This year we will be asked to vote on the Voice through which we will seek to address colonial and religious sin embedded in the foundation of this country.
The new provision in the constitution would have three sentences:
There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to Parliament and the Executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers, and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.”
It seems to me that these three lines carry all the detail one needs to know: what it is, what it will do, and how it will be formed. Again, in these three lines, it is made clear that this body will make representations only and will not veto or have the power to veto Government policy and legislation. But it will have input and that is only right.
The draft referendum question would ask:
“Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?”
Just as John the Baptist in his baptism for repentance asked for new structures to address the sin and evil embedded in the system, this proposal allows Australia the opportunity of a new beginning.
It isn’t scary. In fact, we the Anglican Church of Australia have been doing this for some years.
“In 1991 at a meeting of the House of Bishops it was decided that the Anglican Church of Australia needed an Indigenous voice, and The National Aboriginal Anglican Council was established. In 1996 the Torres Strait Islanders were included and in 1998 the 11th session of General Synod established the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council (NATSIAC) by Canon and that Canon was later amended in 2004 and 2014. “
On our website you will read NATSIAC’s vision is to be the primary voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglicans.
As chair of this body, I speak to Archbishops, Bishops, and the General Synod on matters that impact our people and provide suggestions, proposals, and ideas which are advisory only. We have no right to veto, but our voice is listened to and enacted on many occasions. It is not perfect, but it is now 31 years since we began, and we continue to influence the decision-making of our church.
The Voice in the constitution reflects this model even down to the make-up of its membership. Like the membership of the Voice, it is representational. The membership of the council has representatives appointed by the 23 dioceses plus up to 10 by the council itself. Like the Voice those Dioceses who have a large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, additional people are appointed. This model is not scary nor magical, but it does change the people themselves as well as the institution in which it is embedded.
The interesting thing is that polling for the referendum shows those in the 55+ age group are committed No voters and the religion of choice of this group is Anglican, Uniting, and the other major Christian denominations. How can Anglicans who have already embedded this Voice in their own system vote No on this matter?
Over the next 7-8 months I hope we can change this situation through education and engagement, so we are not the group lagging behind those most likely to vote yes – atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Greek Orthodox, and others.
The Voice, like NATSIAC, is about justice and addressing the sins of colonialism in the tradition of both John and Jesus. It is simple and uncomplicated, not perfect, and will always be a work in progress.
Paul reminds us that we live in fellowship with Christ. In this fellowship, we are called to share the life and mission of Christ, the one who responded to the call of John for a baptism of repentance as our incarnated representative. We are to respond to his call for justice, repentance, and forgiveness.
This is the challenge we face as we begin the journey toward the referendum.