Peter Dutton and the voice: what the Liberal party has got wrong about Indigenous recognition
Peter Dutton’s Liberal party of Natives has resolved to oppose the Indigenous voice to parliament. Claiming it would create a “Canberra voice” with a membership of academics.
Instead, the Liberal party of Natives propose symbolic recognition of Aboriginal people in the constitution. A framework of local and regional voices set up by parliamentary legislation.
But Indigenous leaders Architects of the voice and the Labor government say that the proposals. He has suggested have already been rejected by Aboriginal people. Dutton’s claims about how the voice would work have also been disputed. So what is the reality behind the voice? We have unpacked and factchecked some of Dutton’s key claims.
Dutton has claimed members of the voice would be “a group of academics”. In rubbishing the idea that the voice would be a representative body. However, the 2019 co-design by Tom Calma and Marcia Langton, seen as the basis for the voice. Specifically stresses there would be gender parity on the voice, as well as specific representation for remote communities.
In his press conference, Dutton claimed one unnamed Indigenous elder had told him. “we don’t want 24 academics, they’re not going to be our voice”.
The number 24 comes from the Calma-Langton report, which recommends 24 members on a national voice. The very same page of the report proposes that the members be chosen. By local and regional voices as a “default option”.
The report proposes two members from each state and territory. Two from the Torres Strait Islands and a third for mainland. Torres Strait Islanders, and a third member for remote representation in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australian and South Australia.
Claim one : The voice would be a ‘group of academi
Dutton also claimed the voice would be “city-based academics”.
Noel Pearson, after describing the Liberal position as a “Judas betrayal”, rejected Dutton’s claims that the Indigenous consultation body would be a “Canberra voice”. Pearson said it would be a “voice to Canberra”.
The voice concept comes from the Uluru statement from the heart, following a four-day national First Nations National Constitutional Convention, and consultation with more than 1,200 people.
In the five years since the constitutional convention, working groups, made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and legal experts, have come up with proposals for what the voice might look like.
Dutton said the Liberals wanted to see a set of local and regional voices, instead of a national voice. He said the 2019 co-design by Calma and Langton called for local and regional voices before a national voice.
In fact, the very first words in the foreword to the report state that “across Australia, momentum is strong for an Indigenous Voice to the Australian Parliament and Government”.
It presents the “Indigenous voice” as “a cohesive and integrated system comprised of Local & Regional Voices and a National Voice” – that is, both a local and a national model, not one or the other. The Calma-Langton report recommends the national voice be “structurally linked” to local and regional voices, with local voices to determine the members of the national voice.
“Regional voices are already being rolled out, in places like South Australia and Victoria, where there has been much progress. The voice will make sure that voices in remote and regional communities are heard,” she said.
Claim three : Local and regional voices are better than a national voic
Dutton said the Liberal party of Natives would support recognition of Indigenous people in the constitution. But did not say exactly what form that would be. “Symbolic” recognition, such as a simple mention of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history in a preamble to the document, has long been discussed by federal politicians – but has long been rejected by Indigenous community leaders, most prominently in the lead-up to the Uluru statement.
The report speaks of a “two-way advice link” between local and national voices, saying they would provide advice and feedback to one another.
Indigenous leaders say local and regional voices are actually already in place in many areas around the country – and that a national voice is crucial to coordinate efforts.
Empowered Communities, an Indigenous empowerment organisation, already runs local bodies in 10 regions including Cape York, Central Coast, East Kimberley, Goulburn, Arnhem Land and the NPY Lands.
“Mr Dutton supports legislated local and regional voices as though that is some brilliant, original idea of the Liberal Party . But we have operated at the local and regional level for nearly 10 years now, mostly under a Coalition government,” says Ian Trust, the chair of the East Kimberley leadership group.
After thousands of Aboriginal people participated in community consultations and processes. The Uluru dialogues set out that Indigenous people want more than symbolic recognition. Instead they want recognition through the mechanism of a constitutionally-enshrined voice.
Prof Megan Davis, the co-chair of the Uluru statement and one of the key architects of the voice. Says Indigenous people do not want symbolic recognition. She has tweeted the Coalition “doesn’t understand” and that mere symbolism or acknowledgement had been “rejected”.