Leading architecture, urban planning and engineering bodies throughout Australia have thrown their support behind the proposed Voice to Parliament which is currently being debated throughout the country.
As the Bill to enable the vote passed the upper house of Parliament, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) and Engineers Australia have expressed their support for the Yes campaign.
In a statement released last week, the AIA said that its support was part of its broader backing of Constitutional Recognition of First Nations Peoples and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Institute’s Immediate Past-National President Shannon Battisson said that the 2017 Uluru Statement was a visionary document that represented an invitation to all Australians to build a better future for our nation.
“Constitutional recognition of First Nations Peoples is not only a moral imperative but also a crucial step towards rectifying the deep-seated historical injustices ingrained in our nation’s past,” Battison said.
“The Institute firmly believes the establishment of a Voice to Parliament is an essential first step towards achieving reconciliation and upholding First Nations’ rights to self-determination.
“The Institute’s support for the Uluru Statement extends to its three fundamental reforms: Voice, Treaty and Truth.
“The issue of supporting the Voice to Parliament is not a matter of politics but one based on principle.
“Our support for the Yes campaign aligns with the Institute’s ongoing commitment to reconciliation and reflects a just and inclusive approach to decision-making processes that impact First Nations people.”
Meanwhile, a statement of the PIA web site says that the organisation supports the Voice as part of its support for the Uluru Statement.
In the statement, PIA acknowledges that many of Australia’s planning systems and practices have failed to incorporate a voice and input for indigenous Australians and have not adequately reflected the connection of First Nation peoples’ to country.
As a result, such systems have contributed to the ‘invisibility and disenfranchisement’ of First Nations Australians.
Going forward, PIA says the referendum presents an opportunity for Australians to accept the invitation offered in the Uluru statement to ‘walk with’ aboriginal Australians to build a better Australia.
Furthermore, PIA sees an opportunity to harness greater respect for Country and to facilitate genuine partnership with indigenous Australians through planning practice.
“PIA as an organisation supports the Voice to Parliament referendum …”, the statement reads.
“… We see our support as a logical step in our long-standing support for all three elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart: Voice, Treaty and Truth.
“We are joining many other organisations taking a similar view …
“… Like them, we see a Voice to Parliament as an important step in ensuring the voices of First Nations peoples are heard and respected, including in planning.”
Meanwhile, Engineers Australia also supports the voice.
“The call for a Voice to Parliament through the Uluru Statement from the Heart remains just as important as it was in 2017,” its CEO, Romilly Madew, said.
“It is a fair and practical reform that will make a real difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.
The latest comments come as Australia prepares to vote on amendments to the Constitution that will recognise the First People of Australia by establishing and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
This follows the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was released in 2017 by delegates to the First Nationals Constitutional Convention that was held over four days near Uluru in Central Australia.
That statement calls for three steps to reconciliation: voice, truth and treaty.
The proposed voice will have power to make representations to the Parliament and Executive Government on matters which relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Whilst the specific model for the voice will be decided by Parliament after the referendum (if successful), a range of design principles for the model of the organisation have been released.
These broadly state that the voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torress Straight Islander peoples; will be representative of aboriginal communities including being balanced according across gender and demographic; will be community led and culturally informed; and will not have any program delivery function nor any veto power.
Whilst no specific date been announced, the Government has indicated that the vote will be held between September and December this year.
The Bill to enable the vote was passed by Parliament on Monday.
To succeed, the referendum must garner more than 50 percent of the vote overall and must garner a majority yes vote in at least four of the six states.
According to a poll tracker being maintained by The Guardian, support for the voice remains reasonably high but has dipped from between 60 and 70 percent late last year to between 50 and 60 percent this year.
According to the YES campaign, the Voice will help to empower aboriginal people to deliver real and practical change to their communities through having meaningful input on policies which affect them.
This, they say, will help to close the gap that still exists in outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians on practical issues such as life expectancy, educational outcomes and employment.
On the flip side, the No campaign argues that the Voice would divide the nation and institute permanent separation into the constitution by affording a permanent, taxpayer funded voice to one group of Australians that is not afforded to other Australians.
The No campaign further argues that the Voice will undermine the one person/one vote democratic system by giving an additional democratic power to one group of Australians that is not available to others.
Meanwhile, some in the No campaign are concerned about potential practical implications of the Voice.
These include slowing down executive decision making (as the voice has power to advise on executive decisions and would need adequate time to properly consider its advice) and the potential for court challenges where advice which is provided by the Voice is not followed.
(On the matter of undermining democracy, the YES campaign counters that the body will be advisory only and will not have any decision making or veto power. However, some in the NO camp are concerned that the body will have effective power through its strong political influence.
Meanwhile, a number of legal advisors have dismissed concerns about legal challenges as being unfounded.)
Whilst the architecture, planning and engineering bodies have expressed their support for the Voice, they acknowledge that many within their membership will have differing views on the matter.
“The referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament will be an historic once-in-a-generation event,” the AIA’s Battisson said.
“There will be ongoing discussion and debate, and diverse opinions and disagreements.
“We understand and respect that not everyone will support the Institute’s position.
“As a democratic society, people are free to form their own views and inform themselves of the issues.
“Whether or not people choose to vote in favour of the Voice is a matter for each individual.”
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