Referendum Council Calls For Voice To Parliament And Treaty Commission

The Referendum Council has rejected symbolic recognition in its final report on constitutional reform following Aboriginal community consultations.

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The Referendum Council has handed down its final report on constitutional reform, again rejecting symbolic recognition and calling for an Aboriginal "voice to parliament".

The process to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution has been ongoing for the past seven years. There is no recognition of First Nations people in the constitution, which still contains powers to discriminate both for and against Aboriginal people.

But the timeline for reform has been beset by delay, as well as growing discontent amongst Aboriginal people who feel disempowered by the process.

The Referendum Council's report is the culmination of months of dialogue with First Nations communities in Australia, which ended with the Uluru Statement From the Heart, a 22-page document outlining the outcomes of the three-day deliberations.

It rejects symbolic recognition, or more substantive reform such as the removal of the "race power", and instead recommends a constitutionally entrenched voice to parliament. The report does not include substantial detail on what it would like, but says the designs and functions of the body would be determined by parliament.

As well as a voice, the report recommends a "Declaration of Recognition" outside of the constitution and passed by parliament.

In its report, the Council also addressed the issue of establishing a Makaratta Commission, to oversee agreement-making, but said it was not in "a position to make a specific recommendation on this" as it fell outside the terms of reference.

The commission was a key component of the Statement from the Heart. Australia is currently the only developed nation with a sizable Indigenous population to have not signed a treaty.

Referendum co-chair Pat Anderson said the preference for a "voice" should be seen as a positive move.

"As we travelled around the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made it clear they want substantive reform that makes a real difference to the lives of First Nations peoples,” Ms Anderson said in a statement.

“Enshrining a Voice to Parliament in the constitution provides certainty that First Nations people will have a greater say in decisions about our lives and the lives of our children.”

The report rejected the findings of the Expert Panel on constitutional reform in 2012, which recommended the removal of the race power, as well as the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition in 2015, which canvassed three options to take to referendum.

It is understood that like the Statement from the Heart, it rejects symbolic recognition in the preamble in the constitution.

The report, however, was not fully accepted by all members of the council, with Sky News reporting former Howard government minister Amanda Vanstone saying she did not support a voice in the constitution without further consultation.

.@TurnbullMalcolm: We do not want to embark on some sort of exercise in heroic failure. #auspol MORE:… https://t.co/IgJmw4RoCS

The latest development follows growing discontent by First Nations people across the country, with many cynical about the millions of dollars spent on the government-funded Recognise campaign, which was developed to sign up support for the process, before a model had been determined. The Recognise campaign was not invited to Uluru.

In a joint press conference held this afternoon before entering talks with the Referendum Council, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the report did not mean there was a decision.

"The purpose of the meeting is to discuss with you the recommendation made," Mr Turnbull said, according to NITV News.

"This also shows that the discussion about recognition has been going on for some time."

Opposition leader Bill Shorten says these were "legitimate aspirations" and that they "could not shy away from that".

"I do not believe it is beyond us."

.@billshortenmp: My party is ready to work with all political parties and the community. #auspol MORE:… https://t.co/geCd2MUqUQ

Amy McQuire is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Queensland, Australia.

Contact Amy McQuire at amy.mcquire@buzzfeed.com.

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