Could local government provide an opportunity for Indigenous Australians to have the kind of active, meaningful voice in government that is envisaged in the Uluru Statement from the Heart?
This is the question Byron Council has put forward for debate at this year’s NSW Local Government Conference, to be held February 28 to March 2.
The Uluru Statement, which calls for the establishment of a First Nation’s Voice to Parliament, to be enshrined in the Australian constitution, has yet to be adopted at either the State or federal level.
A common argument among those who oppose such a change, is that it would require a significant change to the Australian Constitution that would be difficult to implement.
At last week’s Council meeting, newly-elected Independent councillor, Mark Swivel, proposed that Local Government NSW develop an advisory body model for a First Nations Voice to Council for local Indigenous communities, based on the vision in the Uluru Statement.
‘One of the obstacles to the campaign for the Uluru Statement from the Heart is the attempt to alter the constitution,’ Cr Swivel told the meeting.
‘I thought there was a strong case for an idea that begins at the opposite end of the political structure, particularly given the interest in this community.
‘The proposal is a structural idea that each LGA, in their own way, might be interested in supporting.’
Cr Swivel said the model could involve the creation of an advisory body or consultative committee within each local council.
The structure, terms of reference and membership for the First Nations Voice to Council would be determined by consultation with local Indigenous community stakeholders including Local Aboriginal Land Councils, native title holders and elders in conjunction with local councils.
All councillors voted in favour of the proposal, except Councillor Alan Hunter, who argued that it would not contribute to solving any local issues.
‘We’ve got 30 months [in this Council term] – we haven’t got time to mess around,’ Cr Hunter said.
‘This isn’t going to do anything for housing, anything for the impact of COVID on the local economy… anything for beach erosion.’
Cr Swivel and other supporting councillors acknowledged the work of the Arakwal Memorandum of Understanding Advisory Committee.
The proposal will now be put forward as a motion for debate at this year’s NSW Local Government Conference. Byron Council representatives at the conference will be Mayor Lyon, and Crs Swivel and Balson.