters.
Readers are reminded that this report should be read in conjunction with the Committee’s interim report, which considers in detail the evidence received earlier in the inquiry.
Chapter 2 considers the design of a First Nations Voice. Building on the interim report, the chapter presents further evidence on the structure and functions of The Voice and considers additional examples of existing and proposed structures that might inform the design of The Voice. The chapter concludes with a discussion of evidence on a process to determine the detail of The Voice.
Chapter 3 considers the legal form of a First Nations Voice. The chapter considers arguments for enshrining The Voice in the Australian Constitution, and then discusses a number of issues relating to the finalisation of an appropriate constitutional provision. The chapter concludes with a discussion of suggested approaches to give legal form to The Voice.
Suggested provisions for enshrining The Voice in the Australian Constitution are discussed in Chapter 3.
Chapter 4 presents evidence on other forms of constitutional change and recognition, including changes to section 25 and section 51(xxvi) and an extra-constitutional declaration of recognition.
Other matters raised in the Statement from the Heart
Chapter 5 considers the concepts of ‘Makarrata’ and agreement making.
Chapter 6 considers the issue of truth-telling raised by the Statement from the Heart and examines proposals for truth-telling and other forms of commemoration.
Previous recommendations that the Committee was required to consider (as set out in paragraph 1.4) are listed in Appendix C.
A note on language
In accordance with agreed practice, the Committee will generally refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, unless specific language is used by stakeholders in their evidence to the Committee.
Consistent with the interim report, the term ‘The Voice’ is used with capital letters when referring to the Statement from the Heart, but the terms ‘voice’ or ‘voices’ are used with lower case letters when speaking of alternative local, regional, or national structures or organisations, again unless alternative language is used by stakeholders.
Lastly, the Committee acknowledges concerns among some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around the use of the terms Makarrata and Uluru Statement from the Heart and will choose to refer to the statement as the Statement from the Heart.