” Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt has urged the senior advisory group co-designing an Indigenous Voice to Government to take hold of the “moment in time” before them to change the lives of Indigenous Australians.
The minister led the first meeting of the consultation body made up of 19 people at Old Parliament in Canberra on Wednesday.
The senior advisory group is seeking to shape a framework towards developing options for an Indigenous voice to all levels of government.
But his actions have earned some backlash for already taking enshrining the voice in the constitution off the table.
Mr Wyatt called on the leadership group to embrace their opportunity to “enact meaningful” and “long-lasting change” for Indigenous Australians and the entire nation.
“All of us have been around for a long time – we have seen communities grow but we’ve seen them struggle,” he said.
“We talk about community control – but I don’t see it on the ground.
“The bottom line is for the elder in the community, the child … the family – that’s where we have to make the difference.”
Download the Ministers press release and opening speech HERE
Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt is a man for constructive action in preference to the grand gesture.
After 12 years of false starts, arguments and setbacks under both sides of federal politics, the minister is pushing quietly and methodically towards the establishment of an indigenous voice to government.
Mr Wyatt, the first Aborigine to lead the ministry responsible for his people and our first indigenous cabinet minister, is a pragmatist.
In a sector where empty symbolism has sometimes overshadowed practical outcomes, that is a refreshing advantage.
At the first meeting of the co-design panel for a legislated “voice to government” at Old Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr Wyatt cautioned, sensibly, that overreaching could spoil a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In his Lingiari memorial address in August, he ruled out including a voice to parliament in the Morrison government’s referendum on constitutional reform.
That stance, in contradiction of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, has disappointed some of his high-profile countrymen.
It has bolstered the chances, however, of such a referendum on recognition being passed not only by a majority of voters in a majority of states, as it should, but by a thumping majority.
Recognition, when it comes, needs to unite rather than divide the nation.
As Mr Wyatt puts it, the referendum will be about “recognising indigenous Australians on our birth certificate”.
Scott Morrison, like Malcolm Turnbull, does not want the voice to be seen as a “third chamber” of parliament; that would be neither desirable nor acceptable to most voters.
Mr Wyatt prefers the term “voice to government” rather than “voice to parliament”. His idea that it could advise local and state authorities, as well as the commonwealth, is a good one. To be effective that voice, or voices, as he says, need not be constitutionally enshrined. What his people want is to be heard.
On Thursday, Greg Brown reported Mr Wyatt’s clear message for indigenous leaders who were angry the voice would not be included in the Constitution:
“Reflect back on the history of our people and think of every time you challenge and move forward; we have done it incrementally and then when we have gained the incremental achievement we have gone on to build bigger and better things.” His people were “at the beginning” of the process.
After consolidating, others could take up the baton for the next stage.
Against that backdrop, the minister deserves credit for drawing many of Australia’s most distinguished and outspoken indigenous leaders, including supporters of the Uluru statement, on to his Senior Advisory Group. Members of the group include indigenous lawyer Noel Pearson, land rights leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu and co-chairs Marcia Langton and Tom Calma.
Participants have decades of experience working for their people across a range of sectors.
To mention a few, Tony Wurramarrba from Groote Eylandt negotiated a comprehensive mining agreement with BHP Billiton on behalf of traditional owners, and led negotiations with the commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to deliver housing, infrastructure, health and education in the region.
Peter Buckskin, from South Australia, is a former teacher, academic and ministerial adviser.
Josephine Cashman is a NSW entrepreneur and lawyer. Marcia Ella-Duncan chaired the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council and is a member of the Netball Australia Reconciliation Action Plan. Vonda Malone is the first female mayor of the Torres Shire Council.
Pat Turner, with 40 years experience in business, academe and government, is at the forefront of community efforts to improve Aborigines’ health outcomes in the Northern Territory. ( NACCHO Correction should read Australia wide )
These and other indigenous panel members are ideally placed to speak for the communities they know and love.
The panel also includes non-indigenous people with understanding and skills to enhance the exercise.
Jesuit priest and lawyer Frank Brennan has long been a staunch advocate for indigenous people. The Australian’s associate editor and Sky News presenter Chris Kenny has written extensively on indigenous issues.
He accepted his appointment “to make sure indigenous Australians” at the grassroots “get a fair go”.
Beyond constitutional recognition and a voice to government, Mr Wyatt also envisages a process that would provide a sharing of a history between indigenous and non-indigenous people across the nation.
It is a worthwhile goal. After years of uncertainty and dashed hopes, Mr Wyatt and his colleagues are on track, although stumbling blocks and disagreements in such a sensitive process are inevitable.
But from the perspective of indigenous people whose health, education, jobs, welfare and quality of life often fall far short of what non-indigenous people expect, the panel has a major responsibility to build a system to represent their voices well, helping to facilitate practical reconciliation.
Professor Tom Calma AO – Kungarakun and Iwaidja heritage
Co-Chairing the Senior Advisory Group (SAG), Professor Calma has extensive experience advocating for Indigenous Australians.
From 2004-09, he was the Race Discrimination Commissioner and from 2004-10 he served as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
He also currently serves as Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia.
Professor Dr Marcia Langton AM – Yiman and Bidjara heritage
The SAG’s other Co-Chair, Dr Langton attended Australian National University and was the first Indigenous honours graduate in anthropology.
She is accomplished in many areas, including social, cultural and land rights, political and legal anthropology, as well as Indigenous engagement in the minerals industry.
Dr Langton was also the first woman to Chair the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Council.
Professor Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO
Professor Brennan is a human rights lawyer and Jesuit priest commonly known for his involvement in the Wik debate of 1998.
He chaired the 2009 National Human Rights Consultation and was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his services to Indigenous Australians, specifically in areas of law, reconciliation and social justice.
Professor Brennan has also authored books on Indigenous issues such as The Wik Debate and One Land One Nation.
Professor Peter Buckskin PSM – Narungga heritage
Professor Buckskin has plenty of experience at an elite level, having served as Commissioner of the Australian Commission to UNESCO, Chair of the South Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Committee and Dean of Aboriginal Engagement and Strategic Projects at the University of South Australia.
In 2001, he received a Commonwealth Public Servant Medal (PSM).
Ms Josephine Cashman – Warrimay heritage
With over two decades of experience as a lawyer and entrepreneur, Ms Cashman works in areas promoting inclusive economic development and positive change in society.
She founded the Big River group and was an inaugural member of the Prime Minsiter’s Indigenous Advisory Council.
Ms Cashman was also an invited speaker at the UN Human Rights Council session addressing violence against Indigenous girls and women.
Ms Marcia Ella-Duncan OAM – Walbunja heritage
Ms Ella-Duncan was the first Indigenous women to represent Australia in Netball and has been inducted into the Netball Australia and Netball NSW Halls of Fame.
A Director of Netball Australia, Ms Ella-Duncan is also a member of the association’s RAP working group.
From 2009-17, she also chaired La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Ms Joanne Farrell
A retired Rio Tinto executive, Ms Farrell has experience in leading interaction with key stakeholders while overseeing global Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) systems and processes.
She has led many partnerships with Indigenous communities in employment, economic capacity building, skills development and agreement making.
Mr Mick Gooda – Gangulu heritage
With over 25 years of representing Indigenous Australians under his belt, Mr Gooda has a vast knowledge of the cultural nuances and situational diversity of Indigenous Australians.
Mr Gooda has experience in urban, rural and remote areas, and has also served as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
Mr Chris Kenny
At times a controversial commentator on Indigenous affairs, Mr Kenny is a Sky News journalist and an Associate Editor at The Australian.
He has reported for Channel Nine, Network Ten and the ABC as well as working as a media adviser and Chief of Staff for past foreign minister Alexander Downer.
Cr Vonda Malone – Kaurareg heritage
Breaker of glass ceilings, Cr Malone is the first female Mayor of the Torres Shire Council, first female Torres Strait Islander Australian diplomat and the first female Torres Strait Islander complete the UN’s Indigenous Fellowship Program.
Cr Malone has 22 years’ experience with the Federal Government, particularly in foreign affairs, was the founding Chair of the Torres Health Indigenous Corporation (THIC) and is Chair of the Torres and Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance (TCICA).
Ms June Oscar AO – Bunuba heritage
A big name in WA’s Kimberley region, Ms Oscar (pictured above) currently serves as Social Justice Commissioner.
She has also served as ATSIC Commissioner, Kimberley Land Council Deputy Director and Chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre.
In 2018, Ms Oscar was awarded NAIDOC’s Person of the Year.
Ms Alison Page – Walbanga and Wadi Wadi heritage
Award-winning Producer and Designer, Ms Page is the founder of the National Aboriginal Design Agency and founding CEO of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance.
She has experience working with Indigenous communities, particularly in delivering architectural services that are culturally appropriate, and was on the Expert Panel for the Federal Government’s Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
Mr Noel Pearson – Guugu Yimidhirr heritage
Prominent lawyer and land rights activist, Noel Pearson is a name well-known in the Indigenous affairs space.
Mr Pearson helped establish the Cape York Land Council in 1990 and Founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.
He is a strong advocate for social and economic development and has served on the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
Mr Benson Saulo – Wergaia and Gunditjmara heritage
The first Indigenous Australian to be Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, Mr Saulo has extensive experience in the Indigenous youth space.
Appointed Director of the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy in 2012, Mr Saulo works to engage young Indigenous Australians from across the nation to create campaigns around issues such as mental health and climate change.
He is also the Head of Partnerships, Investments at Australian Unity and is Group sponsor of the organisation’s RAP.
Ms Pat Turner AM – Arrernte and Gurdanji heritage
Leading the way for better Indigenous health outcomes as CEO of NACCHO (National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation), Ms Turner has over 40 years’ experience in senior leadership positions.
Some of her esteemed roles include being current Co-Chair of the Joint Council on Closing the Gap, the inaugural CEO of NITV and the longest serving CEO and only woman CEO of ATSIC.
Professor Maggie Walter – Palawa heritage
Representing descendants of Indigenous Tasmania, Professor Walter is both a Professor of Sociology and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Aboriginal Research and Leadership at the University of Tasmania.
She researches and teaches in the disciplines of inequality and race relations and is a founding member of the Maiam Nayri Wingara Australian Indigenous Data Sovereignty Collective and the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA).
Mr Tony Wurramarrba – Warnindilyakwa heritage
An experienced negotiator with multninational corporations and State and Federal Governments, Mr Wurramarrba currently chairs the Anindilyakwa Land Council.
He has negotiated deals with BHP Billiton on behalf of Traditional Owners and has worked extensively with the Federal and NT Governments on investment into education, housing, health and infrastructure.
Mr Peter Yu – Yawuru heritage
Another well-known name across the Kimberley region, Mr Yu has 35 years’ experience in Indigenous advocacy at all levels.
He was a key negotiator for the Yawuru Native Title Agreement, Executive Director at Kimberley Land Council throughout the 1990s and was Chair of the WA Aboriginal Housing Board.
Mr Yu currently serves on the Board of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA Ltd) and is Deputy Chair at Broome Future Alliance Ltd.
Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM – Gumatj and Galpu heritage
Chair of the Yothu Yindi Foundation and Gumatj Corporation, Dr Yunupingu has years of experience fighting for Indigenous land rights.
From 1977, Dr Yunupingu also chaired the Northern Land Council for 25 years.
A fierce advocate for Indigenous Australians, Dr Yunupingu said at this year’s Garma Festival that Australia’s Constitution would be thrown into the saltwater if constitutional recognition was not achieved.
Minister Wyatt has said the SAG will advise him on different model options to ensure Australia’s First Nations people are heard at all levels of government.
The past few weeks have seen Minister Wyatt travel to the Northern Territory and Queensland to listen to people on the ground, committing to the notion that he will be the “Minister for all Indigenous Australians” who makes sure “all of their voices can be heard loud and clear.”
“It will be a historic occasion that will mark a shift in the way government and Indigenous Australians work in partnership to shift the pendulum and advance positive outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”