Victorian First Peoples’ Assembly Offers National Voting Lessons

The co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria say at least some members of a national Indigenous vote should be directly elected to parliament.

Marcus Stewart and Geraldine Atkinson were in Canberra on Tuesday to meet Victorian MPs from across the political spectrum and discuss the state body, which was established in late 2019 and is the voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the state’s treaty process.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria’s co-chairs, Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, who says “Victoria is where the rubber meets the road”.Credit:Jason South

Stewart told this masthead that when the debate about constitutional change and an Indigenous vote to the federal parliament began in earnest, politicians from all sides “should meet us in the moment and walk with us.”

“Victoria is where the rubber meets the road. We have a voice in the treaty process, which is the First People’s Assembly of Victoria. And we have the Yoorrook Justice Commission, which is our truth process as we negotiate the framework for the treaty, which is the basis for what the Uluru Statement from the Heart is asking for,” he said.

When asked whether the federal Voice should be directly elected, which Indigenous Australian minister Linda Burney has identified as a possibility, Stewart said: “The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, a hybrid model … has 21 democratically elected seats. [there are also 11 members who are appointed Traditional Owners] in five regions … That is democracy in practice.”

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Stewart said the federal opposition should talk about what a vote should look like “rather than making it a political football”. He pointed out that Professors Marcia Langton and Tom Calma had prepared a detailed report for the previous administration outlining what a regulated Vote might look like, including a room for 24 people.

Coalition MPs, including Country Liberal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Liberals Tony Pasin, Claire Chandler and Phillip Thompson, have spoken out against The Voice, although party leader Peter Dutton has left the door open to support it, pending more details.

Atkinson said that just as more than 7,000 Indigenous Australians in Victoria had been consulted during the draft of the meeting, the same consultation should take place during the establishment of a national vote.

“It has to come from the bottom up. And I know it really has to be a community that has something to say about what your Voice looks like,” she said.

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