The President of the Uniting Church in Australia and the President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress have expressed reservations about the Federal Government’s plans for what it calls an Indigenous voice to government.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt says the “voice to government” will ensure that First Peoples are heard at all levels of government - local, state and federal. However the proposal falls short of “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution” which was the specific request of First Peoples leaders in their 2017 Statement from the Heart.
President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Rev. Garry Dronfield says he has mixed feelings about the Federal Government proposal.
“The co-design process and the appointment of two respected First Peoples to oversee it – Tom Calma and Marcia Langton – is a step forward. “But I’m frustrated at the Government’s refusal to make this a constitutional change.
“This was the clear call of previous Regional Dialogues and the Statement from the Heart. “So when the Government says it is putting First Peoples at the centre of decision-making, it’s already falling short,” said Rev. Dronfield.
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the lack of a constitutional option was regrettable. Dr Palmer questioned comments by some Government members that a First Nations Voice to Parliament will “damage equality” and “divide Australia on the basis of race”.
“There is no equality for First Peoples in the status quo,” said Dr Palmer.
“Every year the health, education, and life expectancy outcomes in the Close the Gap report tell us our country is already divided on the basis of race – and not to the advantage of our First Peoples.”
“I’d urge Australians to engage in good faith with this process, that must be led by our First People sisters and brothers.”
Earlier this year, First Peoples Leaders from UnitingCare Australia’s network and Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) met in Canberra to develop a Uniting First Peoples Voice within the Uniting Church in Australia.
UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little who hosted the forum has also urged the Government to keep all options on the table as it moves forward with the co-design process.
“The results of a genuine partnership cannot be pre-determined,” said Ms Little.
“The Statement from the Heart underscored the importance of a permanent and enduring Voice to Parliament, enshrined in the constitution and not able to be dissolved at the whim of the government of the day.
“We encourage the Government to embrace the Uluru Statement’s invitation to walk together towards a better future for all Australians – a future that embeds First Peoples Voice in the foundations of the nation and supports self-determination and justice.”