The Albanese government’s proposal to enshrine an Indigenous advisory body in the constitution should include words that formally recognize Indigenous people as Australia’s first inhabitants, advocate Noel Pearson says.
- Noel Pearson says the constitution should include words that recognize Indigenous people as the first peoples of Australia
- He says a Voice to Parliament would be both symbolic and practical
- He says the Voice proposal should appeal to “constitutional conservatives”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outlined the core three sentences of a draft constitutional change in a speech to the Garma Festival of Aboriginal culture on the weekend.
Those three sentences would establish a Voice, with a role of advising the parliament and the executive, with its exact powers to be defined by the parliament in future legislation.
But right before outlining the proposed words, the prime minister said the change would be “in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia”.
Mr Pearson said it was important that those introductory words themselves be written into the constitution, alongside the enshrinement of the Voice.
“I think that they’re important words to retain as a prelude to those … substantive sentences,” he said.
7.30 host Sarah Ferguson asked if that recognition needed to be “spelled out” in a clause of the constitution, or whether it could be sufficiently “implicit” in the creation of the Voice.
But Mr Pearson said again the words of recognition were an important inclusion.
“It would adorn the substantive words,” he said.
Voice proposal ‘constitutionally conservative’ and practical
Mr Pearson said the Voice proposal should appeal to “constitutional conservatives” because it respected the primacy of the constitution and the parliament.
“This isn’t a proposition that has its origins in a leftist proposal. And in my view, this is the formula for success, because we need conservative constitutionals and conservatives and Liberals generally, to join this journey to complete the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Mr Pearson said he was “extremely moved” by Mr Albanese’s speech at Garma.
“I didn’t know that he could connect with me in that way.” Mr Pearson said.
yin and yang
The Opposition’s shadow attorney-general, Julian Leeser, has left the door open to the Coalition supporting the proposal while calling on the government to release more detail about the body’s role.
Indigenous Coalition senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has called the Voice an exercise in “virtue signaling” over practical action.
But Mr Pearson said the Voice could do both: symbolically representing Indigenous Australians in the nation’s most important legal document, and practically improving the lives of Indigenous people.
“The practical dimension is the kind of the yin to the yang,” he said.
“And my view is that a Voice will achieve both. It will symbolize the recognition of the voices of the original Australians. But it will also result in better laws and policies.”
Mr Pearson said he had met recently with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who he said was “absolutely sincere” in his publicly stated concerns about welfare in Aboriginal communities.
He said he would soon meet with Mr Dutton again, and was optimistic about his potential support for the model.
“This is a modest proposition, modest but profound, capable of being consistent with liberal and conservative thinking,” he said.
“I look forward to speaking with him again.”