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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paves way for First Nations Voice to Parliament

Donna Coutts, August 1, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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Australians could soon vote in a referendum about whether to change our constitution to include a First Nations Voice to Parliament. Yolgnu dancers from the Gumatj clan in northeast Arnhem Land perform their Gurtha fire dance at the 2017 National First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru, at which the Uluru Statement from the Heart was signed. Picture: James Croucher media_cameraAustralians could soon vote in a referendum about whether to change our constitution to include a First Nations Voice to Parliament. Yolgnu dancers from the Gumatj clan in northeast Arnhem Land perform their Gurtha fire dance at the 2017 National First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru, at which the Uluru Statement from the Heart was signed. Picture: James Croucher

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Australians could soon be voting in a referendum about whether to change our constitution to include a First Nations Voice to Parliament*.

Kids News looks at what a First Nations Voice to Parliament could be and some of the recent events that have brought us to this point.

THE CONSTITUTION

When Australia came together as a nation, at Federation on January 1, 1901, we began using a set of rules called the Australian Constitution.

The rules tell us how Australia is governed*, including information on how parliament works, what it can make laws about and how power is shared.

The constitution can only be changed if the people of Australia agree through a vote called a referendum. Voting in a referendum in Australia is compulsory* for all people aged 18 and over who are eligible* to vote.

Indigenous Sydney media_cameraThe Aboriginal flag will now fly permanently atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the NSW Government confirmed last month. PM Anthony Albanese is shortly expected to unveil a draft question that Australians could be asked during a referendum to create an Indigenous Voice in the nation’s constitution. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper

NEW PRIME MINISTER, NEW COMMITMENT

Late at night on May 21 this year Labor leader Anthony Albanese claimed victory in the federal election. The following Monday he was sworn in* as Australia’s 31st prime minister.

This is how he started his victory speech:

“I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging*. And on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.”

Later in the speech Mr Albanese said: “Together we can embrace the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“We can answer its patient, gracious call for a voice enshrined* in our constitution. Because all of us ought to be proud that among our great multicultural society we count the oldest living continuous culture in the world.”

Labor Leader Anthony Albanese Campaigns On Election Eve media_cameraAnthony Albanese’s victory speech after claiming victory at the May 21 federal election included a commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which calls for a First Nations voice to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART

The Uluru Statement is an invitation to the Australian people to support a change to the Australian Constitution to include a First Nations Voice to Parliament. This change would be achieved through a referendum.

In the weeks leading up to the May election, then prime minister Scott Morrison declared that if he was re-elected, he would not support a referendum on changing the Australian Constitution to include a Voice to Parliament.

The Uluru Statement is also an invitation to support a Makarrata commission, which is a process of truth-telling and coming to agreement between governments and First Nations.

The Uluru Statement was written after a series of meetings and discussions around Australia in 2016 and 2017 that were an opportunity for First Nations people to share their experiences and their hopes for the future. These meetings were called regional dialogues* and what was shared helped shape the Uluru Statement.

The statement was signed in May 2017 at the National First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru, Northern Territory, by more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

You can read the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full at ulurustatement.org

media_cameraThe Uluru Statement from the Heart was signed by more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives in May 2017. The statement can be read in full at ulurustatement.org

FIRST NATIONS VOICE TO PARLIAMENT

The Uluru Statement from the Heart doesn’t set out exactly what a First Nations Voice to Parliament should be or how it would work, just that it should be allowed to exist according to the Australian Constitution. Once something is part of the constitution it takes another successful referendum to remove it.

The powers and processes of a First Nations Voice would be worked out between government and First Nations people after a successful referendum, but it’s likely to be an elected national committee that has a say on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

With a First Nations Voice, laws and decisions must be made with First Nations, not for or about First Nations.

media_cameraYoung dancers perform at the Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land, NT, on Friday 29 July 29. As expected, the push for a First Nations Voice to Parliament was a key theme of the festival, which was attended by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Picture: AAP Image/Aaron Bunch

Several other countries have a First Nations Voice. In New Zealand, seven seats in the national parliament are reserved for Maori people. The constitution in Colombia requires the government to consult First Nations about things like mining or forestry on Indigenous land.

Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden and Finland all have First Nations Parliaments that must be consulted on relevant issues.

A third house of parliament, in addition to the House of Representatives and the Senate, is not being considered in Australia.

First Nations National Convention media_cameraMutijulu dancers perform at the opening ceremony of the 2017 National First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru. Picture: James Croucher

MAKARRATA COMMISSION

The Uluru Statement also invites the Australian people to support a Makarrata commission. In Yolgnu language, Makarrata means a coming together after a struggle.

A Makarrata commission would have two main goals: truth-telling about the treatment of First Nations people in the past, and treaty-making.

A treaty is a legal, formal agreement. This treaty would be between government and First Nations people and its purpose would be to legally recognise First Nations histories and prior* occupation of land, as well as injustices* that have occurred.

media_cameraTroy Cassar-Daley, Adam Goodes, Pat Anderson and Stan Grant painted by Apparition Media for the video accompanying the Uluru Statement of the Heart, recorded for Midnight Oil’s 2020 album, The Makarrata Project. Picture: supplied

STATES AND TERRITORIES

A Makarrata commission would take into account processes already begun around Australia.

Victoria has had a First People’s Assembly of elected representatives since 2019. The Assembly’s role is to work with the state government to discuss treaties.

South Australia’s government committed to adopting the Uluru Statement after the 2019 election. The state’s Attorney-General* wanted to begin working on a state version of a Voice to Parliament without waiting for a federal version.

GLOSSARY

  • parliament: the group of people (and the place they gather in) that makes laws
  • governed: managed, ruled, led (by the government)
  • compulsory: a rule or law says it must be done
  • eligible: has the right to do something
  • sworn in: recited an oath to promise to do a job properly
  • emerging: upcoming or future
  • enshrined: set or stated in a way that means it is protected and will continue
  • dialogues: conversations
  • prior: coming before
  • injustices: things that aren’t fair or right
  • Attorney-General: person in charge of giving legal advice to the government or representing the government in legal issues

EXTRA READING

Meet Australia’s new prime minister

Australia’s system of government

Rainbow flags and marriage vote

New push to change Australian anthem lyrics

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What happened on January 1, 1901?
  2. Who votes in a referendum?
  3. Who is Australia’s 31st prime minister?
  4. How many seats in New Zealand’s parliament are reserved for Maori people?
  5. What does the word Makarrata mean?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Statement from the Heart
After reading about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, do you think the Australian people should vote yes to include this in our constitution? That is, that First Nations people get a voice about decisions that affect them? Give your answer and a brief explanation:

How do you think the question should be worded in the referendum? It needs to be short, very clear and to the point:

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; History; Personal and Social; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Read the Uluru Statement from the Heart at ulurustatement.org

Write down three points that you think are the most important and explain why.

How does reading this statement make you feel?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; History; Personal and Social; Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
To sum it up
After reading the article, use your comprehension skills to summarise in a maximum of three sentences what the article is about.

Think about:

What is the main topic or idea?

What is an important or interesting fact?

Who was involved (people or places)?

Use your VCOP skills to re-read your summary to make sure it is clear, specific and well punctuated.

Extra Reading in explainers