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Aboriginal Elders And Leaders Call On Black Voice That Will Represent Remote Communities

Seventy delegates representing nine regions across Central Australia have released their own statement backing calls for a constitutionally-entrenched voice to parliament.

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Elders and leaders from remote communities across Central Australia have called for a say in the design of a proposed black "voice to parliament".

Lucy Hughes Jones / AAPIMAGE

Dancers from East Arnhem Land at the opening ceremony for the National Indigenous Constitutional Convention in Mutitjulu near Uluru in May.

Delegates of the Central Land Council (CLC) on Wednesday released the Brumby Plains Statement after three days of talks.

The statement backs the historic Uluru Statement From The Heart, delivered in May after an extensive community consultation process on the next step towards constitutional reform.

The Brumby Plains Statement calls on remote communities to be given a say in designing the black voice to parliament, and says treaty negotiations must be protected by a "treaty framework" to guide the process.

"We want to be part of designing the voice to parliament to ensure it represents people from the bush, and to ensure it is powerful," the statement reads.

"This work should be progressed before we go ahead with a referendum."

The voice to parliament was a key plank of the Uluru Statement, and would be constitutionally-entrenched. There is currently little detail about how the proposed voice would work.

The proposal for a black voice and a treaty process differ from other forms of recognition proposed over the last seven years, including amending the controversial race powers in the Australian Constitution, which allow governments to discriminate both for and against Aboriginal people and other minority groups. This was rejected at Uluru in May.

Another option rejected by the Uluru Statement was a recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the preamble to the constitution, which is largely seen as the weakest form of recognition.

CLC delegate Barbara Shaw told BuzzFeed News that remote residents needed the opportunity to have a say in issues that affect them, and that designing a voice to parliament would allow self-determination.

"A lot of my elders and leaders, they want to see change that will take us forward in the future, in a positive way," Shaw said.

"We need to have the opportunity to play a decision making role around policies, and influencing governments on our needs and wants. It's about trying to understand what this means for somebody in a remote community."

Shaw says that the race powers in the constitution had been both positive and negative for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

"We have benefited from the race powers through the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, but then when you look at it, we have a very different experience when we have experienced the worst of the race powers with the imposition of the NT intervention," she said.

The NT intervention was introduced by the Howard government in 2007 as a response to an NT government report into child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.

It was legislated after little consultation with Aboriginal groups affected, and included a suite of policies including blanket income management, compulsory porn and alcohol bans, and the acquisition of Aboriginal townships for five years.

"The Australian government should not pass racially discriminatory laws that harm our people," Shaw says.

"Here in the NT we've been affected by the race powers. It's a matter of looking at how we can benefit when designing the voice to parliament, to ensure that it represents Aboriginal people."

Shaw says that "unfortunately at this time, it is going to be a slow and long process, like the 1967 referendum.

"That was a 10 year campaign. It's going to be a process of getting the information out. We had 70 elders and leaders elected as CLC delegates to put this statement together. So this is a start for us."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not yet committed to a black voice to parliament.

Amy McQuire is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Queensland, Australia.

Contact Amy McQuire at amy.mcquire@buzzfeed.com.

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