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Statement from Children’s Ground - The Voice to Parliament

Children’s Ground is a First Nations organisation. We recognise the cultural authority of our peoples across many Nations that have lived and governed in the lands for over 65,000 years. 

The importance of our voice and the power of our voice is something we have always understood. A Voice to Parliament is a new offering from the Australian Government but does not in any way replace the many ways we as First Nations people choose to exercise our voice.  

This is a significant political moment. It will affect all of us across many nations. Robust discussion should be welcomed, not seen as a weakness. There will be different views. 

Children’s Ground encourages the Australian people to vote Yes in the referendum.  

However, in the spirit of the voice, Children’s Ground recognises and respects the diverse voices of our people. 

Many people want First Nations people to walk with one position. But this is causing harm. We have a long history, where those who have come before us have fought relentlessly for our voices to be heard. This debate runs deeply for us as First Nations people. We encourage people to hear and listen to all voices.  

We respect the rights of our people to support the Voice to Parliament and, to not support the Voice to Parliament and, to those who believe that there are other critical processes that should take precedence including, truth, treaty and sovereignty. We also know that there are many First Nations people who are still not part of this discussion, who are not aware or informed of the debate and whose voices are not present. There are many First Nations people at Children’s Ground who are still learning about the Voice to Parliament, constitutional change, treaty and sovereignty and we cannot speak for them.   

However, we encourage people to vote yes as we believe it is time that the Australian constitution recognises us formally. As leaders such as Pat Dodson have stated, the willingness of Government to change the Australian Constitution and consider a Voice to Parliament offers an unprecedented opportunity for legal recognition and contribution of First Nations People in the Australian parliament.   

Like others, we are concerned about how our Voice will be represented. However, these are matters we must work through. We will promote a voice that represents our diverse communities and our cultural governance. We believe that a truth telling process in Australia is critical. We support First Nations sovereignty and the work toward treaty. 

We also want to note that 98% of the voting public are non-First Nations people. First Nations people are 2% of the population and as such, our rights and voice will be decided by a majority of non-First Nations people through this referendum. 

We will continue to support and work towards the full recognition and rights of First Nations People. 

We ask you to read our discussion below regarding voice, representation, and this important referendum. 

What will be asked? (from the Australian Electoral Commission)

The Parliament of Australia has agreed to propose adding a new chapter, Chapter IX-Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the Constitution. The chapter would include a new section 129, which would be as follows:

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

  1. there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
  2. the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  3. the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.


We encourage you to vote yes.

Children’s Ground Discussion paper: The Voice to Parliament

The importance of our voice and the power of our voice has long been understood by our people.  

Children’s Ground recognises that, for some First Nations people, this referendum process is harmful and compounds a history where the legitimacy of our people is yet again being voted on by non-First Nations people within a Western system of law. 98% of the voting public are non-First Nations people. They will be deciding on the legitimacy of 2% of the voting public, our people. Our lives, our culture and our people become a public and political debate, and this causes harm.  

We want to also recognise the process has been rushed. It has been driven by political timelines and cycles and this has created stress and pressure. This is monumental for us in terms of the Australian political system, however it was put into a timeline to prevent it from distracting from the election cycle. Our rights, our voice and the opportunity to take the Australian public through a deep understanding and process has been compromised by these political timelines.  

We are reminded that we are ultimately under colonised controls that removed our sovereign political system and authority as First Nations people in our own country.   

At Children’s Ground, we believe that a truth and justice process was a preferred first step in achieving justice and providing the context to inform and achieve effective political and structural reform.  

However, we also accept that this is not what is being offered by the Government as the first step. Despite our concerns about process, we support a yes vote in the referendum. This offers an unprecedented opportunity for legal recognition and a permanent voice of First Nations People in the Australian parliament. For this reason, we will encourage the Australian people to support the referendum. 

We acknowledge and celebrate our First Nations political leaders who have carriage of this process and their history of unrelenting action that has brought about this unprecedented commitment by Government.    

However, while a Voice to Parliament is a new offering from the Australian Government, it does not in any way replace the many ways we as First Nations people choose to exercise our voice.  

Each First Nation in our country has a political system of authority that we continue to recognise. 

Cultural empowerment, human rights and economic empowerment are critical to long term political voice and future justice and wellbeing.   

In relation to the Voice to Parliament, within our board and our membership there are diverse views. Children’s Ground has First Nations members who do not agree with this process of a Voice to Parliament. They have raised concerns that a Voice to Parliament is a compromised process and proposal that they do not believe will deliver justice and will continue to compromise the integrity and dignity of First Nations People. For some it has been a painful and distressing process that repeats a history of oppression and harm.  

There remains concern that a Voice to Parliament, created within the limitations of a western political framework, will create structures that exclude the voices of many First Nations people, and compound/continue the impact of colonisation. 

Further, we wish to note that the Voice process, debate and discussion have not been inclusive. Most First Nations people who are directly connected with Children’s Ground, who live in remote or regional towns, have not had access to information and have not been aware of, or not fully informed of, the discussions that are taking place. While those leading the Voice to Parliament campaign at a national level have undertaken extensive consultations, the reality that many people are geographically, linguistically and culturally excluded from the discussions remains. It must be accepted that for many, the political and legal processes of Parliament are foreign. Even within our communities, we are finding it challenging to support people to fully understand matters that relate to the constitution, parliamentary process, what a ’voice’ may mean, truth and justice and sovereignty to allow them to determine their own fully informed position.  

Notwithstanding the above, Children’s Ground, as a First Nations organisation has determined that a permanent Voice to Parliament offers hope in a landscape where political leadership has been lacking. This referendum offers the possibility of reform and the certainty of recognition.  

As many have highlighted, that there are important questions to be considered for this change to be effective. We expect that questions will be addressed as part of the process of establishing a Voice to Parliament. For Children’s Ground, is it critical that the following questions are considered: 

  • What will the Voice to Parliament look like? – Who will it be? How does it work?  
  • How do we ensure community level agency in any powers the Voice to Parliament will have over policies and laws that affect First Nations People? 
  • How will the sovereign rights of First Nations People be supported? 

As history has shown us, there is risk that any political reform involving our people will result in symbolic change without substantive change in justice and equity. 

We recommend a voice that recognises the governance of these lands that have evolved by our people and our sophisticated law across more than 300 Nations and languages. We have a legal system (our First Nations laws and governance that come from the land) and we would like these recognised. We want to educate our government and the people of Australia of the sovereign nations, voices and rights and cultures of our people. We should celebrate our diverse nations and languages, our diverse laws as First Nations people that continue to live today that traverse states, territories, and western jurisdictions. 

We expect a Voice to Parliament to: 

  • represent all the voices from the land – the people and our diverse nations through our systems of law. 
  • recognise over 300 Nations and languages of Australia’s First Nations People. 
  • recognise the role of Traditional Owners and Elders – as identified by their own communities, not government or a representative body. 
  • recognise that First Nations people have established and evolved systems of law, voice, responsibility, and leadership that continue today and will continue outside of western or parliamentary laws. 

We understand that a Voice to Parliament or structure that represents over 300 Nations is considered difficult to manage and engage, however there are ways to achieve this; as First Nations People, we deserve the opportunity to have this representation. We successfully governed these lands through these structures prior to colonisation. We have strict cultural laws and protocols that continue today. We were and continue to be distinct Nations with distinct voices. This should be celebrated. 

Justice and freedoms will require far more than a Voice to Parliament. It will require action, investment, processes of truth and justice commissions and treaties.   

Due to a poor understanding of the laws of these lands, colonised political structures have diminished First Nations systems of governance. Rather than recognise these systems, the Australian government has created a First Nations political elite who are not representative of all of our people. This representation does not reflect our laws nor our Nations and instead reflects the western individualised system of governance.  Through our laws, we recognise the unquestionable authority of our Elders and systems of authority through the land.  

This is not a criticism of our First Nations political and public leaders who have fought and been trailblazers in the political landscape. We celebrate the 53 First Nations members of Australia’s legislatures, since Neville Bonner, who have shown incredible strength to uphold the voice of our people in a hostile political environment for decades with little structural support and enormous expectation and hope. We recognise the incredible job they have done, the sacrifices they made and the challenges they endured with great dignity.  

Rather than understand our systems of governance, the Government has chosen reduce our systems of law and governance. This includes through simplified First Nations leadership representative structures that they can navigate easily but again are not representative of our people from the land. These structures place great power in the hands of a few without understanding the divisive politics and exclusive voices. If we are serious about Closing the Gap then we must challenge the status quo in terms of how our people are represented and how our Voice will be heard into the future. We can not have parameters and structures that are decided by or preference a few to suit political purpose. We cannot allow this process to ‘opt out’ parts of our culture to satisfy a western political end. 

We are asking that this process be a bold reform that honours who we are as First Nations people and how we have held and respected our voices across Nations for generations.  

Our Elders and community leaders are the most important in this process, but they are often the quietest; we fear they will be overlooked and remain unseen. It is their voices that must be uplifted if we are to avoid diminishing our people through a body which may ultimately be seen by Government as the only legitimate First Nations voice. We must avoid the risk of diminishing who we are as discrete Nations.  

At Children’s Ground we live through the laws of the land every day. It is how our people think, feel, act and engage with each other. It is what gives us our identity, our culture, our law and our knowledge. We have incredible leadership in every First Nations community across Australia. Upholding this structure is what our Elders continue to protect. It is what our families and young people look towards. It is critical to honour these in any structure designed to support our Voice to Parliament. This will enable this process to shift from being purely symbolic to being effective and achieving our rights and recognition as First Nations people.   

We believe that truth telling is critical to a future where our people receive justice. Through this process the Australian people will not only hear of the atrocities and trauma we have endured; they will hear about our strength and our cultures and will better understand our First Nations People and laws. We will uplift our voices to speak truth to power about our history, its violence and how it has pervaded the minds and souls of fellow Australians through racist and discriminatory practices and systems to continue to hold us back as people, communities, and Nations. We will honour the resistance of our people, the strength of our people and the leadership in each of our communities to retain our cultures, languages, and identity.  

Through the design of a Voice to Parliament, truth telling, constitutional change and practical action, we request a structure that supports our ability to be self-determined and to implement strategies and solutions from First Nations communities that privilege First Nations language and culture. We urge ambition in both structural change and the investment needed for our people to achieve agency and freedom in their lives. It is time First Nations people insist on greater investment in sustainable resources, across all social, cultural, and economic determinants, of a standard that supports a fully functioning and thriving community, including significant investment in quality infrastructure in all communities.  

Our people do not need to be fixed. We need the very best resources to provide great opportunities for our children in a way that honours our cultures, languages, and laws. Along with the Voice to Parliament, we need immediate commitment to our solutions and leadership. In the short term, a Voice to Parliament will not change what the First Nations families and communities of Children’s Ground are facing and working on each day. If it realises its potential, it will do this in the long term. 

The Elders and community leaders of Children’s Ground have designed a system-change response, a 25-year strategy for our communities. We are putting our knowledge systems at the centre. We are making sure our communities have access to health, education, employment, and a strong cultural life. We want to see government investing in our solutions, led by our communities, and uplifting our people and culture.  

At Children’s Ground we continue to show up, stand by, revitalise, and honour our cultural authority as Traditional Owners, Elders and Ancestors of our country; this is our responsibility, and it is what is expected of us. This is held in our laws, in the Arrernte world view, Apmerengetyele and the Altyerre. This is our sovereignty, our voice, our rights and our responsibilities to our languages and culture and to our future generations.    


In the words of Children’s Ground Chair, William Tilmouth,  

“We are standing on the shoulders of the giants of the past. 

Due to the struggles of the many people whose shoulders we stand on, we will continue to rise up. Like them we won’t give up. 

We are condemned by the lack of forward thinking. Yet we live in hope based on the strengths of our people who got up, stood up and showed up. 

And on the perseverance and strength of our people standing up today. 

This is our journey. This is our destiny.”