'Slow build' for Indigenous voice

·2-min read

The Albanese government is standing firm on its election pledge to put a First Nations voice to parliament to a referendum, defending its decision not to first pursue a treaty.

At a caucus meeting on Tuesday, Labor MPs were briefed on the referendum's progress by Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and WA senator Pat Dodson.

Ms Burney was asked how to respond to criticism about the advisory body coming before a treaty, as Greens senator Lidia Thorpe has called for.

She said in response that the government had committed to holding a referendum this term.

Mr Dreyfus said the government was on a "slow build" campaign, which would only work if it was "owned" by the community.

Senator Dodson said "the long haul is on".

"We have narrowed down our task this term to entrench a successful referendum."

Another MP said Greens voters seemed "more positive" about the voice than the minor party's spokespeople, referencing Senator Thorpe's outspoken criticism of it.

Ms Burney said not to be distracted as the prime minister was working with all parties.

Senator Dodson told the meeting Victoria was "in a different stage of the debate to the rest of Australia", as the state had already begun treaty negotiations.

"In the voice, the representatives will not be from (political) parties," he said.

"Their only point of reference will be First Nations communities."

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said there were many unanswered questions about the voice the government had not yet addressed.

"Labor seems to be making it up as they're going along," he told the coalition party room meeting.

"They can't even answer the most basic questions.

"They say that the voice will only apply to the policies that affect Indigenous Australians but surely foreign policy and defence policy affects Indigenous Australians."

The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for an enshrined voice and for the Makarrata Commission to "supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history".

The proposed question for the referendum would be: "Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice?"