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UNICEF Australia’s full position on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament 


The words of the Uluru Statement from the Heart say it best – “When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”i UNICEF Australia shares this vision for Australia in which First Nations children enjoy the fulfilment of all their rights and supports the constitutional recognition of a Voice to Parliament for First Nations peoples as aspired to in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.   

For more than 60,000 years, First Nations peoples have cared for our continent according to the laws and customs by which they choose to live. Their sacred link to the land has continued and endured even through our comparatively recent colonial history, which saw the systematic dispossession of land lay the foundations for the creation of modern Australia. The scars of these injustices run deep. They have transcended generations and can be seen in structural inequalities that persist today, be it through disparities in education and healthcare, to the unacceptable rates at which First Nations children are separated from their families or left to languish in detention. As the Uluru Statement identifies, this is not because they are unloved or innately criminal.  

Structural problems require structural solutions, which is why UNICEF Australia fully supports the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, both the Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of truth-telling and agreement-making, and the enshrinement of a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution. Only through structural reform can we realise a future for all of Australia’s children based on self-determination and justice, and a Voice to Parliament is an important part of this journey.  

Our aspiration is captured best through the words of First Nations children in the Imagination Declaration – “With 60,000 years of genius and imagination in our hearts and minds, we can be one of the groups of people that transform the future of life on earth, for the good of us all.”ii UNICEF Australia firmly believes that we can make this aspiration a reality, and we invite you to help us do so by voting YES in the upcoming referendum.  

Our position:   

An Indigenous Voice to Parliament is consistent with the guiding principles of key human rights treaties including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)iii and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)iv. These principles include rights to self-determination, to making decisions in the best interests of children, and the right to participation including respecting the voices of children. 

Self-determination has been described as indigenous peoples having the right to decide what is best for them and their communities, to make their own decisions on issues that concern them, and to carry them out in a way that is meaningful.v Given the proposals outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart were determined through an unprecedented First Nations-led, bottom-up process, they can be seen as an expression of self-determination by First Nations Australians. 

The aspirations expressed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart have also been informed by a motivation to help improve the life experiences and outcomes of First Nations children. A Voice to Parliament for First Nations peoples has the potential to provide expert and culturally sensitive advice to policy makers so that the best interests of First Nations children can be better understood and more effectively protected by our federal legislators and policy-makers. 

As the Voice to Parliament will also create a mechanism for dialogue, it will also be a way to better integrate effective and meaningful participation of First Nations peoples in the development of federal policy and law. The profound disadvantage experienced by many First Nations children and young people cannot be properly addressed without their voices being included in decision making processes that impact their lives and the lives of their families. 

The benefit of a rights-based approach to decision making is that it has been found to lead to better and more sustainable human development outcomes. vi A mechanism that allows for the participation of First Nations peoples in decisions that affect them will better enable Federal Parliament to make more sustainable, effective and efficient decisions on issues that affect First Nations peoples. It will also enable Parliamentarians to have expert and culturally sensitive advice about how to create policies in the best interests of First Nations children, as well as better protect their rights to culture, family, country, education, health and participation. It will help ensure that policy formulation and legislation at the federal level will be informed by knowledge that is unique to First Nations communities and leaders. 

Recognising First Nations peoples in our Constitution is not just the smart thing to do from a policy perspective, it is the right thing to do, both legally and morally. Legally, enshrinement in the Constitution elevates the proposal above regular legislation, ensuring it is durable and lasting, and not as susceptible to the shifting sands of politics which can see legislation easily amended or repealed.   

From a moral perspective, the proposal would more accurately reflect Australia’s rich cultural identity and foster a sense of belonging for First Nations children. Australia’s Constitution does not currently recognise the foundational and continuing role of First Nations Australians. This is despite First Nations peoples being custodians of this land for over 60,000 years and the oldest continuing living culture on the planet.vii Constitutional recognition holds huge potential to set a tone of respect and reverence for Australia’s First Nations peoples and build cultural and attitudinal understanding within the community of their special place in Australia’s past, present and future. In turn, this will foster a sense of belonging and safety of First Nations children, with the protective factor of culture well recognised. It will also help address past and present discrimination and racism experienced by First Nations children and adults in Australia, making us a more harmonious and unified society in the process. 

While UNICEF Australia supports the Voice to Parliament, we do not provide specific advice on the design or model. In our view, and consistent with a rights-based approach which values participation and self-determination, the model should be designed in consultation with all stakeholders, including First Nations community leaders in cooperation with the Australian Parliament, so that it is appropriately legitimate in its establishment and function. Active efforts should also be made to meaningfully engage with children and young people in the design process, to ensure their voices are present in what is a landmark and transformational moment for Australia.



[ii] The Imagination Declaration 2019 -

[iii] UN Commission on Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child., 7 March 1990, E/CN.4/RES/1990/74, available at:

[iv] UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295, available at:

[v] Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and UNICEF, Know Your Rights! United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for indigenous adolescents (2013). <>

[vi] The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has identified that there is both an intrinsic rationale and an instrumental rationale for adopting a human rights based approach. See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Frequently Asked Questions on a human rights-based approach to development cooperation (2006) 16 <>

[vii] Australian Geographic, ‘DNA confirms Aboriginal culture one of Earth's oldest’, 23 September 2011. <>