Wyatt finds a voice
The minister for Indigenous Australians has got the recognition ball rolling again
Today’s bipartisan commitment to hold [$] a referendum on Indigenous recognition within the next three years is a welcome start to the Coalition’s third term, and suggests the Morrison government may have more policy ambition than its fearmongering election campaign indicated. After suffering a near-terminal experience during Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership, the recognition cause is back on the agenda courtesy of Ken Wyatt’s first speech as minister for Indigenous Australians, at the National Press Club in Canberra. As was well flagged this morning [$], Wyatt said he would work with shadow minister Linda Burney to bring forward “a consensus option for constitutional recognition to be put to a referendum during the current parliamentary term”.
Wyatt told ABC Radio’s AM the three-year timeframe was not overly ambitious, given that “we started this process under John Howard with a preamble”. Shadow assistant minister for constitutional recognition Patrick Dodson told the same program that Wyatt should move much faster, taking no more than six to eight months to legislate a voice to parliament as envisaged in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and 12 months to get a referendum process. He blamed former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce for setting the process back three years by putting forward furphies about the voice creating a “third chamber” of parliament.
But Wyatt told the press club today that it was important to take the time to get the referendum right if the country is to replicate the overwhelming success of the 1967 referendum that gave the Commonwealth power to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census. Wyatt said the 1967 success was “the result of tireless advocacy and an extraordinary nationwide momentum for change … If we want to see that kind of national consensus again, we need to be thorough.” Burney, who was due to hold a press conference this afternoon, said in a statement today that while the Opposition was waiting for more detail, “We look forward to working constructively with the government.”
Ahead of Wyatt’s speech, Professor Megan Davis, a co-author of the Uluru statement, told the ABC today that there was every prospect of success at a referendum in which Indigenous Australians were seeking an “enhanced role in our democratic decision-making”. Her colleague Gabrielle Appleby said the amendment to enshrine a representative body for Aboriginal people into Australia’s Constitution would need to be carefully drafted, but that there was already “remarkable consensus around the level of detail that should be included in the Constitution versus what should be left for a future parliament to provide for in legislation”.
Wyatt, however, flagged today that he would try to reframe the key demand of the 2017 Uluru convention for a voice to parliament, as “not a singular voice [but] a cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians … The development of a local, regional and national voice will be achieved.”
No doubt there’s a way to go, but at least the ball is rolling again.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Today’s bipartisan commitment to hold [$] a referendum on Indigenous recognition within the next three years is a welcome start to the Coalition’s third term, and suggests the Morrison government may have more policy ambition than its fearmongering election campaign indicated. After suffering a near-terminal experience during Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership, the recognition cause is back on the agenda courtesy of Ken Wyatt’s first speech as minister for Indigenous Australians, at the National Press Club in Canberra. As was well flagged this morning [$], Wyatt said he would work with shadow minister Linda Burney to...
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