Turnbull's Indigenous referendum response condemned

The Aboriginal flag flying over Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 6 September 2017. Fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The Aboriginal flag flying over Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 6 September 2017. Fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Almost 1000 academics, civil society groups, lawyers and charities have condemned the Turnbull government's rejection of a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous "Voice to Parliament", expressing concern about the "devastatingly negative effects" of governments continually imposing their will on Indigenous people.

Public health expert and former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, among the highest-profile signatories on the open letter, pointed to the lack of structural representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in policy making as a "major reason" for ongoing disadvantage.

"National and international studies on colonised Indigenous peoples show clearly that when they are able to implement the solutions developed by them, the outcomes are far better," Professor Stanley said, urging the government to reconsider its rejection of a representative body that would provide advice to Parliament on legislation.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended the government's response to the Referendum Council's central recommendation, saying the idea of an Indigenous-only elected body was "contrary to principles of equality and of citizenship".

"Now I know that is contested, but it would inevitably be seen as a third chamber of Parliament," Mr Turnbull said, reiterating his belief in more "achievable" constitutional change.

The statement from civil society organisations and individuals - which also includes the Australian Council of Social Service - expressed concern about the "negative response" from the government.

"We are concerned this inability to listen and work constructively with First Nations peoples potentially compounds intergenerational traumas and their consequences," the statement says.

"We urge the Australian Parliament to listen to First Nations peoples' recommendations in the Uluru Statement, and to back this attempt to improve their circumstances and participate more fully in Australian society."

The product of nationwide consultations with Indigenous communities, the "Voice" was formally proposed in the "Uluru Statement from the Heart" in May and then adopted in the Referendum Council's report to Parliament.

Chris Sarra, an educator and member of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council, said last week he didn't think the advisory body "was ever going to fly", and questioned the political wisdom of the recommendation.

"The Referendum Council was given a set of terms of reference which they completely ignored and came back with what I thought was a pretty bold kind of strategy," Professor Sarra told NITV.

This story Turnbull's Indigenous referendum response condemned first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.