Dernière actu toute fraiche : After the voice defeat, we can never again allow politics to suspend the cause of Indigenous justice | Paula Gerber and Melissa Castan

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La date de parution est 2024-01-21 14:26:00.

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In the lead-up to the voice referendum there was widespread consensus that Australia needed to do more to improve the lives of First Nations peoples but there was significant disagreement about how to go about this.

Australians rejected the proposal for a voice to parliament embedded in the constitution. Monday marks 100 days since that unsuccessful referendum. By now we expected those who campaigned against the constitutional reform would have stepped up with their proposals about how to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. Alas, there has been only a deafening silence.

The new year is a time to reignite conversations about what reconciliation with Indigenous Australians is going to look like in the short and long term. There is understandable concern that we are going backwards, with Noel Person commenting that we are now in a worse state than before the 14 October referendum. It is time for allies – the 40% of Australians who voted yes – to rebuild momentum and respect for the rights of First Nations peoples.

Constitutional reform through the voice proposal was never the only initiative being pursued to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, although in 2023 it was certainly the most high-profile. There are other options. The four that appear to have the most support are: 1. negotiating treaties, 2. pursuing truth-telling, 3. legislating for Indigenous voices to parliament and 4. developing a national action plan to realise the rights set out in the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.


Before the referendum, progress towards treaties with First Nations peoples was being made in several states and territories. Victoria is the most advanced, with the well-developed work of the First Nations Assembly, the Yoorrook Justice Commission and the treaty advancement process, which includes legislative structures for the treaty authority, a self-determination fund, a treaty negotiation framework and a dispute resolution process.

Queensland passed the Path to Treaty Act 2023 with bipartisan support but, after the referendum, the Liberal National party announced that if it were elected it would repeal that legislation. With the Queensland election due in October, it is time for Queenslanders to advocate for the continuation of this process.

Although New South Wales has the largest population of First Nations people it is the only state not to have begun a treaty process. The NSW Labor government was committed to treaty negotiations at the state level but since the referendum has announced it is reviewing its position. It would be another blow to Indigenous peoples if this process was halted before it had even begun.


The Uluru statement from the heart calls for truth-telling, whereby Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the opportunity to record evidence about past actions and share their culture, heritage and history with the broader community. The Recognising the Power of Community Truth-Telling report highlighted how: “Truth-telling is not just about Australia’s violent colonial history but also about the timeless history of First Nations connections to and care for this continent and the vast contributions our people have made to Australia’s economic development, culture, and defence.”

The retiring senator Pat Dodson and other Indigenous politicians have called for truth-telling to be prioritised after a major survey found 80.5% of Australians would back such a process, despite the failure of the referendum.

Legislated voice

Before the referendum, the South Australian government was well along the path of establishing a legislative state-based voice process. The attorney general, Kyam Maher, has said the referendum outcome does not change that policy, and a South Australian voice to parliament is “absolutely going ahead”.

The Indigenous leaders Thomas Mayo and Pat Turner have similarly called on the federal government to legislate a voice to parliament. Although a legislated voice could easily be dismantled by subsequent governments, it would at least enable Indigenous input into government decisions that impact Aboriginal people.

National action plan

A decade ago the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples recommended that governments develop national action plans for the implementation of the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, setting out legislative, policy and other approaches to implementing this seminal international instrument. Australia has yet to develop an action plan and this should now be a priority for the federal government.

Assoc Prof Hannah McGlade, an expert member of the UN permanent forum on Indigenous issues, has called for Australia to respect the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples and to be held to account for its compliance, both at home and in international forums.

The late great Indigenous leader Yunupingu once commented that he had witnessed Bob Hawke shed tears over his failure to realise the 1988 Barunga statement which called for recognition of the rights of Aboriginal people. Yunupingu generously observed that Hawke had “genuine tears from a genuine man who tried leadership and was caught out by politics”. With the defeat of the referendum we must not allow politics to again suspend the cause of Indigenous justice.

There has been a distinct loss of energy and depletion of public interest post-referendum, and with the sting of the failed referendum still in the minds of all politicians and allies, it is understandable there is nervousness about how to move forward. But the failure of the referendum is not a licence to walk away from addressing Indigenous disadvantage, and work must continue to provide Indigenous peoples with meaningful roles and decision-making power in matters that uniquely affect them.

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