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No veto, no "special rights" created by the Voice to Parliament - Constitutional Expert Group

Giovanni Torre -

The Referendum Working Group sat down with the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Attorney-General, the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians in Canberra on Monday in a high-powered meeting to discuss progress on the Indigenous Voice to parliament.

The Working Group acknowledged the federal government's introduction of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2022 and considered how the proposed changes would impact this referendum.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has previously said the amendment Bill will "put the mechanics or the framework of the referendum in place".

At the meeting the Working Group also considered the advice of the Constitutional Expert Group and the pathway to a Voice, both in terms of the process that would be undertaken after the referendum to finalise and legislate a Voice model, and how to take forward the previously agreed design principles for a Voice.

Constitutional Expert Group provided the Working Group its views on the initial matters referred by the Group regarding the draft constitutional amendment put forward by the Prime Minister at Garma, on 30 July this year, to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution.

The experts advised the Working Group Voice would not have a "veto" power under the draft provision.

The Expert Group advised the Voice will be able to advise the Parliament and the Executive Government about matters, including existing or proposed laws, policies or decisions that have a connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The constitutional experts also advised that while the Voice gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples an opportunity to make representations to the Parliament and the Executive, this is an opportunity available to any individual or organisation and the existence of the Voice does not confer "rights", much less "special rights", on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Group advised that the draft amendment is constitutionally sound in providing a strong basis on which to conduct further consultation, and that the provision, if passed, should be located in a new chapter of the constitution rather than in an existing chapter.

The Expert Group suggested there may be merit in the draft provision explicitly stating that Parliament has the power to confer additional functions on the Voice as required.

Working Group members also discussed their role and the role of Referendum Engagement Group Members, a distinct body, and members discussed the best coordination approach for organisations and leaders to proceed in a unified manner towards the referendum.

The Working Group agreed to reconvene in late January next year to continue work towards the referendum in 2023.

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