Despite consistent calls for over three years in support of a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said there is no “mainstream support” for an Indigenous Voice enshrined in the constitution.
At a press conference on Thursday at Parliament House in Canberra, the Prime Minister was questioned regarding his willingness to consider a referendum to enshrine a voice into the Constitution.
“It has never been the Government’s policy to have that process enshrined in the constitution,” replied the Prime Minister.
“That never has been the Government’s policy. I think that is pretty clear. It is not the Government’s policy.”
The Prime Minister ruled out the option of a referendum and said the Government is proceeding with the current co-design process.
Morrison then claimed there was no mainstream support for constitutional recognition.
“On the other issue of constitutional recognition, more broadly … there is still no clear consensus proposal at this stage, which would suggest mainstream support in the Indigenous community or elsewhere,” he said.
However, the existence of the Uluru Statement from the Heart directly contradicts Morrison’s claims of no “clear consensus proposal”.
In 2017, First Nations delegates from across Australia gathered after months of dialogues to establish the Uluru Statement from the Heart — a proposal for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, allowing them a voice on Indigenous issues.
From the Heart and the Uluru Dialogues at the Indigenous Law Centre of the University of New South Wales acknowledged the Prime Minister’s comments in a Joint Statement.
“Polling has repeatedly shown a Voice to Parliament is supported by Australian voters, and overwhelmingly by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” the statement read.
They affirmed that since former Prime Minister John Howard first promised the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2007, it has been a standing promise in each election.
“Not one Liberal leader has repealed that promise,” they said.
They noted there is no other acceptable form of constitutional recognition other than an enshrined Voice and that the Government is “out of step” with public opinion.
“Governments have been claiming to be focused on ‘practical solutions’ on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues for decade after decade, and failing decade after decade,” they said.
“This is because nothing compels them to speak to the experts on the frontline in communities rather than the Canberra bubble, in this case Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves.
“Only an enshrined Voice to Parliament ensures voices outside the Canberra bubble are heard on health, jobs and the rule of law.”
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said she was “not surprised” by the Prime Minister’s comments.
“I think it is completely unclear what the Government’s agenda is. On one hand you have the Minister [Ken Wyatt] saying one thing and the other hand you have the Prime Minister saying something else,” she said.
Burney says it’s become clear that the Government has no interest in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“What is obvious is that he has no interest in [the Uluru Statement] and a constitutionally enshrined Voice by way of referendum,” she said.
“The only way Morrison will do [constitutional recognition], if they don’t run out of time, is if he thinks there is something in it for the Government.”
On the other hand, the Australian Labor Party has declared its support for an enshrined Voice.
“What I take a lot of resilience from is that, unlike the Government, I have a rock-solid caucus on supporting the Uluru Statement in full,” she said.
“There is no equivocation from Anthony Albanese about a commitment to Uluru, including Treaty making.”
Speaking on National Closing the Gap Day, the Prime Minister wrapped up questions on the Voice by noting the Government’s commitment to closing the gap.
The 2021 Close the Gap report, put forward 15 recommendations for large-scale systemic reform which would work towards stopping preventable deaths, investing in health, culture and Country.
“We are focused on pursuing the co-design process, on the Voice to Government and in addition to that, we are getting on with the very important job of closing the gap,” he said.
Responding to the Prime Minister’s comments on closing the gap, Minister Burney said she “wait[s] with bated breath”.
NIT contacted both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Office of Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt for further comment. NIT did not receive a response from Minister Wyatt’s office and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
By Rachael Knowles