Voice to Parliament discussion likely when Aboriginal elder meets Pope

Voice to Parliament

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, a respected Aboriginal elder, is set to have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, where she expects the Pope to inquire about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann (pictured), a former Senior Australian of the Year, educator and artist, is a proponent of the proposal to give indigenous Australians a say in the country’s political decision-making.

In late 2023, Australians will vote in a referendum about changing the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

The Voice, an independent and permanent advisory body, would provide advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on matters that affect the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

However, Ungunmerr Baumann admits her uncertainty about the benefits and drawbacks of the Voice. She emphasises the need for more information to be provided to remote Aboriginal communities before they can make informed decisions.

Uncertainty of impact on communities

When asked if she would be talking to Francis about the Voice, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann said: “I shouldn’t laugh but that’s a difficult one for me, I’m trying to get my head around it.”

The 73-year-old said First Nations and Torres Strait Islander peoples were still uncertain of the impact of the Voice on their communities.

But she believed that the Catholic Church, while intensely interested in how the Voice was being debated and discussed in Australia, would not hold a position regarding how people should vote because “the church isn’t in that style of wanting to put words in our mouths.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he (Francis) did (ask about the Voice),’’ she said, noting that the patron of her foundation, Father Frank Brennan, had been at the Vatican “explaining all things to him.”

Father Brennan, a law professor, has suggested changing the wording of the Voice to ‘ministers of state’ instead of ‘executive government’ to broaden support for the upcoming referendum.

Fr Brennan will deliver a lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on the recognition of Aboriginal rights and the impact of the Voice.

Visit coincides with National Reconciliation Week

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann’s visit to Rome coincides with National Reconciliation Week, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Holy See.

During her stay, Ungunmerr Baumann aims to bridge the gap between education and culture through talks and meetings with senior Catholic Church officials.

Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, said Dr Ungunmerr Baumann’s visit was a unique opportunity to exchange perspectives on many priority issues for Australia and the Holy See.

Ms Porro said: “It will also be an emotive journey by one of our country’s most respected indigenous leaders, and it stands to be an inspiration and an example that will resonate strongly with Aboriginal communities across Australia.’’


The Australian

The Sydney Morning Herald

CathNews  New Zealand

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