Prime Minister Anthony Albanese remains optimistic Australians will support an Indigenous Voice despite the Liberals and Nationals opposing it.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has confirmed the Liberals would back constitutional recognition for Indigenous people, but would not support an Indigenous Voice.
The model put to parliament by the Albanese government after consulting with Indigenous leaders and constitutional experts, is based on adding a new section to the constitution which would recognise First Peoples and enshrine a Voice to Parliament and Executive Government.
It is a response to the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart petition which called for the establishment of an Indigenous Voice to be enshrined in the constitution and improve the representation of Indigenous Australians.
After a two-hour party room meeting on Wednesday, the Liberals agreed to back constitutional recognition in a different form of words to that proposed by the government as well as support a legislated local and regional Voice for Indigenous people.
Mr. Albanese concedes a lack of bipartisan support could result in a referendum defeat.
He noted that Mr. Dutton had been part of a government that was in power for nearly a decade but had not advanced the issues for First Nations people.
“We’ve waited 122 years to recognise in our constitution the privilege that we have of sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on Earth (and) I say to Australians: do not miss this opportunity,” the prime minister asserted.
“We need to acknowledge that with the best of intentions and goodwill, what we have done until now is not working. We need to consult on matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he continued.
Indigenous academic and one of the Uluru Statement’s architects Noel Pearson said it was a sad day for Australia that there would not be bipartisan support for such an important national enterprise.
He said the Liberal Party had committed a “Judas betrayal” of the Australian people with its stance on an Indigenous Voice.
“Nevertheless, I am certain that every attempt to try and kill and bury Uluru will not succeed (and) the Australian people will rise to the historic opportunity we have to achieve reconciliation at last,” Mr. Pearson told ABC Radio National.
He remained confident the referendum due to take place later this year, would succeed.
The National Party came out in opposition to the Voice four months ago.
At the time leader David Littleproud stated: “The Voice will not advance the primary aim of Closing the Gap and dealing with the real issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It will not economically empower Indigenous people. We believe this will be a voice for Redfern, not for Indigenous communities in regional, rural and remote Australia, in places like Cunnamulla, Alice Springs and Carnarvon.”
With Australian Associated Press