Australian Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is facing criticism after pledging to hold another referendum should the current one to change the Constitution fail.
Yes23 Director Dean Parkin said Mr. Dutton’s exact idea has already been rejected twice before.
The opposition leader’s proposal, which was also the intention of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is to change the wording of the preamble of the nation’s founding document to include recognition of Indigenous people.
“It was rejected in 1999 when the Australian people rejected symbolic recognition at that referendum. It was rejected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2017 with the creation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” Mr. Parkin told News Corp.
He said Indigenous recognition needed to be meaningful, not symbolic, which he argues is what the referendum, to be held on Oct. 14, will deliver.
“That’s why it’s a very good deal,” he said.
Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie also criticised the Liberal-National Coalition for doing nothing while they were previously in government for nine years.
She said the Coalition had taken the policy of constitutional recognition of Indigenous people to elections for over a decade but never held a referendum.
The comments come after Mr. Dutton pledged the same policy for the next election due in 2025.
“We went to the last election, and a number of elections before that, with that as our policy, and that will be our policy going into the next election as well,” he told Sky News Australia on Sept. 3.
“I think it’s right and respectful to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.”
He said it would be a huge, unifying step for Australia, likening it to the 1967 referendum that took race out of the Constitution.
“Yes, I believe very strongly that it is the right thing to do but enshrining a Voice in the Constitution is divisive. It will divide the country down the middle. It will not provide the practical outcomes,” he said.
The Labor Party’s proposal includes not only a change to the preamble but also embeds an advisory body to the Parliament to have direct input on policy-making deemed to impact Indigenous people.
Mr. Dutton opposes the body, but said he would be willing to work with the Labor Party in drawing up legislation to establish a “local Voice” instead of the current federal proposal.
The Liberal Party’s legislated local and regional Voices would “listen to those elders on the ground and get a better outcome.”
“Listening to people is not a bad concept, that’s very clear. But as we saw in Western Australia, somebody who wanted to … move four kilos worth of dirt had to get a report from an Aboriginal cultural expert at the cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars,” he said, referring to Western Australia’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Law that was scrapped just one month after its introduction.
“That was in legislation. Had it been in the Constitution, it wouldn’t have been abolished, it couldn’t have been abolished.”
Respect the Outcome, Says PM
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has repeatedly stated that he will respect the outcome of the referendum.
“I’ll respect decisions that are made by the Australian people. So, if Australians vote No, I think that will be a lost opportunity but I’ll respect that,” he told Nine’s Current Affair on Aug. 30.
He added that if the referendum failed, he wouldn’t move to legislate a Voice to respect the Australian people’s vote.
“I will continue to do what we can as a government to engage and to try to make a difference to Indigenous lives,” he said.
The prospect of legislating regional and local Voices is unlikely considering that National Party Leader David Littleproud has expressed scepticism about such a model, saying it may not effectively help communities in remote areas.
Mr. Littleproud added that the National Party room would need to work through the details for any final position.
“We’ll work through it from the lived experience that we have from representing rural and remote Australia and making sure that we get their interests heard in what that policy setting might look like,” he told ABC Insiders on Aug. 13. “But we’ll be constructive in any negotiations with anybody.”
But the Nationals do support their Coalition counterparts for the constitutional recognition of Indigenous people.