Approximately two thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians live and work in rural, regional and remote communities. Their distinct and valuable perspectives are a crucial part of the proposed Indigenous Voice.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long called for a greater say on the services, policies and laws that impact their lives. Some cite an 1878 petition from a remote community in the Bass Strait to the Tasmanian Governor as the first formal example. More recently, the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart called for an Indigenous Voice to be established to support formal consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on policy and legislation.
In response to the Uluru Statement, a Parliamentary committee recommended the details of an Indigenous Voice should be determined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Government working together. Importantly, the committee also found an Indigenous Voice would not be effective unless it included a strong local and regional element. This recognises the reality that many of the solutions to the challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are to be found at the local and regional level. Those challenges include health and the determinants of health – medical care, education, housing, mental wellbeing and suicide prevention.
In 2019 the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, launched the Indigenous Voice co-design process. The first stage saw three co-design groups, a Senior Advisory Group, a National Co-design Group and a Local and Regional Co-design Group work together to develop the detail of what an Indigenous Voice could look like. Together the groups developed proposals for Local and Regional Voices and a National Voice. These proposals were detailed in an Interim Report to Government that was released in January 2021 for public consultation.
Change starts from the ground up, and that is why Local and Regional Voices are so important to the proposed Indigenous Voice. Local and Regional Voices would be designed and led by communities, with governance structures sitting at a regional level, but strongly connected to local people and communities.
A Local and Regional Voice would provide advice to all levels of government about what’s important to the communities of that region and work together with governments to deliver on those priorities. This is crucial as we know decisions made as close to the ground as possible, in partnership with those most affected, deliver local solutions that work best and result in better outcomes.
Local and Regional Voices would also play a vital role in providing local views on national issues to the proposed National Voice. This would ensure the proposed National Voice is informed and provides advice to the Australian Parliament and Government informed by the lived experiences of communities around the country. Under one proposed option for the National Voice, its members could be drawn directly from Local and Regional Voices.
The second stage of the co-design process has just concluded. Over the past four months, community consultation on the proposed models and framework included an online survey, public submissions, webinars and community meetings in over 60 locations across Australia.
From Albany to Aurukun, Ceduna to Campbelltown and Kununurra to Canberra, the community meetings raised many diverse and divergent views. Still a clear theme emerged, that local representation on the ground and input into local decisions is important and necessary to secure improved social, economic and health outcomes.
The co-design groups are carefully considering all the feedback gathered and will now prepare a Final Report to the Australian Government, outlining final recommendations for both Local and Regional Voices and a National Voice.
I encourage all Australians to inform themselves about this significant development, because an Indigenous Voice will benefit and advance all Australian communities. You can find out more and see published submissions and consultation session summaries at voice.niaa.gov.au.