‘Walk with us’: Victorian First Peoples’ Assembly offers lessons for national Voice

At least some members of a national Indigenous Voice to parliament should be directly elected, according to the co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

Marcus Stewart and Geraldine Atkinson were in Canberra on Tuesday to meet with 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 co-chairs, Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, who says “Victoria is where the rubber hits the road”.Credit:Jason South

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

“Victoria is where the rubber hits the road. We have a voice in the treaty process, which is the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. And we have the Yoorrook Justice Commission, which is our process of truth while we’re negotiating the framework for treaty, which underpinned what the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for,” he said.

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

Stewart said the federal opposition should be talking about what a Voice should look like “rather than turning it into a political football”. He pointed out professors Marcia Langton and Tom Calma completed a detailed report for the previous government outlining what a legislated Voice could look like, including a 24-person chamber.

Coalition MPs including Country Liberal senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Liberals Tony Pasin, Claire Chandler and Phillip Thompson have spoken out against the Voice, though party leader Peter Dutton has left the door open to supporting it provided more detail is forthcoming.

Atkinson said that, just as more than 7000 Indigenous Australians had been consulted in Victoria during the design of the assembly, the same consultation should occur during the creation of a national Voice.

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

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