Labor is considering a Brexit-style referendum on an indigenous “voice to parliament”, with voters asked to endorse a proposal without a fully formed model.
The Conservative Party opposes the Labor proposal saying such a move will only add to division and inequality in that it will further divide indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
The Weekend Australian reports, Pat Dodson (pictured), set to be the indigenous affairs minister under a Shorten government, said voters would be given a guide on how a voice “may work” but its final form would be decided by parliament if a referendum was successful.
Senator Dodson also declared an ambition to implement “regional assemblies” if Labor wins power, giving indigenous communities across Australia an input into the body that would advise parliament on indigenous issues.
The move would see Labor junk its support of the recommendations of a bipartisan parliamentary committee — of which Senator Dodson was a co-chair — which suggested a model should be decided before a decision to go to a referendum. Bill Shorten vowed this year to fast-track a voice referendum and hold it in the first term of his prime ministership, after indigenous leaders and unions opposed delaying a public vote until a model was negotiated between the government and Aboriginal communities.
A vote without a model opens the voice proposal up to a similar attack used against a republic in the 1999 referendum, when Tony Abbott led a campaign that warned of uncertainty if the British monarch was dropped as Australia’s head of state.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said going to a referendum without a clear model was the “height of stupidity”. “To suggest that the Australian people will support the establishment of a body in the Constitution that not even Senator Dodson himself can explain demonstrates the absurdity of his proposition,” Senator Scullion said. “What Senator Dodson is suggesting Labor will do if elected will set back the cause of reconciliation.”
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