After months of discussion, the project to design an Indigenous Voice representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reached a milestone on Saturday.
An interim report proposing models for a Voice was released to the public, having been handed to Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt in October.
Over 12 months, a group of 52 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people met to consider models for a Voice letting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples engage with Parliament and the government on issues, legislation and policies affecting them.
The interim report proposes models for a National Voice, and a framework to enhance local and regional decision making and regional governance for First Nations peoples.
A period of consultation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians will follow the release of the interim report, a process the co-design project's leaders said would refine the proposed models before a final report to the federal government this year.
What would a National Voice look like?
The report proposes a National Voice to advise Parliament on national issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It would also provide advice to the government on policies, ideally in the earlier stages of policy design.
The National Voice would not administer programs, and would not be able to veto laws made by Parliament or overturn government decisions.
There are two main models in the interim report for the membership of the National Voice.
In both, members are chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Both include between 16 and 18 members to be selected from states, territories and the Torres Strait Islands, and would have gender balance.
Under one model, local and regional Voices at the state or territory level would select National Voice members. Alternatively, members would be chosen by state, territory or Torres Strait Islander level assemblies where they exist. Another alternative is a combination of these approaches.
The second model would involve directly electing members to the National Voice in each state, territory and the Torres Strait Islands. Under another option for this model, National Voice members would be drawn from state or territory assemblies where they exist, to avoid duplicating elections.
Co-chair of the co-design senior advisory group Professor Tom Calma said the National Voice would allow a break from past government approaches to creating policies for Indigenous peoples.
"It's getting away from the past practice of determining what's best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to now saying 'OK, let's not determine that without engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," he said.
"The key thing is to create a forum in which this dialogue can take place because it doesn't happen at the moment and it needs to happen."
The co-design process also looked at the bodies and structures that already existed, and how the National Voice would interact with them.
What would local and regional Voices do?
The interim report proposes local and regional Voices, which would engage with both communities and the National Voice.
They would provide advice to governments, and facilitate shared decision making with them. Local and regional Voices would not administer programs or funding.
Within this scope, communities would decide the functions of local and regional Voices and the report said the roles of the bodies were likely to evolve over time.
Local and regional Voices would not displace or undermine existing bodies with statutory roles or specific functions, but provide links for involvement, the interim report said.
Voices would let local communities participate in their work, and provide a forum to resolve local issues at a local level.
Communities would design their local and regional Voices according to local context, history and culture.
Would the Indigenous Voice be enshrined in the constitution?
The co-design process is not considering constitutional enshrinement of an Indigenous Voice, Professor Calma said.
In a joint statement on Saturday, Labor MPs Linda Burney, Warren Snowdon, Patrick Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy said many people would be disappointed with the government's refusal to consider a constitutionally-enshrined voice to the parliament.
First Nations leaders in the Uluru Statement from the Heart had clearly expressed their desire for an Indigenous Voice enshrined in the constitution, the statement said.
"A voice must be able to provide full and frank advice," the MPs said.
"It must be secure and it should not be subject to the whims of the government of the day. This report fails in that context."
Professor Calma said an Indigenous Voice could still be enshrined in the constitution at a later time.
"I'd say the majority of people believe that we should go down the legislative model first, and at a future time, if it works, and if there's a will by the people, then we take it to the constitution, to a referendum," he said.
Professor Calma referred to the setback to the republican movement following its 1999 referendum loss.
"We don't want to take that risk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their representative body because we've come so far and we've got the general ear of the government, and many in the community - Indigenous and non-Indigenous - are very supportive of a representative body, but they also want to know a little bit more about what it might look like."
What's next for the co-design process?
A consultation period is under way until March, involving a survey, webinars and facilitated discussions. The groups involved in the co-design will submit to the government their final report and recommendations for an Indigenous Voice in April.
Professor Calma said the interim report is not prescriptive about the proposed models.
"We said 'these are options, and so let's have a look at them and work out what works best', and that's what the consultation process will say," he said.