Voice referendum bills still on track for parliament despite impasse in negotiations - Thelocalreport.in

The Albanese government plans to progress two bills to set up the Indigenous voice referendum in the coming parliamentary fortnight, remaining confident the process remains on track despite its expert group of Aboriginal leaders still finalising its crucial advice to cabinet.

The referendum working group was expected to confirm its advice to government on the exact wording of the question and the constitutional amendment on Thursday. But a communique from its meeting in Adelaide, issued by Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney’s office, said the process was still ongoing.

“The working group continued its discussion on the wording of the proposed amendments to the constitution to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to parliament and progressed the wording of the question on the ballot paper,” the statement said.

Working group members have recently expressed concern at what has been seen by some as attempts to “water down” the voice. Following an amendment reportedly proposed by attorney-general Mark Dreyfus at last week’s meeting, which would have allowed the parliament to determine the legal effect of the voice’s advice, member Marcus Stewart said there was “no room for mediocrity” and that the group wanted the amendment “as strong as possible”.

Burney, Dreyfus and special envoy for reconciliation, Pat Dodson, all attended Thursday’s meeting. It heard from South Australia’s acting premier Susan Close and minister for Aboriginal affairs Kyam Maher on the state’s progress progress towards a First Nations voice to its own legislature.

Guardian Australia approached a number of working group members, all of whom declined to comment beyond saying that progress was being made. There had been heightened anticipation before the meeting that it would lead to a resolution on the exact wording of the referendum question, so that advice could be given to the government ahead of parliament resuming next week.

The government had planned to progress the Referendum Machinery Act amendments through the parliament this coming week, and introduce the constitutional amendment in the following week of 27 March.

Burney’s communique did not outline the next steps for the referendum working group, including its next meeting date.

Despite the impasse at Thursday’s meeting, the government says the referendum process remains on track, with the Machinery Act amendments to be further considered by the Senate next week.

The constitution alteration bill is still expected to be introduced in the final week of March, which Burney’s office said will be examined by a “comprehensive parliamentary inquiry”.

It is understood the government hopes to then pass the constitution bill in June, to allow a referendum to take place by the end of the year.

“This process will provide Australians, including First Nations people, with the chance to make formal submissions on the proposed constitutional amendments and the question to be put to the Australian people,” Burney’s office said of the inquiry into the constitutional bill.

The referendum engagement group, a much larger group of Indigenous community leaders, will meet on Friday in Adelaide. The group’s task is to promote the voice and referendum in their communities.

By Justin

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