Communiqué for Referendum Working Group 2 February

Minister for Indigenous Australians

Today the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Attorney‑General, the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians met with the Referendum Working Group at Parliament House in Canberra.

The Minister acknowledged the Working Group has a vital role to play in providing advice to Government.

Update from Government

The Prime Minister addressed the meeting to restate his commitment to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart, starting with a referendum, describing it as an opportunity to bring the nation together.

The Working Group received an update on the education and engagement work underway on the delivery of information on the Voice and referendum, and the upcoming legislation-related milestones towards a referendum.

Constitutional Expert Group

The Working Group heard from members of the Constitutional Expert Group and discussed options for the referendum question, including a written summary of further advice (attached).

Peter Dutton & Julian Leeser

The Opposition Leader and Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians attended the meeting, providing an opportunity for the Working Group to detail the progress made to date and discuss the approach to the referendum.

The Voice

The Working Group noted the referendum is about the principle of enshrining a Voice in the Australian Constitution. The model of the Voice will be determined by the Parliament after the referendum, and after consultations.

In particular, the Working Group agreed broad and inclusive consultation with First Nations peoples and communities is critical to ensure the final Voice model reflects the views of First Nations communities.

Next steps

The Working Group made significant progress on the referendum question and the constitutional amendment to be put to the Australian people.

Final recommendations will be given to the government within the next month, with the introduction of the Constitutional Alteration Bill on track to be introduced to Federal Parliament in March.

The Working Group is looking forward to further engaging with Australians about the referendum in the Week of Action starting on Saturday February 18 to Friday February 24.

ATTACHMENT – Summary of second tranche of advice from the Constitutional Expert Group

The Constitutional Expert Group (Expert Group) considered additional questions referred from the Referendum Working Group relating to the draft constitutional amendment put forward by the Prime Minister at Garma on 30 July 2022 to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice (Voice) in the Constitution.

1. An introductory sentence to the provision could be included without giving rise to any legal concerns

The Expert Group considered the following example of possible introductory language to the draft provision from the Prime Minister’s speech at Garma on 30 July 2022:

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

  1. There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

All members of the Expert Group agreed that introductory language of this kind would be appropriate in providing a succinct explanation for the enactment of the provision and clearly link the provision to constitutional recognition.

2. The names ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice’ and ‘First Peoples Voice’ are preferable to the name ‘First Nations Voice’

Members of the Expert Group acknowledged that ‘First Nations Voice’ was chosen for the name of the Voice in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

However, while not unanimous, there was general consensus that the name ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice’ or ‘First Peoples Voice’ would be preferable to ‘First Nations Voice’, including for legal clarity.

3. Parliament would have the power to establish, and create relationships between, the Voice and sub-national bodies including regional Voices

The draft provision, along with existing heads of power, provide sufficient authority for the Parliament to make laws to implement a range of models for the Voice. These could include laws to establish sub-national Voices. Any connections with State and Territory Parliaments, Governments or Voices should be carefully formulated with the cooperation of the relevant State or Territory.

4. Other matters

All members of the Expert Group agreed that the draft provision would not affect the sovereignty of any group or body.

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