In The National Interest

Time to Listen: An Indigenous Voice to Parliament
Melissa Castan, Lynette Russell

Paperback (B504) | Sep 2023 | Monash University Publishing | 9781922979124 | 96pp | 175x111mm | GEN | AUD$19.95, NZD$22.99

In 2023, debate about an Indigenous Voice to Parliament swirls around us as Australia heads towards a referendum on amending the Constitution to make this Voice a reality. The idea of a ‘First Nations Voice’ was famously raised in 2017, when Indigenous leaders drafted the Statement from the Heart — also known as the Uluru Statement. It was envisioned as a representative body, enshrined in the Constitution, that would advise federal parliament and the executive government on laws and policies of significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But while Indigenous people may finally get their Voice, will it be heard?

In Time to Listen, Melissa Castan and Lynette Russell explore how the need for a Voice has its roots in what anthropologist WEH Stanner in the late 1960s called the ‘Great Australian Silence’, whereby the history and culture of Indigenous Australians have been largely ignored by the wider society. This ‘forgetting’ has not been incidental but rather an intentional, initially colonial policy of erasement. So have times now changed? Is the tragedy of that national silence — a refusal to acknowledge Indigenous agency and cultural achievements — finally coming to an end? And will the Makarrata Commission, which takes its name from a Yolngu word meaning ‘peace after a dispute’, become a reality too, overseeing truth-telling and agreement-making between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians?

The Voice to Parliament can be a transformational legal and political institutional reform, but only if Indigenous people are clearly heard when they speak.