‘Failure of the process’: Opposition questions new recognition line in Voice proposal

The federal opposition says the addition of a new sentence in the proposal to enshrine an Indigenous Voice in the Constitution highlights a broader failure of process and consultation in the government’s referendum strategy.

Its ongoing criticism of the Voice process stands in contrast to state and territory leaders, who on Friday joined Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in signing a statement of support for the referendum and committed to “working collaboratively” with the federal government in the lead-up to the vote.

Shadow attorney-general Julian Leeser says the inclusion of a new sentence explicitly recognising Indigenous Australians in the prime minister’s draft amendment underscores the need for a transparent public consultation process.

Alex Ellinghausen

Asked why he did not share his federal Liberal colleagues’ concerns about a lack of detail in the proposal, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he agreed with the Voice as a matter of principle and the issue should be above politics.

“It should be a moment which unites the country, doesn’t divide the country. And that’s been my position from the outset,” Perrottet said after a meeting of national cabinet in Canberra.

In his speech to the Indigenous Garma Festival in July, Albanese unveiled three draft sentences that he said could be added to the Constitution to set up the Voice “in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia”.

But this week the government appeared to update its draft amendment by including that line explicitly recognising Indigenous people. The extra sentence was included in a letter sent by Albanese to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton inviting him to make “practical suggestions” on the wording of the draft amendment.

Shadow attorney-general Julian Leeser, a long-time Voice supporter who has become increasingly critical of the government’s handling of the referendum process, said the emergence of the new sentence via a letter between the two leaders underscored the need for transparent public consultation.

“I was at Garma. I heard the [prime minister’s] speech. The way it is laid out in the transcript of his address … that line was not part of the amendment and it has never been referred to as part of the amendment,” Leeser said on Friday.

“It speaks to a failure of the process on this whole issue. This is the Constitution. It’s too important to be mucking around with. The prime minister has never put out this full sentence. The first time it appeared anywhere in public as part of the amendment was in the letter to Peter Dutton two days ago.”

In response to a series of questions, including about when the new sentence was added, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the prime minister had repeated in his letter to Dutton “exactly what he said at Garma more than six months ago”.

“Those words were always expressed to be a starting point and are being carefully considered by, among others, the constitutional expert group,” Dreyfus said.

The government is seeking advice from its 21-member working group of Indigenous leaders and constitutional experts on the wording of the amendment, with the final draft form to be put to the parliament for debate in a Constitution alteration bill in March.

On Thursday, the constitutional expert group advised that the recognition line could be included without giving rise to any legal concerns and agreed that “introductory language of this kind would be appropriate in providing a succinct explanation for the enactment of the provision and clearly link the provision to constitutional recognition”.

Professor George Williams, a member of the legal expert group, said it was “ambiguous” from the transcript of the prime minister’s Garma speech whether the recognition line was always intended to be part of the draft proposal, but described its inclusion as a sensible and worthwhile change.

“It shows it was a draft and the government is making improvements and updating and that will continue until it’s introduced into parliament in March,” Williams said.

Albanese has repeatedly stressed the amendment is a draft and called for public feedback, but no formal public submission process has been set up to date – something the Coalition claims represents an “unorthodox” break from previous referendums.

“A real process is something that calls for public submissions, where you have eminent lawyers who have different positions on this being able to make submissions and you hear a public debate about those issues, and that you settle things before this matter gets put into the parliament,” Leeser said.

The Voice support statement from premiers and chief ministers.

Asked about the new sentence on ABC TV, Labor senator and Aboriginal elder Pat Dodson said the Voice was fundamentally about recognition of Indigenous people and it would serve as a preamble to the three sentences to set up the body.

Matt Golding

Those three sentences are: one that enshrines the Voice; one that says the Voice “may make representations to parliament and executive government” on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and one that empowers the parliament to make laws on how the Voice would be created and how it functions.

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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