The Greens have joined the opposition in demanding more detail on the Indigenous Voice to parliament, while a key adviser on Labor’s Indigenous expert panel also called for the government to release more information.
Greens First Nations spokeswoman Dorinda Cox, who strongly supports the Voice and who has pledged to work with Labor, said the Albanese government “needs to communicate what the referendum is all about more effectively”.
Cox said: “There is no pathway to Truth and Treaty if we have a No vote to Voice”.
In sharp contrast with Lidia Thorpe, her predecessor as the Greens’ spokesperson, Cox said she wants “to work with the Albanese government and secure a Yes vote, but I’m also saying where is Makaratta [treaty]?”
Cox outlined two key details she was seeking agreement to: that members of the Voice be elected, and that her home state of WA have four Voice representatives because of its size and geographic diversity.
Her comments came a day after former Liberal Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt, who also backs the Voice, said Labor must spell out the details as it was losing ground.
Sean Gordon, a key member of the government’s Indigenous working group, of which Wyatt is also a member, warned Labor the referendum could “die on the principles” unless voters were given more information about the “high-level architecture” of how the body would interact with government.
Gordon also revealed he had shifted his position and now thought it was imperative for the Voice to have the power to advise the executive – that is, ministers and cabinet – an issue that has become a growing fault line in the debate over the design of the Voice model.
Some legal experts and conservatives argue that allowing the Voice’s remit to extend to the executive would provide an avenue for government decisions to be challenged in the High Court if the Voice was not consulted.
The working group will meet on Thursday to thrash out the wording of the Voice amendment that it wants enshrined in the Constitution if the referendum passes.
Gordon’s change of mind helps clear the way for the working group to unanimously recommend the Albanese government endorse a Voice that has a constitutionally backed power to advise the executive and the parliament.
Gordon, the chair of conservative pro-Voice group Uphold & Recognise, which has been trying to build support in Coalition ranks, said he was convinced the Voice needs the ability to influence ministerial decision-making after spending 10 days travelling through remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
“I listened to the concerns that conservatives were raising in regard to legal challenges in the High Court. I’ve then gone out and listened to Indigenous communities. I would sooner go through the process of the High Court … than have ministers impose decisions on communities without proper consultation,” he said.
“One of the concerns I have raised [with the working group] is if executive government is to be left in, then we’ve got to be willing to give up something else to demonstrate how the Voice will work. And for me, that is [outlining] the architecture. We can’t die on the principles.”
The working group has previously laid out eight broad design principles that will underpin the Voice, including that it won’t have veto power or a program delivery function and its members must be chosen by Indigenous people. The government has resisted calls for more detail, saying it will be a matter for the parliament to decide the mechanics of how the Voice will operate after the referendum, insisting Australians were voting on the principle of constitutional recognition, not the model.
Gordon said Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s calls for granular details were an “overreach”, but
added it was a problem that the prime minister had not committed to a seminal 2021 report by Indigenous academics Tom Calma and Marcia Langton.
That report laid out a proposed 24-member model for a national Voice, with two members from each state, territory and the Torres Strait, and one extra member for WA, Queensland, SA, the NT and NSW. It proposed the national Voice work with 35 regional and local Voices.
The Calma-Langton model was agnostic on whether to elect or appoint members of the Voice.
“There needs to be a commitment from government to accept that report,” Gordon said, which meant explaining how the national, regional and local Voices would interact.
“There are enough smart people sitting on that working group that have worked in Indigenous communities for many, many years, and there’s enough experience on the government side to be able to develop the architecture and say here is the way forward,” Gordon said.
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