Little meeting indigenous Aussies, politicians on constitutional reform talks

By Will Trafford

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little will meet indigenous Australian representatives and federal and state governments this week to share New Zealand's experience in the treaty negotiations process. Picture / NZME

Australia is hoping to learn from New Zealand’s experience negotiating Treaty settlement and co-governance strategies, as its new government seemingly looks for a reset of relations with aboriginal Australians.

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little travels to Australia today to discuss the New Zealand government’s approach with Australian state and federal governments.

The new Anthony Albanese-led Labor government is in early consultative stages of introducing indigenous representation into the federal government with what’s been branded ‘A Voice to Parliament’.

‘The Voice’ as it's been shortened to would be a body enshrined in the Constitution enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to provide advice to Parliament on policies and projects that impact their land and lives.

Speculation is that the idea would be put to referendum, and the chamber would operate in a way similar to the second house in the UK, where decisions by the voice would not be binding but could significantly slow or curtail legislation that would have a negative effect on Aboriginal people or their lands.

Australian PM Anthony Albanese announced a draft referendum question at the Indigenous Garma Festival in August, 2022. Photo / ABC / Bindi Bryce

Australian PM Anthony Albanese announced a draft referendum question at the Indigenous Garma Festival in August, 2022. Photo / ABC / Bindi Bryce

Earlier Prime Minister Julia Gillard established a panel recommending the voice in 2010 and it’s since had support from ex-politicians on both sides of the political aisle, including former conservative/ liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull.

Although the plan languished under former prime minister Scott Morrison amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a referendum is expected as early as July, 2023.

Little is also scheduled to meet indigenous councils of Queensland and Victoria, which have roles overseeing the way those states are to address historical grievances and a lack of representation in decision-making by indigenous peoples.

“This trip comes at an important time for Queensland and Victoria as they work to address the injustices of the past, and I’ve been invited to share insights about our approach,” Little said on Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has set out a pathway for constitutional change for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, within the current parliamentary term. / ABC News

“Both states have committed to looking at how a treaty-based process can improve and reframe the relationship between the state governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal will be among the experiences Aotearoa hopes to share, Little said, prior to his departure.

“I will discuss how New Zealand’s Treaty settlement process works, how we have carried it out, and what policies and approaches have been beneficial to the Māori Crown relationship as it has evolved over the past 30-plus years,” Little said.

“These discussions are an important opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to learn from and support each other around relationships between indigenous peoples and governments.”

Little will be in Australia for five days.

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