By Sasha Ness
87% of submissions to a government report on the co-design process of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament support a constitutionally enshrined representative body, according to analysis by the UNSW Indigenous Law Centre.
The study found that 82% of public submissions to the Indigenous Voice Interim Report supported a constitutional amendment, while 5% supported the amendment in principle.
The findings follow the Government’s announcement in October of last year that it would move forward with designing a legislative Indigenous Voice to Parliament, despite advocates’ calls in the Uluru Statement from the Heart for constitutional enshrinement.
Submissions, which closed on 30 April 2021, included both Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders, such as healthcare and social services groups and the Law Council of Australia.
Deputy Director of the Indigenous Law Centre, Dr Dani Larkin, said the findings contradict Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s suggestion that a constitutionally enshrined Voice does not have popular support.
“The overwhelming amount of support for a constitutionally enshrined Voice, represented by such a large percentage of published submissions, means that the Commonwealth and the Indigenous Voice Co-design group cannot ignore them.
“The Prime Minister says there is no consensus on constitutional recognition. These submissions show otherwise,” she said.
In an interview with Radio National in 2018, Mr Morrison rejected proposals for a constitutionally enshrined Voice, saying that it would operate as a “third chamber” of Parliament.
“They can dress it up any way they like, but I think two chambers is enough,” he said.
Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered a similar characterisation in 2017 when he said a constitutionally enshrined Voice would create a “national representative assembly” where “only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be elected”.
Advocates have rejected these claims, holding that a Voice to Parliament would likely involve an Indigenous body providing non-binding consultation to Parliament on Indigenous affairs, much like parliamentary committees.
Referendum Council co-chair and Uluru Statement leader Pat Anderson AO said the findings indicate that the public had “accepted” the Uluru Statement’s calls for a referendum.
“The submissions show overwhelming support of everyday Australians wanting to move towards a referendum to enshrine a Voice to Parliament in the Australian Constitution,” he said.