1. Introduction

On 26 May 2017, delegates to the First Nations National Constitutional Convention produced the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
On 30 June 2017, the Referendum Council recommended a referendum be held on a First Nations Voice.
On 26 October 2017, the Government rejected ‘a constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in’. However, the Prime Minister went on to say the Government understands and recognises:
… the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to have a greater say in their own affairs... We remain committed to finding effective ways to develop stronger local voices and empowerment of local people.1
On 5 August 2017, in the keynote address to the Garma Festival, the Leader of the Opposition expressed Labor’s support for the proposals put forward at Uluru:
I cannot be any more clear than this: Labor supports a voice for Aboriginal people in our Constitution, we support a declaration by all parliaments, we support a truth-telling commission. We are not confronted by the notion of treaties with our first Australians. For us the question is not whether we do these things, the question is not if we should do these things but when and how.2
On 27 May 2017, Senator Rachel Siewert, the Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, released a statement supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart saying:
The Australian Greens strongly support the Uluru Statement from the Heart by our First Peoples. I urge all sides of politics to do the same.3
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.4

Role of the Committee

In conducting its inquiry, the Committee is required by its resolution of appointment to:
consider the recommendations of the Referendum Council (2017),
the Uluru 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);
examine the methods by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are currently consulted and engaged on policies and legislation that affects them, and consider if and how self-determination can be advanced in a way that leads to greater local decision making,
economic advancement, and improved social outcomes; and
recommend options for constitutional change and any potential complementary legislative measures that meet the expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and that will secure cross-party parliamentary support and the support of the Australian people.
The resolution of appointment requires the Committee to ensure that any recommended options are consistent with the four criteria of referendum success set out in the Final Report of the Expert Panel. That is, any recommended options should:
contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation;
be of benefit to and accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums; and
be technically and legally sound.
The resolution of appointment also requires the Committee to:
engage with key stakeholders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations; and
advise on the possible steps that could be taken to ensure the referendum has the best possible chance of success, including proposals for a constitutional convention or other mechanism for raising awareness in the broader community.
The resolution of appointment requires the Committee to present to the Parliament an interim report on or before 30 July 2018 and a final report on or before 29 November 2018.

Conduct of the inquiry

The Committee held its first meeting on 27 March 2018.
The Committee called for written submissions addressing the matters set out in the resolution of appointment. As at 23 July 2018 the Committee had authorised 381 submissions and 9 supplementary submissions. These submissions are listed in Appendix A.
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 heard from a range of witnesses at public hearings Kununurra, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Canberra, Dubbo, Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth. These witnesses are listed in
Appendix B.
The Committee also attended a meeting of the four Northern Territory Land Councils at Barunga.
The Committee expresses its appreciation to all of the individuals and organisations who have contributed to the inquiry to date.

Structure of the interim report

The interim report of the Committee outlines the context of the work of the Committee, provides a brief summary of evidence received to date, and informs stakeholders of the Committee’s intended process for further consultation prior to the presentation of the final report.
Chapter 2 outlines the rationale for a First Nations Voice. It describes how The Voice could empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to shape policy and legislation able to improve socio-economic outcomes.
Chapter 3 scopes design issues surrounding the structure and membership of The Voice, its possible functions and operation, and mechanisms for its establishment and implementation.
Chapter 4 considers past and existing representative or scrutiny bodies which could inform the design of The Voice before outlining a sample of proposals received to date.
Chapter 5 provides a brief overview of recent initiatives aimed at progressing the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the major recommendations arising from these.
Chapter 6 considers evidence received to date relating to agreement making and truth-telling.
Chapter 7 outlines the Committee’s views on existing proposals and evidence received to date. The chapter also outlines the Committee’s intended process for further consultation and engagement on the issues considered in this interim report.
Previous recommendations that the Committee is required to consider (as set out in paragraph 1.7) 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.
The term ‘The Voice’ is used with capital letters when referring to the Uluru 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.

  • 1
    Australian Government, ‘Response to Referendum Council’s report on Constitutional Recognition’, Media Release, 26 October 2016, <https://ministers.pmc.gov.au/scullion/2017
    /response-referendum-councils-report-constitutional-recognition> viewed 17 July 2018.
  • 2
    The Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition, Address to Garma Festival 2017, Crikey, 5 August 2017, <https://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2017/08/05/bill-shorten-address
    -garma-festival-2017/> viewed 17 July 2018.
  • 3
    Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens Spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Issues, ‘Australian Greens Respond to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Media Release, 27 May 2017.
  • 4
    The Hon. Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity, House of Representatives Hansard, 1 March 2018, pp. 2528-2530.

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