Australians are likely to vote within the next three years on whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should have a First Nations Voice to Parliament, as proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Supported by his party’s Aboriginal MPs, Patrick Dodson, Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy, opposition leader Bill Shorten has signalled very clearly that this is Labor’s priority for constitutional reform. Indeed, just last week he confirmed that it would be pursued before a plebiscite on whether Australia should become a republic.
But the best way of bringing about that reform is still being debated.
Unfortunately the parliamentary committee that spent much of last year considering the options didn’t advance the debate greatly when it reported in November. Like others before it, the committee made the mistake of treating the Uluru Statement’s elegantly simple proposal as somehow underdeveloped. Yet the regional dialogues and the Uluru convention, which preceded the statement, had demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the nature of constitutions and constitutional amendment, the political realities of referendums, and how best to design the Voice.