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Thoughts on a Voice to parliament

By Peter Bowden - posted Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Much discussion has been appeared in the media on what this voice should say,.Or do. There are several voices that have been raised in opposition to a voice in parliament. Liberal deputy Sussan Ley has decried the Voice to Parliament as a "re-election vanity project" The Nationals David Littleproud has confirmed that the National Party opposes Labor's proposal to establish a Voice to Parliament. a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.The opposition of new Liberal senator Jacinta Price to a Voice to Parliament has prompted three senior Liberals to express grave concerns

The 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which has been endorsed by hundreds of Indigenous leaders, calls for the creation of an Indigenous Voice to parliament, that would provide advice on laws and policies that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Aboriginal people first came to Australia 65,000 years ago. They are possibly the oldest community in the world.


Many Australians recognise that on January 26, 1788, when Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack at Sydney Cove, he did so on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation – starting an invasion of land and water that rightly belonged to its traditional owners.

When they resisted, as would any people who were invaded, we massacred them. As of 3 January 2020, at least 300 or more frontier massacres over a period of about 140 years had been documented, revealing "a state-sanctioned and organised attempt to eradicate Aboriginal people".

The SBS documentary, "Australian Wars" was a chilling revisit to the multitude of efforts by aboriginal people to resist the encroachments on their lands. And the effectiveness with which guns could win over spears. Possibly 20,000- 60,000 native people died in the wars.

The impact on the indigenous people has been disastrous. Aboriginal problems are without number. About 20 per cent of Aboriginal people in the major cities are estimated to live in poverty, a 2016 report from Australian National University's Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research found. The situation is much worse in remote areas where more than half the Aboriginal people still live in poverty.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was an attempt to resolve that problem. Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people in the world.

The health issues of aboriginals are also a concern. There are more cases of medical conditions, occurrences of relatively unknown diseases, and a much lower life expectancy rate. The gap stands at 8.6 years for males while indigenous females expect to live 7.8 years less than everyday Australians. Non-indigenous people go to hospitals 2.5 times less than Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.


And then there is the drinking problem with aboriginal people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at least 1.2 and 1.3 times more likely to consume alcohol at levels that pose risks to their health. The closure of drinking outlets to aboriginal people in many rural towns is one answer to this problem. Alice Springs is a recent example. A 96.7 per cent increase in alcohol-involved domestic violence-related assaults in Alice Springs in the year ending November 2022 compared with 2019 caused the recent reintroduction of alcohol restrictions in the large indigenous community of Alice Springs. It poses human right challenges.

There is little doubt that we, the wider Australian community, needs to act on these issues. And a voice in Parliament, in the constitution, is a way to do it. That voice could promote a multitude of actions. One of the major approaches is the empowerment of the aboriginal people. Empowerment is a term used and practised throughout Asia to improve the lives and income earning capacities of landless rural dwellers. Such people are the poorest of the poor. Programs run by voluntary agencies such as BRAC The Bangladesh Rural Agricultural Community, assist landless peasants create their own income earning projects. This writer has visited many such projects. NGO's in Asia and the West manage such programs. Even the World Bank sponsored on in Sri Lanka. They often include low or no interest loans to help people start micro industries .One such was a three women pottery manufacturer in Indonesia . Another a sewing group, making basic garments for sale.

Or the empowerment projects to help build social or economic infrastructure. Again, one such was a farm to market road built by the local community to gain access to the local town for their agricultural produce.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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