Linda Burney’s attempt to narrow the focus of a future Indigenous Voice to Parliament has been described as “a con” by the Vice President of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians used her National Press Club address on Wednesday to respond to criticism of the Voice’s remit, asserting that from day one she “will ask the Voice to consider four main priority areas: health, education, jobs and housing.”
This came just two weeks after the Minister told parliament the Voice “won’t be giving advice on changing Australia Day” – a statement constitutional experts and indigenous activists were quick to dispute.
Speaking to Sky News Australia’s Peta Credlin, the Rule of Law Institute’s Chris Merritt said that Ms Burney’s attempt to guide the Voice’s focus would be laughed at.
“It would be about as effective as asking the High Court to focus on a particular area of law that the government considers important,” Mr Merritt said.
“It would be laughed out of court. And that’s exactly what will happen if the voice gets up at the referendum and the government tries to encourage it to focus on particular areas.”
Mr Merritt, who is also a legal affairs contributor at The Australia, said that the “technical term” for the Minister Burney’s claim was “a con”.
He added that Ms Burney’s claim also validated the criticism the Voice would not be limited to areas of “critical importance to Indigenous people” but instead have a “remit that goes right across the board.”
“Ms Burney is trying to water down that that criticism by saying that legislation can fix it – It can’t,” he said, before arguing that attempting to suggest otherwise made the government look “tricky and weak and mistaken”.
The Rule of Law Institute VP said the concerns about the Voice’s remit were raised eight months ago and “were ignored by the government.”
Polling for the Voice has been steadily declining, with the June Newspoll indicating the constitutional reform does not currently have the numbers to achieve either majority support across Australia or majority support in a majority of states – with both being required for the referendum to succeed.
According to Mr Merritt, “things would be completely different” if the Voice was confined to providing advice on “matters that relate only to indigenous people” but “it doesn’t.”
“This proposal would create an institution selected by race, with a jurisdiction at large,” the legal expert said.
“It would focus on all areas of public policy, all potential laws, all administrative matters. It’s undemocratic.”
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