President’s Column 1 November 2019

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

Local Government will have a role to play in the development of an Indigenous voice to the Government, following moves this week by the federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt.

Since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was released in 2017, Indigenous Australians have called for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

While the Prime Minister has ruled out any constitutional change, discussions about that voice have continued, with Minister Wyatt indicating up to 20 people will be on a Senior Advisory Group comprising leaders and experts from across the country and chaired by two prominent Indigenous leaders, Professor Marcia Langton AM and Professor Tom Calma AO.

The Senior Advisory Group is tasked with co-designing options for a “model that will ensure that Indigenous Australians are heard at all levels of government – local, state and federal.”

Two Co-Design Groups – one for Local & Regional Australia and one National Co-Design Group will sit beneath the Senior Advisory Group, according to this flow chart from the National Indigenous Australians Agency.

The Senior Advisory Group will “will assist, guide and oversee the co-design process for both a national voice and options to enhance local and regional decision making,” the agency added.

While there are no details yet, Minister Wyatt wants to hear from Indigenous Australians across the country, be they in cities, rural or remote areas.

“It’s time that all governments took better steps to empower individuals and communities, and work in partnership to develop practical and long lasting programmes and policies that both address the needs of Indigenous Australians and ensure that Indigenous voices are heard as equally as any other Australian voice,” he said.

There are diverse views among councils about what a local and regional voice would mean, and how it would interact with councils and those views will need to be heard as part of the process of designing a local/regional voice.

Meanwhile, local councils are reflecting on their role in truth-telling about Australian history – the second component of the Uluru Statement.

News that a council in Western Australia is discussing how to acknowledge a massacre of Indigenous Australians in the 19th century is a timely way for Local Government to contemplate what truth telling involves in their community.

The Pinjarra massacre of 1834 occurred in what is today the Shire of Murray, and the local council is part of a conversation about how to recognise what happened, ABC News reported.

Council last year gave in-principle support to a Pinjarra memorial, and would be led by the local Noongar community about what signage and memorial would mark the site, Shire President Cr David Bolt said.    

The community has told the council they want to see the site recognised with school children and families increasingly aware about what the site means, Cr Bolt added.

As the closest layer of government to our communities, it’s logical that Local Government considers what truth-telling might look like in each community.

Furthermore, our level of government can play a role in listening to and channeling local needs and opportunities.

We can work together to help reduce the differences in life span, health, housing and employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. 

ALGA is working together with the Australian, state and territory governments and Indigenous peak organisation members in the Joint Council on Closing the Gap.

The Joint Council is due to meet again shortly and endorse a draft National Indigenous Reform Agreement which will then be considered by the Council of Australian Governments.

I look forward to updating you about that agreement, the progress of the Voice to governments, and hearing from you.

David O’Loughlin

ALGA President