Last night at Senate Estimates, Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy showed amazing investigative skills to uncover a “secret” Budget measure that in reality has been in the Budget Papers for a number of years.
Senator McCarthy claimed to have uncovered some new secret budgeting process that allocated $160 million for a referendum on the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians and took to Twitter afterwards in delight at her discovery.
Senator McCarthy’s Tweet: The dept of Prime Minister and Cabinet reveals it secretly budgeted $160million for a referendum on recognition of First Nations people. A policy that they do not support.
The reality is that this funding was allocated through the normal budget process and was announced in the 2016/17 Budget.
The former Attorney-General’s budget media release of 3 May 2016 announced that “the Government has made provision in the Contingency Reserve of $160 million for the referendum on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians”.
This embarrassing lack of understanding of Budget processes shows why Territory Labor is delivering a financial disaster for the Territory and the real risk of a Michael Gunner and Bill Shorten double whammy.
The not so “secret” allocation of funding in the contingency reserve was done on the expectation that the Referendum Council would do the job that the Prime Minister asked of them and develop a referendum proposal and a referendum question based on consultations with all Australians. As we now know, the Referendum Council abjectly failed to do any of these things.
Notwithstanding the failure of the Referendum Council, the Coalition Government has been clear that we support the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians and we stand by this commitment despite the disappointing partisan comments from Senator Dodson and Senator McCarthy last night.
Constitutional Recognition should be a bipartisan effort and we welcomed the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee that Mr Julian Leeser MP and Senator Dodson co-chaired.
The Government has committed funding in the budget to the very co-design process that Senator Dodson himself called for in his co-chairs’ report and it is disappointing that Senator Dodson has now sought to play politics with this announcement by questioning the Government’s commitment to Constitutional Recognition.
The Government has been clear.
We support the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians however we do not believe that the addition of the Voice to Parliament to the national representative institutions in the Constitution as proposed by the Referendum Council was either desirable or capable of winning acceptance at a Referendum.
Senator Dodson’s own foreword with his co-chair to the Joint Select Committee Final Report stated that “after the design process is complete the legal form of The Voice can then be worked out. It will be easier to work out the legal form The Voice should take once there is clarity on what The Voice looks like”.
That is what the Coalition Government’s $7.3 million commitment for the co-design of options for a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians delivers on.
But it now appears that Senator Dodson has been instructed from above that Labor’s position is that it will hold a referendum without the process he recommended as part of the Joint Select Committee.
The Australian people deserve to know exactly what Bill Shorten and Labor plan to do and what the Voice they are now committed to establishing in both legislation and in the Constitution actually looks like.
Before Labor risks setting back the cause of reconciliation for another generation, all Australians and certainly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians deserve to see the details of Labor’s Voice to Parliament proposal.
Why won’t Labor listen to Senator Dodson’s recommendations to work with Indigenous Australians to develop more detail on a Voice to Parliament before committing to a referendum that if it did not succeed, would be a disappointing day in our nation’s reconciliation?