The Liberal's proposal for an Indigenous Voice is ‘a bureaucratic nightmare’

When it comes to an honest account of Aboriginal affairs, ADVANCE spokeswoman Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine are the ones to listen to.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph this morning, Warren Mundine took aim at the Coalition’s push to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

According to Warren, the Coalition has come up with a design for a Voice that “looks like some document the public service have been keeping in the bottom drawer of their desk for decades, just waiting for the opportunity for it to be plucked out, dusted off and, hey presto, we’ve gone back to the past”.

My blunt evaluation of the design? It sounds like an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare. Jobs for the boys and girls. In Aboriginal culture, only traditional owners can speak for their country. That means only Bundjalung traditional owners can speak for Bundjalung country, Yolngu can speak for Yolgnu country. The traditional owner structures are already in place. They have been in place for decades. They are the native title representative bodies. Use them.

The government’s proposal totally ignores this. It even ignores the vast array of other Indigenous bodies all over the country. It proposes we have some more. It’s the typical public service approach of more red tape and over-governing. As if we haven’t all had enough of that in the last few years. Aboriginal people have had enough of that their entire lives.

Indigenous people have land councils, prescribed bodies corporate, community councils as well as local, state, territory and Commonwealth governments and all the many areas that the public servants rule over.

An example is the Torres Strait Islands. A population of some 4514 people have a Torres Strait Regional Council, Torres Island Council, Northern Peninsular Area and the GBK Regional Land & Sea Council, which is made up of each island’s native title prescribed body corporate.

In NSW, with a population of 265,685 Indigenous people, you have 120 local Aboriginal land councils, nine regional Aboriginal land councils, a NSW Aboriginal Land Council, NTSCorp (a native title service body) and numerous prescribed bodies corporate (native title representative bodies).

It costs the taxpayer – you and me – a fortune to maintain and fund all these bodies. There are a hell of a lot of meetings for Indigenous people, and it has made little difference to Indigenous people’s day-to-day lives.

The simple answer for me is: streamline the overall governance of Indigenous affairs by bringing together the traditional owner bodies that represent the traditional owners and their country.

One source of criticism of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament is that it legislates for race. That criticism is not answered by setting up regional bodies whose membership is determined by race. But traditional owner groups are not determined by race – but by descent.

Just like property rights are handed down through families, membership of country is determined by descent. And so is its modern embodiment in native title. Native title is inherited property rights. Not racial privilege.

When I lived in Dubbo years ago, I was entitled to be a member of the local Aboriginal land council, even though I am not Wiradjuri. Likewise, when living in Sydney I could join the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, even though I am not Dharug. But I am not Wiradjuri or Dharug and every Aboriginal person knows that I cannot speak for those countries. My common ground with those other traditional owners is race. Not descent. And not country.

Native title fosters Indigenous economic participation by allowing traditional owners to use land as an economic asset. Businesses work with traditional owners to reach Indigenous Land Use Agreements that provide benefits and opportunities in return for access to land and waters. And economic participation through education, work and business is the only way to close the gap.

This is not rocket science. And this government should be able to do better.

Well said Warren!

Give the local elders a voice, not career bureaucrats living on the taxpayer’s dime. The Coalition of all people should know better…