Australia’s Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, declared that there was ‘nothing to be feared’ as she spoke alongside members of the Referendum Working Group and Referendum Engagement group after the constitutional alteration for the Indigenous Voice to parliament was announced by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.
If passed, the Voice to parliament will become enshrined within the Australian Constitution and formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First peoples of Australia.
Burney describes that the two critical points of consideration for the ‘yes’ vote, would be recognition and consultation, stating that this referendum was imperative for ‘completing our nation’s birth certificate’ and acknowledging that the life outcomes for First Nations people was ‘completely unacceptable’.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, and a significant number of Coalition frontbenchers, were not present for the bill’s introduction, and Nationals leader David Littleproud, Barnaby Joyce and others, did not join the standing ovation. In 2008, the opposition leader was the only Liberal frontbencher not to appear during the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, a decision he now admits was wrong. Advocates for Stolen Generations survivors have questioned Peter Dutton's mea culpa for boycotting the 2008 Apology, 15 years after he walked out of the chamber during Kevin Rudd's delivery. NSWCCL contends that Peter Dutton is again on the wrong side of history.
On the Labor side, the government made room on their frontbench for Indigenous MPs Gordon Reid and Marion Scrymgour, who normally sit on the backbenches. Watching from the side were senators Malarndirri McCarthy, Jana Stewart and Nita Green.
Mr Dutton’s non-attendance was questioned, where he swiftly redirected the question to discuss Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s reluctance to directly answer questions pertaining to the voice, claiming Australians have ‘questions’. He stated Australians want to know what the Voice is about, and what would happen should this be raised in the High Court.
Mr Albanese brands this argument as an ‘unfounded scare campaign’, accusing the opposition leader of delay tactics. Ms Burney has also stated it is important to move Australia forward through the passing of this referendum. Mr Dutton is calling on the Albanese government to publish its legal advice from the Commonwealth’s top advisors, claiming ‘if you want people to vote for it, then explain…what it is’.
The Solicitor-General has reportedly told the referendum working group that the constitutional wording of the referendum poses a ‘limited legal risk’ and has not recommended removing the ability to lobby the executive branch of government.
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