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In support of a Voice

Native Title & Public Interest Law
ML Writing 2
In an essay for philanthropic initiative Future Leaders, senior partner Mark Leibler argues that constitutional recognition of First Nations Australians has been supported and advanced by the last seven federal governments and each of them has understood that to pursue a referendum proposal that does not accord with the wishes of the people we seek to recognise would be inconceivable and have zero chance of success.

“It was Malcolm Turnbull who best articulated this in a speech to federal parliament as Prime Minister in 2016 when he said: “The terms of any amendment will need the endorsement of a majority of all Australians and a majority of States to successfully amend the Constitution, but it will need the support of our First Australians to be proposed at all.’”

Mark goes onto explain that, while no proposal will ever attract 100% support, the establishment of an advisory Voice to Parliament, protected by the Constitution, was the model that flowed from the most proportionately significant consultation process that has ever been undertaken with Aboriginal and Torres Strait lslander Australians, engaging a greater ratio of the population than the constitutional convention debates of the 1800s, from which our Indigenous peoples were entirely excluded.

“Yet, five years later, we find ourselves revisiting the model of preambular recognition first raised by John Howard all those years ago – a model that was roundly rejected by First Nations representatives in the 2015 Kirribilli Statement as unacceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are revisiting misconceptions that have already been addressed and resolved. We have people asking for the detailed form and operation of the Voice to be laid out forthwith, although the only thing the electorate will be asked to support or reject at the referendum is the principle of its existence. The detail will be left to the parliament to determine after further consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and a likely parliamentary committee process following a successful referendum.

“If, after all that, the government uses its majority to create a body that doesn’t work, the model can always be changed by the current or any future parliament.

“My enduring confidence in the good sense of the Australian people still tells me, as it has from the start, that the referendum will be carried. More information from the government will be forthcoming and I remain hopeful that, after careful consideration, the Liberal Party will support the Voice and earn its fair share of the credit for such a historic, deeply positive national opportunity.”

To read the full essay, alongside other essays by prominent Australians in support of the Voice to Parliament, click here.

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