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No amendment needed on Voice, Parliamentary Joint Select Committee finds

Jarred Cross -

The Parliamentary committee overseeing the Voice to Parliament has made just one recommendation to the proposal after lengthy consultations, discussion and assessing public submissions.

That is; Parliament passes the Constitution Alteration Bill without amendment.

On Friday the Joint Select Committee, made up of 13 parliamentarians from Labor, The Greens, Independents and the Coalition, presented its final report.

In a statement, committee chair Senator Nita Green said the process was "rigorous and balanced".

"The Committee held five public hearings, heard from 71 witnesses, accepted 270 submissions and received thousands of items of correspondence," Senator Green said.

"This process was rigorous and balanced. The Committee's recommendations are based on a body of expert evidence including advice from the Solicitor General."

"The Committee heard from eminent constitutional experts, lawyers, jurists and former High Court justices.

"They were unequivocal in their assessment that the proposal was constitutionally sound."

The position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians played a crucial role in considerations.

Ms Green said Indigenous leaders and community members laid forward the "profound impact that a Voice would have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the wider Australian community".

"This is a proposal that will unite our country," she said.

"Alternative proposals were considered and tested by the Committee.

"The Committee's view is no alternative proposals were necessary or justified, and in most cases, they would have watered down the intent of the proposal.

"The Committee recommends against amendments."

The majority of committee members supported the reports, including former National-now Independent MP Andrew Green.

Differences of opinion, however, did present from within the committee.

Discourse in opposition to the Voice has regularly rested on projecting a risk around its ability to directly influence 'executive Government' decision-making.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has repeatedly stated the Voice would operate as a consultative body.

A dissenting report from the three Liberal members within the committee; senators Andrew Bragg and Kerrynne Liddle, and MP Keith Wolahan said "there is no defensible reason why the government established a committee to consider a permanent change to our country's constitution with only six weeks to receive submissions, hold public hearings around the country, and report back to the Parliament on the legal effect of the constitutional change."

"The uncertainty and risk associated with the proposal as currently drafted are unquantifiable, and if adopted at a referendum would in effect be permanent," the Liberal's report read.

Mr Bragg, who has voiced his support for the Voice in concept, said in his additional comments "the idea that the proposed amendment cannot be improved or de-risked cannot be true".

The National's dissenting report similarly took issue with the short timeline of consultation and said the bill conflates the two "entirely separate issues" of "recognising" Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution and "support for a constitutionally enshrined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory body".

"These two distinct and separate issues have not been made clear to the Australian public throughout this inquiry and would appear to have been designed with that intent," the National's report said.

"All Australians want guidance as to the true intention of this bill."

Still, the Coalition will not attempt to impede the referendum being held.

In a joint statement, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus welcomed the Committee's announcement and thanked their work.

"(The recommendation) reflects the overwhelming consensus of constitutional and legal experts, who told the Committee that the amendment is constitutionally sound," they wrote.

"We look forward to the Bill progressing through Parliament and Australians having their say on constitutional recognition through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice later this year."

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