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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has conceded that public support for the Indigenous Voice to parliament is slipping but argues voters will rally around the proposal once they focus on the detail.
And he has dismissed suggestions from the Coalition that the referendum question should be altered to deal exclusively with the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and not insert the advisory body in the nation’s founding document.
Anthony Albanese argued establishing the Voice was not about a treaty or paying Indigenous Australians compensation for colonisation.Credit: AFR
In an interview on radio station 2GB, Albanese also argued establishing the Voice was not about a treaty or paying Indigenous Australians compensation for colonisation, and said his government would reject advice from the Voice to change the date of Australia Day, for example, if the body proposed such a change.
Asked by radio host Ben Fordham about the downward trend in a slew of opinion polls including Newspoll, Essential and this masthead’s Resolve Political Monitor – which has seen support fall from 63 per cent last August to 49 per cent – the prime minister said voters were focused on other issues at present.
“It is true that that’s the case [the downward trend]. But there has been a debate between politicians in Canberra with some focus as well from the media on things that this isn’t about,” Albanese said.
“You have the Yes and the No case published for the first time just yesterday. There’ll be a focus on what this is about. I think that if people actually read the question that’s being asked, and then they read both the Yes and the No case, I’m very confident that people will come to a view that if not now, when?
“This is about … recognition, but importantly, it’s about getting better outcomes by listening to Indigenous Australians about matters that affect them.”
Albanese said he would not seek to legislate the Voice rather than enshrining it in the Constitution – which the opposition has called for – because Indigenous Australians had “said they don’t just want recognition, the symbolism of recognition, they want something that will make a practical difference to their lives”.
When pressed on whether the Voice would then lead to a treaty with Indigenous Australians, as suggested in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which also proposed the Voice, Albanese repeatedly said “this is not about a treaty” and that “compensation has nothing to do with what people will vote on in the last quarter of this year”.
In 2017, when the Uluru Statement was released, it proposed a Voice to parliament and also suggested the creation of a Makarrata Commission to oversee treaty-making and truth-telling.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney also ruled out a challenge to debate opposition frontbencher Jacinta Nampijinpa Price over the Voice, arguing the body was designed to create a better future for Indigenous Australians, not “conflict and obstruction” between politicians.
In a speech in Sydney on Wednesday evening, Burney warned that if Australia failed to vote for the Voice this year, there might never be another opportunity to do so “and we have to grasp it with both hands”.
“The gap isn’t closing fast enough. Something has to change. For too long, governments have made policies for First Nations people, not with First Nations people. We need the Voice to change that,” Burney said.
“The Voice will be tasked with taking the long view. Unlike government, it won’t be distracted by the three-year election cycles. It will plan for the next generation, not the next term … we should all be able to agree that we need to do better by First Nations people.”
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.
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