After twelve years of public debate and consideration, last month’s election result inevitably means a delay in substantive constitutional reform for Australia’s First Nations. The implications affect not just Indigenous Australians but also the nation as a whole.
Labor was committed to a referendum on constitutional change in its first term. It would have included a yet-to-be-legislated Indigenous Voice to Parliament, embedded in the constitution, with the detail left to a post-election design process. Key Indigenous proponents such as Noel Pearson and Megan Davis believed they could overcome the widely recognised impediments to a referendum lacking bipartisan support, but the risk of failure would have been high.
The Coalition went to the election having spelt out its deep opposition to the Indigenous Voice in a series of statements by prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and former Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion. All four men alleged that the Voice would amount to a third chamber of parliament, and thus threaten the integrity of our system of government.
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