Debate on the Voice to Parliament

First Affirmative Speaker - Tony McAvoy

In the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' the first affirmative speaker, Tony McAvoy, introduces himself as Australia's first Indigenous senior council with extensive experience in various legal, negotiation, and mediation roles. McAvoy firmly asserts that the reform regarding an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament is not only necessary but also certain to pass. He highlights the urgent need for change, acknowledging the shared experience of Indigenous families affected by poverty, disadvantage, over-incarceration, child removal, and discrimination.

McAvoy distinguishes himself from other panel members by underlining his expertise in policy formulation, program development, and oversight. He asserts that his deep understanding of government structures and cultures uniquely positions him to address the issue. He emphasizes the structural impediments that hinder local community empowerment and decision-making, citing the failure to implement recommendations from the Don Dale Royal Commission and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. McAvoy contends that a constitutionally embedded voice for Indigenous people is essential to drive policy change, hold agencies accountable, and ensure representation in major policy decisions. He sees the voice as a means to fearlessly advocate for Indigenous positions and engage in policy debates. McAvoy concludes by stating that the voice's implementation would signify Australia's growth beyond colonial history and serve as a symbolic and functional source of national pride.

First Negative Speaker – Jacinta Price

In the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' the first negative speaker, Jacinta Price, introduces herself as a Country Liberal Party senator from the Northern Territory with a background in civil rights activism. Drawing on the work of African-American author Shelby Steele, Price reflects on the notion of 'white guilt' and its potential impact on current Australian debates about recognition and reconciliation. She argues against enshrining an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, expressing concerns about the divisive and costly nature of the proposal.

Price emphasizes that the Voice movement is more than a mere act of recognition; she views it as a transfer of power and a potential threat to democracy. She contends that the proposed Voice body would possess significant powers and the ability to challenge executive decisions in the high court. Price sees this as an inherently divisive move that labels one group as needing special help and victimizes them perpetually. She highlights the disagreements and divisions within Indigenous communities regarding the Voice and questions whether it can truly represent all Indigenous Australians on various issues.

In addition to her concerns about divisiveness, Price criticizes the financial costs associated with the proposed Voice, which she argues lacks sufficient detail and has not undergone extensive consultation. She sees the Voice to Parliament as potentially undermining democratic principles and equality. Price concludes by asserting that the Voice proposal risks granting special powers to a select few and urges caution against supporting a divisive and potentially damaging constitutional change.

Second Affirmative Speaker – Shireen Morris

In the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' the second positive speaker, Dr. Shireen Morris, introduces herself as a constitutional lawyer and an academic specializing in Indigenous constitutional recognition. She delves into the historical context, referencing petitions and statements throughout history that sought a voice for Indigenous people in decisions that affect them. Dr. Morris explains that the Uluru statement represents a comprehensive national consensus for constitutional recognition, advocating for a constitutionally guaranteed voice in laws and policies concerning Indigenous communities.

Dr. Morris emphasizes that the 1967 referendum did not fully address the issue, and that there is an ongoing need for fair representation and involvement of Indigenous communities in decisions about their own affairs. She highlights the current top-down policy making and the detrimental outcomes it produces, asserting that the proposed voice is not about erasing Indigenous diversity, but rather empowering various Indigenous groups and enabling local solutions through partnership and mutual responsibility. Dr. Morris counters the notion that the voice would divide Australians by race, explaining that it aims to rectify historical discrimination and give Indigenous communities input on powers that have been wielded over them based on racial heritage. She contends that the drafting of the voice concept has been refined over time in collaboration with Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts, and that it aligns with constitutional conservatism and respects parliamentary supremacy. Dr. Morris concludes by asking Australians to consider the moral question of whether Indigenous communities deserve constitutional recognition and a non-binding, advisory voice in laws and policies affecting them.

Second Negative Speaker – Warren mundine

In the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' the second negative speaker, Warren Mundine, introduces himself as a director of Indigenous Affairs at CIS and a businessman with a focus on economic development. He expresses his respect for the passing of Mr. Yothu Yindi and shares his personal connections with the Yolngu people. Mundine acknowledges the skills and knowledge of the previous speakers, Tony McAvoy and Shireen Morris, while also highlighting his practical approach to the issue.

Mundine underscores his belief in the importance of empowering Indigenous communities and recognizes First Nations' capacity to speak for their own country and make decisions for their own land. He discusses his work in business and economic development, advocating for economic empowerment as a solution to breaking the cycle of poverty and improving the lives of Indigenous Australians. Mundine criticizes certain government policies and initiatives, including the Coalition of Peaks and the handling of Indigenous education by Minister Ken Wyatt. He emphasizes that his approach centers around practicality, economic growth, and the recognition of Indigenous people within the Constitution, while also expressing his views on the drawbacks of creating a second bureaucracy and regional structures for Indigenous communities.

Affirmative Speaker Rebuttal - Tony McAvoy and Shireen Morris

In the positive speaker rebuttals of the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' Tony McAvoy takes the floor and emphasizes his role as a negotiator, specifically in the context of native title negotiations. He underscores the challenges faced when trying to address policy positions that impact individual First Nations' rights, such as fire stick farming and land management. McAvoy explains that these issues cannot be resolved at the individual nation level and need to be tackled at a higher level of discussion to bring about meaningful change. He shares his frustration with being unable to shift state governments on significant policy matters due to the limitations of individual negotiations.

Shireen Morris responds to Warren Mundine's arguments, expressing confusion about his stance. She points out the contradiction between his claim of supporting practical outcomes for Indigenous communities and the no case's advocacy for a symbolic form of constitutional recognition. She highlights that the Uluru statement rejected the idea of symbolic recognition, as Indigenous communities are seeking practical outcomes and real improvements through a voice to enhance laws, policies, and overall community well-being. Morris criticizes the no case's focus on a symbolic preamble, explaining that such an approach was rejected by migrants and Indigenous people alike. She also references the historical rejection of a preamble by Australians in 1999, emphasizing the impracticality of that approach in addressing the current need for meaningful Indigenous recognition and empowerment.

Negative Speaker Rebuttal - Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine

In the negative speaker rebuttals of the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' Jacinta Price responds by emphasizing the need for reform in organizations responsible for funding efforts to close the Indigenous gap. She questions the guarantee that constitutionally enshrining a voice will provide the desired outcomes for Indigenous Australians and points out the potential perpetuation of a gap. Highlighting the lack of trust in the current system, Price explains that many Grassroots Indigenous Australians feel left out of consultations and, therefore, do not support the proposed voice in the Constitution due to concerns about being ignored by it.

Warren Mundine addresses the issue of trust in the debate, sharing his practical perspective and criticizing the actions of political figures like Albanese. He references Albanese's lack of response to questions and the lack of clarity surrounding the details of the voice of Parliament. Mundine also discusses his firsthand observations of the dire conditions in various Aboriginal communities and highlights the severe disparity between remote communities and those in cities. He expresses skepticism towards those advocating for the voice and takes issue with perceived racial abuse from some individuals within the Indigenous Affairs realm. Ultimately, Mundine emphasizes his unwavering commitment to Indigenous rights and his concerns about the direction the voice proposal could take.

Affirmative Speaker - Tony McAvoy

In his presentation during the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' Anthony McAvoy counters the argument made by Jacinta Price that identity politics and the proposed voice are divisive. McAvoy asserts that the context in Australia is different, with Indigenous peoples having unique and pre-existing systems of law, religion, and governance that long predate British arrival. He references the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which emphasizes the right to self-determination and the need for informed consent in matters affecting Indigenous rights. McAvoy highlights that the voice proposal is not about conflict or division but about recognizing the status of Indigenous peoples within the nation and finding a way to harmoniously incorporate their voices into the democratic process.

Negative Speaker – Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine

In the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' Jacinta Price argues that the proposed voice has already demonstrated divisiveness by presenting conflicting messages from the Prime Minister and the working group members. She suggests that despite claims of bringing people together, the proposal could lead to situations where the voice has a say over issues affecting all Australians, but other citizens don't have the same opportunity. She also highlights concerns about potential legal implications and a lack of control over the process.

Warren Mundine responds to Shireen Morris's point about the unfinished business of the 1967 referendum, acknowledging that there has been progress since then, including the elimination of discriminatory laws and the increase in Indigenous representation in various political arenas. He emphasizes that Indigenous recognition is already achieved through citizenship and that all aspects of the Constitution impact Indigenous people as citizens of the country. He challenges the idea that the proposed voice should only address matters concerning Aboriginal people, noting that every law and policy affects them as Australian citizens.

Affirmative Speaker - Shireen Morris

In the debate on 'The Aboriginal Voice to Parliament,' Dr. Shireen Morris responds to concerns raised about the potential for the proposed voice to provide cover for an activist government to legislate radical policy without consent. She emphasizes that the proposed advisory voice wouldn't change the workings of democracy and wouldn't enable a government to bypass normal parliamentary processes. She explains that the voice is intended to provide advice that can lead to better policy outcomes, particularly in matters affecting Indigenous communities. Dr. Morris highlights that the effectiveness of the voice will depend on its advocacy, targeting, and strategic nature, and she stresses the importance of creating a culture of partnership between governments and Indigenous communities to improve decision-making processes and practical outcomes.

Affirmative Speaker - Tony McAvoy and Shireen Morris

In response to a question about why the debate in Australia doesn't discuss an Indigenous voice to Parliament being elected based on one person one vote, Anthony McAvoy explains that the design principles of the proposed voice aim to respect the diverse cultural and governance structures of different Indigenous communities. He highlights that the approach should be bottom-up, allowing for different communities to organize themselves and represent themselves according to their unique traditions. Shireen Morris further emphasizes this point, noting that the Indigenous communities across the country are diverse, and the proposal is about empowering Grassroots Indigenous communities. She agrees with the idea of a bottom-up approach that respects their differences and allows for representation based on their own preferences and cultural practices, while still achieving the goal of providing an effective voice in Parliament.

Negative Speaker – Jacinta Price

In response to Tony McAvoy's explanation about respecting diverse cultural and governance structures, Jacinta Price raises concerns about potential issues within Indigenous communities when it comes to leadership and power dynamics. She points out that in some communities, leadership is attained through violent or aggressive means, leading to an imbalance of representation and the potential silencing of vulnerable voices. Jacinta also highlights her experience advocating for cultural reform in such communities and emphasizes that significant work needs to be done to ensure fair representation before implementing a process that might not adequately address these complexities. Additionally, Shireen Morris adds a light-hearted remark about the described process resembling dynamics seen in many political parties in Australia.

Negative Speaker – Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine offers a personal anecdote from his involvement in the 2001 ALP Senate campaign, where he visited Aboriginal communities and engaged in discussions about policies and issues. He shares that during these meetings, many women in the communities expressed concerns about problems like violence, abuse, and child abuse within their communities. This experience left him deeply troubled by the extent of these issues, particularly in certain communities. Warren emphasizes the need to address underlying problems such as alcohol abuse and crime, focusing on these issues to drive positive change and improvement within affected communities.

Negative Speaker – Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine responds to the argument for a treaty and the uniqueness of Australia's historical context compared to other Western nations that grew from British colonies, such as Canada and New Zealand, which engaged in treaty processes with indigenous peoples. He acknowledges that there are sovereignty issues in countries like the United States and Canada, where Native American tribes have their own police force and courts operating within the broader legal framework. Warren points out that in Australia, there was no treaty process or recognition of indigenous existence in the country's foundation documents. He agrees that Australia is distinct in lacking such foundational agreements and recognizes the challenges of addressing these historical disparities.

Negative Speaker – Jacinta Price

Jacinta Price responds to the question about the potential impact of a 'no' vote at the referendum on Australia's international reputation. She challenges the idea that rejecting the proposed Constitutional recognition would hurt Australia's standing in the world. She asserts that the concerns expressed by foreign ambassadors and European nations indicate apprehensions about the path of dividing a country along racial lines, as history has shown the disastrous consequences of such divisions. Jacinta emphasizes that Australia is a successful multicultural and tolerant nation that is a destination for people from around the world to become part of its society. She disagrees with the notion that Australia would be looked down upon internationally and criticizes what she perceives as emotional blackmail in the language used by some proponents of the proposal.

Negative Speaker – Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine reflects on his earlier proposal in 2015 that suggested a similar approach to race law as seen in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, where sovereign indigenous rights are protected through clauses and agreements between the Commonwealth government and First Nations people. He acknowledges the inherent tolerance and respect that Australia commands on the global stage and highlights the lack of mass emigration from the country. Warren emphasizes his belief in working together with all Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, and in collaborating at both state and national levels, as opposed to setting up separate regional and local groups. He expresses concern about the potential for the proposed voice to Parliament to bypass existing First Nations organizations that should be at the forefront of recognizing and addressing indigenous rights and issues.

Affirmative Speaker - Shireen Morris

Shireen Morris draws inspiration from successful models like the Assembly of First Nations in Canada and the Maori Council in New Zealand. She highlights how these representative bodies have partnered with their respective governments to shape policies and develop agreements that advance the interests of indigenous communities. Comparing these models to Australia's proposal for an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament, Shireen underscores that while Australia is indeed a thriving multicultural democracy, there is room for improvement in its relationship with indigenous affairs. She suggests that the rejection of the voice proposal might not necessarily hurt international relations, as similar models have been embraced in other liberal democracies, and the controversy around it is not shared by nations like New Zealand.

Negative Speaker – Jacinta Price

Jacinta Price raises concerns about the potential consequences of implementing the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament, drawing attention to a cautionary example from New Zealand. She mentions a Maori woman who visited Australia to share the lessons from New Zealand's Waitangi Tribunal, which has a significant role in influencing government policies. Jacinta points out that this tribunal has exercised substantial influence, even to the extent of re-prioritizing COVID-19 vaccine distribution based on race, favoring young Maori people over non-Maori elderly individuals. She argues that such actions do not uphold the principle of equality and underscore the potential pitfalls of a similar approach in Australia.

Affirmative Speaker - Tony McAvoy and Shireen Morris

Shireen Morris responds to a hypothetical scenario raised by Sophie about the potential power dynamics between the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament and the High Court. Shireen clarifies that the voice is advisory and non-binding, and it cannot force the Parliament to follow its advice. She emphasizes that there is no intention for the High Court to have supremacy over elected governments in this context. Shireen also addresses the question of potential corruption within the proposed institution, highlighting the need for continuous improvement, accountability, and transparency. She draws a comparison to the evolution of other democratic institutions and argues that addressing issues within the system is a better approach than abolishing it.

Tony McAvoy follows up by addressing the concern about democratic representation in the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. He emphasizes that the process allows for democratically elected representatives, either through elections or other mechanisms decided by the community. He clarifies that the proposal doesn't rule out the possibility of by-elections. This response helps to clarify the democratic nature of the proposed Aboriginal Voice while addressing the concerns raised.

Negative Speaker – Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine addresses the issue of the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the context in which it happened. He explains his involvement in the situation as vice president of the Labor Party in 2005 when there was a bipartisan decision to abolish ATSIC. He recounts how allegations and investigations played a role in the decision-making process. Warren reflects on the circumstances surrounding the decision, including the involvement of key individuals and the decision not to have those under investigation step aside. He contrasts his advice, suggesting a different approach, with the eventual outcome of ATSIC's abolition, providing insights into the complexities and dynamics that led to that decision.

Affirmative Speaker - Shireen Morris

Shireen Morris explains the essence of the Aboriginal Voice and its potential impact on educational outcomes for young indigenous students in remote areas. She describes the voice as an advisory body composed of indigenous representatives who provide guidance to the government and Parliament regarding laws and policies concerning indigenous affairs. Shireen highlights the intention behind the voice: to facilitate collaborative efforts between indigenous communities and decision-makers in order to enhance policies that directly affect the well-being and education of indigenous children. She emphasizes that the current lack of meaningful engagement between indigenous communities and policy developers is precisely what the voice aims to rectify, creating a platform for direct involvement and improvement in education and other crucial areas.

Affirmative Speaker - Tony McAvoy

Tony McAvoy underscores the potential role of the Aboriginal Voice in addressing the profound disadvantage faced by indigenous communities across the country, not just in remote areas. He acknowledges that there is genuine disparity even in urban centers like Townsville and Cairns. Tony emphasizes that the voice has the capacity to direct resources and revenue from both the government and charities towards effectively addressing these disparities. He envisions the voice as a mechanism for advocating on behalf of communities and ensuring that policies, such as how money is spent, curriculum development, and education delivery, are developed in consultation with local people, particularly traditional owners and First Nations. The voice would monitor policy implementation, pose relevant questions, and hold program delivery entities accountable for effective engagement with indigenous communities to uplift their overall well-being and educational outcomes.

Negative Speaker – Jacinta Price

Jacinta Price concludes the debate by reaffirming the importance of elected individuals representing the indigenous communities in Parliament, a duty that she takes seriously. She references a recent delegation of indigenous people from around the country who expressed the desire for elected representatives to fulfill their roles and responsibilities by engaging with the communities they represent. Jacinta acknowledges the challenges of being criticized or called names for making certain decisions, but she emphasizes that elected officials need to prioritize their job of advocating for their constituents and participating in policy-making discussions that directly affect indigenous communities. She highlights her commitment to amplifying the voices of those who have been historically ignored, utilizing her position to propose bills and motions that are informed by direct interactions and discussions with affected community members, aiming to bring about positive changes in education, healthcare, and other areas that deeply impact indigenous Australians.

Negative Speaker – Warren Mundine

Warren Mundine concludes his argument by sharing his experiences as an elected councilor and deputy mayor at Dubbo City Council, where he learned the importance of equal representation and the power of working collaboratively with fellow councilors. He expresses his belief that the way forward lies in increasing the number of Indigenous individuals in Parliament through elections. He predicts that the number of Indigenous representatives will continue to grow in the upcoming elections, contributing to positive changes in policies and governance.

Warren remains unconvinced about the effectiveness of the proposed Aboriginal Voice to Parliament, suggesting that it could create an additional layer of bureaucracy. He raises concerns about the potential need for experts in various fields to review legislation and policies, resulting in substantial support services and administrative overhead. Instead, Warren emphasizes the significance of focusing resources on economic development, education, and direct engagement with communities, which he believes will empower Aboriginal people and lead to more meaningful and practical changes on the ground.

Affirmative Speaker - Shireen Morris

In her concluding remarks, Shireen Morris responds to the notion that the presence of Indigenous parliamentarians alone will bring about significant change. She emphasizes that while it's positive to see a growing number of Indigenous individuals in Parliament, their responsibilities extend to representing all Australians in their electorates and political parties. Shireen uses the example of alcohol management plans in the Northern Territory to illustrate that despite the Indigenous representation in Parliament, the voices of local communities were not adequately heard, resulting in plans being scrapped against their wishes. She underscores the importance of granting Indigenous communities a distinct voice in the formulation of laws and policies that directly impact them, recognizing that having Indigenous parliamentarians is a step forward, but not a comprehensive solution to addressing community-specific issues.

The positive speakers, including Shireen Morris and Tony McAvoy, highlighted the need for an Indigenous voice in the legislative process to address specific issues faced by Indigenous communities. They emphasized the importance of Indigenous perspectives in policy-making, citing examples from other countries like Canada and New Zealand where similar mechanisms have been successful in improving outcomes for Indigenous populations. Shireen Morris also pointed out the limitations of relying solely on Indigenous parliamentarians, stating that their representation doesn't automatically lead to targeted policy changes for Indigenous communities.

On the other hand, the negative speakers, including Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, expressed concerns about potential drawbacks of the proposed Indigenous advisory body. They raised questions about the effectiveness of such a body and its potential to overshadow traditional owners and existing Indigenous governance structures. They also pointed out the need to focus on practical solutions such as economic development and education on the ground, rather than creating additional bureaucratic structures.

Overall, both sides presented compelling arguments, and the winner of the debate might depend on individual perspectives and values. The positive speakers emphasized the potential benefits of the Indigenous voice to Parliament, while the negative speakers raised valid concerns about unintended consequences.

Questions for further discussion and reflection
  1. How can a balance be struck between ensuring Indigenous representation and not undermining the authority of traditional owners and existing Indigenous governance structures?

  2. What potential challenges and benefits might arise from having an Indigenous advisory body in the legislative process? How can these challenges be addressed effectively?

  3. To what extent can the presence of Indigenous parliamentarians address the unique concerns and needs of Indigenous communities? What are the limitations of relying solely on Indigenous representation within existing political structures?

  4. In what ways can an Indigenous advisory body contribute to improving outcomes for Indigenous communities, particularly in areas like education, healthcare, and economic development?

  5. How might the proposed Indigenous advisory body impact the relationships between different Indigenous communities, especially considering the diverse cultural and regional differences within the Indigenous population?

  6. Can lessons be learned from other countries like Canada, New Zealand, or the United States that have established mechanisms for Indigenous representation? How might these lessons be applied to the Australian context?

  7. What role should non-Indigenous Australians play in supporting the establishment and success of an Indigenous voice to Parliament? How can national unity and inclusivity be maintained while addressing specific Indigenous issues?

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09 August 2023

Tag 1
Think Global

Tag 2
Aboriginal Spirituality

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Act Local

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Centre for Independent Studies

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