There’s not much to do in the small Aboriginal community of Amoonguna, just outside Alice Springs in Mparntwe.
But youth programs in the country, run by Arrernte residents, provide a lifeline for children and adolescents.
MacDonnell Regional Council’s youth care and development programs are funded by a Canberra-based agency that most Australians may not have heard of: the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).
The NIAA is reminiscent of a small government department.
Its role is to provide services to improve the lives of different crowds through the delivery of government services.
For example, it distributes funding to local councils and Indigenous-controlled organizations to run after-school programs aimed at keeping children engaged.
“Indigenous Australians already have a voice”
In Sydney, at an early voting center, Damien Pace, a volunteer with the No for Fair Australia campaign, told the ABC he was voting no because he believes the NIAA is an existing Indigenous voice in Parliament.
“Indigenous Australians already have a voice through the NIAA,” Mr Pace said as he handed out “Vote No” leaflets in the suburb of Ultimo.
“They can have multiple functions, but one of them is also to represent indigenous people in Parliament.”
In Fair Australia’s official brochure “10 Reasons to Vote No to The Divisive Voice”, the campaign says the government should choose to legislate for one voice or “talk to the National Agency for Indigenous Australians, the Coalition of Agencies cutting-edge indigenous people” and other First Nations. groups
Fair Australia adds: “Many Indigenous voices are advising the government on issues that concern them, but the government is not listening. »
The Yes campaign challenges this idea.
What does the NIAA do?
The ABC has looked at the role of the NIAA and what it does, alongside the proposed function of Indigenous voice to Parliament.
- The NIAA was created by executive order and could be dissolved by a future government.
- It carries out and funds projects aimed at helping Indigenous Australians
- 23% of NIAA staff identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
- Its directors and staff are civil servants
- The NIAA is a government agency, so its officials must be apolitical and independent.
The NIAA says on its website that it exists to “lead and influence change in government to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a voice in decisions that affect them”.
The agency advises the government, like all public service agencies, but this is not its main role.
“The NIAA provides advice and information to the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Australian Government, state and territory governments and organisations,” it says.
You can learn more about the responsibilities of NIAA here.
What would the Voice do?
- All its members would be members of the First Nations
- Its members would be chosen by indigenous peoples
- It would be independent of the government
- It would not provide programs
- It would not distribute grants or funds
- It could not be dissolved because it would be a permanent body enshrined in the constitution.
The “myth” that the NIIA is a voice
“One of the big myths is that the National Indigenous Australians Agency, also known as NIAA, is a body that represents Indigenous people,” said Rachel Perkins, an Arrernte Kalkadoon woman and co-chair of Yes23.
Ms. Perkins argues that the main difference between the NIAA and the proposed Voice is that the NIAA is accountable to the government, whereas the Voice would be independent.
“It employs a majority of non-indigenous people,” she added.
“None of them are elected. They are bureaucrats who are mostly based in Canberra and follow the government policy of the day.”
“They are directly accountable to the Minister (for Indigenous Australians) and the Minister’s directives, and so they are not an independent Aboriginal voice.”
Ms Perkins said The Voice would be a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country, elected by their communities to advise Parliament on appropriate policies for First Nations people.
“(The NIAA) is responsible for leading and coordinating the Australian Government’s policy development, program design and implementation and service delivery aimed at improving the life outcomes of Aboriginal and Strait Islander peoples de Torres,” she said.
“NIAA strives to implement the policies and programs of the government of the day.”
NIAA “completely different” from The Voice
Cheryl Saunders AO is a constitutional law expert at the University of Melbourne and presented a series called VoiceFacts, published by the university.
“It’s a completely different body than Voice,” she told ABC.
“The NIAA is a department of the Commonwealth, it is part of the Commonwealth bureaucracy.”
“Its personnel are selected in the same way as other elements of the Commonwealth Civil Service.”
“It does not give advice to Parliament, it is a body which advises the government.”
Professor Saunders says it is normal for the civil service to advise government and implement government policy, and she says civil servants “perform functions on behalf of government”.
A budget of $30 billion or $2.1 billion?
The NIAA was established in 2019 under the leadership of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with former Australian Defense Force deputy chief Ray Griggs becoming its first chief executive.
At its inception, the creation of the NIAA was described as a “An exciting future for Indigenous affairs policy in Australia”.
But the NIAA has come under fire from former Coalition Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who claimed the agency spends approximately $30 billion per year on programs for First Nations people.
During a radio interview with 2GB’s Ben Fordham in July, the former Mr Abbott also brought up the NIAA as a reason why Voice was not needed, citing the “hundreds of people” working for the agency at Canberra.
Mr. Abbott then said that the agency “spends about $30 billion a year on various Indigenous programs.”
However, we checked with the NIAA and they say their budget for 2022-23 was $2.1 billion.
For more from The Voice in the final days before Saturday’s referendum, tune into ABC’s The Voice blog.