The Swedish Sámi Parliament: Lessons for Institutional Design in Australia

Mr Harry Hobbs1

1University Of Technology Sydney, Haymarket, Australia

In the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ‘from all points of the southern sky’ gathered on the red dust of Mutitjulu to call for the establishment of a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous representative body that would advise Parliament on laws concerning Indigenous people. Although the Australian government rejected the proposal, the federal Labor Opposition has committed to holding a referendum on the First Nations Voice if it wins the 2019 election. Assuming a referendum is held and succeeds, focus will shift to questions of institutional design. In doing so, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will assess the record of past Indigenous representative bodies in Australia, as well as similar bodies across the globe. In this paper, I reflect on the experiences of the Swedish Sámi Parliament, a representative body for the Indigenous Sámi people who live in Sweden, which has operated since 1993. Significant distinctions exist between Swedish and Australian governance frameworks, political cultures, as well as the circumstances facing Sámi and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Nonetheless, the experience of the Swedish Sámi Parliament can offer some important lessons for structural design of a First Nations Voice.


Harry Hobbs is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney. His PhD explored whether an Indigenous representative body could empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the capacity to have their voices heard in the processes of government. Prior to commencing his PhD, Harry worked as a Principal Research Officer in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He has also worked as a Legal Research Officer at the High Court of Australia and in the ACT Human Rights Commission.

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