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Australians will soon be asked to vote in a referendum asking ‘Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?’
Frank Brennan has been an advocate for Indigenous rights for 40 years. Here he shows the difficult path travelled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and their supporters to get to this question.
In the past, advocates argued for changes to Commonwealth Parliament’s powers to legislate for Indigenous Australians and to the capacity of the High Court to strike down racially discriminatory laws. They also offered changes to the Constitution that would acknowledge Indigenous history, reality and aspirations.
All those proposals are now replaced with the Voice. But is it to be a Voice to Parliament or a Voice to Parliament and to Government? Would the focus be only on special laws applying to the First Australians, or on any other relevant matters?
This book fairly outlines both the ‘Yes’ case and the ‘No’ case, so that voters can make up their own minds before casting their vote in the referendum.
Frank Brennan is a Catholic priest, a lawyer and a member of the Jesuit Order. He has been a long-time advocate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, having commenced this public ministry as Adviser to the Queensland Catholic Bishops in 1982. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1995 for services to Aboriginal Australians, particularly as an advocate in the areas of law, social justice and reconciliation. He and Senator Patrick Dodson shared the inaugural Human Rights Award from the Australian Council for Overseas Aid. In 2015, he published No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia. He chaired the National Human Rights Consultation for the Rudd Government, was a member of the expert panel on religious freedom for the Turnbull Government, and a member of the Morrison Government’s Senior Advisory Group guiding the co-design process to develop an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.