Reconciliation will be ‘damaged’ if Voice fails: Burney – Sydney Morning Herald

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Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney says the path to reconciliation will be damaged if the Voice to Parliament referendum is rejected by the Australian people, but she remains confident it will succeed.
In the coming sitting fortnight, Labor will take the next step towards the national vote, which could be held as soon as late 2023, and introduce legislation to the lower house to modernise laws governing how referendum information is distributed to voters.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney says the reconciliation cause would be damaged if the Voice referendum failed, but she is confident it will succeed.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
The cabinet is also expected to decide not to publicly fund a formal Yes or No case, and instead use taxpayer funds for a neutral civics educational campaign, leaving it up to both sides to privately fundraise for their campaigns.
In an interview with the Sun-Herald and Sunday Age, Burney said the reconciliation cause would suffer a major blow, but would not be fatally damaged, should the referendum fail. But she added it was not a prospect she was seriously entertaining, saying: “I think Australia’s ready for it. I really do”.
“I think if the outcome is that [it fails], then the process of reconciliation will be very damaged,” she said, “but we’re not going to fail”.
“Imagine if we, as a nation, cannot do this. Where the request is an advisory body to the Parliament and the executive government – it doesn’t have a veto, or anything like that. It’s purely an advisory body, and the whole idea is to make sure the decisions that we make are better decisions.”
The federal government has committed to holding the referendum during the 2023-24 financial year, with the final date yet to be determined by the cabinet. It has been working closely with a working group of Indigenous leaders who, in a meeting last week, canvassed changes to the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act 1984 which will be considered by cabinet in the coming fortnight.
One option on the table is to change the act’s requirement for voters to be sent a pamphlet in the post outlining the proposed change to the Constitution, comprising up to 2000 words each on the Yes and No case, and instead make this information available electronically.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton has kept the door open to bipartisan support for the referendum but has been highly critical about the lack of detail on how the Voice will operate, and faces significant opposition to the proposal from within his partyroom. He has also called for the Yes and No camps to receive equal taxpayer funding, as occurred in the 1999 republic referendum.
NT Coalition senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, a fierce critic of the Voice, accused the government of using “emotional blackmail” to generate support for the referendum and said she would be doing everything she could to convince her colleagues to vote against it.
“The term reconciliation is often weaponised and used against non-Aboriginal Australians and true reconciliation is about actually treating us all equally, and not separating us through a mechanism like the Voice,” she said.
The creation of a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament was the first of three sequential measures endorsed by more than 250 Indigenous leaders in the 2017 Uluru Statement of the Heart, along with a Makarrata Commission to oversee a treaty-making and truth-telling process.
Burney said the referendum, if successful, would enable the Voice to play a leading role in the treaty-making negotiations, but she anticipated this would process would take a decade or more.
“I certainly won’t be in the parliament when a treaty is decided,” she said.
“The most recent example [of contemporary treaty making] is in British Columbia and that took 13 years. So I’m not imagining it will be one year or two years, it will be a long time.”
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