David Littleproud, leader of the Nationals, has announced the party will not support establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament in a referendum.
Littleproud said the party did not believe a Voice would help to “close the gap” of disadvantage for First Nations people.
A First Nations Voice to Parliament is the first of three elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a 2017 statement from 250 First Nations leaders.
It would be an official First Nations representative body to advise Parliament on laws affecting First Nations people.
The Uluru Statement specifically asks that the Voice be written into the Australian Constitution, which currently makes no mention of First Nations people.
This requires a referendum – a vote which must be approved by a majority of voters in a majority of states. The Government has promised a referendum in this term of Government.
The referendum would make it a legal requirement to have a Voice. The structure and powers of the Voice would be decided by Parliament if the referendum succeeded, and Parliament could change these at any time.
At a press conference at Parliament House today, Nationals leader David Littleproud said “as the men and women who represent regional, rural and remote Indigenous Australians… we don’t believe that this will genuinely close the gap”.
He said the Nationals supported giving First Nations communities more power “at a local level”, but not through “another layer of bureaucracy here in Canberra.”
Country Liberal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price said “we are part of a liberal, democratic Australia, and one of our fundamental principles is that we are all regarded as equal under the law… Why should I as an Indigenous Australian be governed under a separate entity than the rest of Australia based on my race?”
She claimed First Nations people she had spoken to in remote communities in the Northern Territory did not understand how a Voice would help them.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has frequently highlighted the “unprecedented nation-wide consultation process” that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. In a speech last month, she said the Statement was the result of “exhaustive deliberations and informed participation” of First Nations communities from across the country.
Burney says a Voice would achieve “practical outcomes in health, education and housing… It will start to address the political disempowerment of Indigenous Australians.”
The Government has set up a working group of First Nations people to develop the process for a referendum. It has agreed to a set of principles for the Voice.
This includes that the Voice will be independent, will be chosen by First Nations people, will not have veto power and will be “empowering, community led, inclusive [and] respectful”.
Uluru dialogue response
Geoffrey Scott, a spokesperson for the Uluru Dialogues (a group of custodians of the Uluru Statement), said the Nationals had put “politics ahead of the interest of First Nations Peoples.”
“Australians know that politicians can’t close the gap. And that’s why the Voice is so important. It will make practical improvements to the lives of First Nations Australians…
“Given their record of failure in Government to close the gap, we will not be lectured by the Nationals on the best ways to improve outcomes for First Nations people.”