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“I think it's largely rubbish" - former Liberal minister slams case against Voice to Parliament

Briana Charles -

Former federal minister for Indigenous Affairs Fred Chaney joined Senator Pat Dodson and Amy Rust of Victoria's First Peoples' Assembly at a public forum on the Voice to Parliament this week.

Independent MP for Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, hosted the forum at the Brighton Town Hall.

Senator Dodson, Special Envoy for Reconciliation and implementation of the Uluru Statement, spoke alongside Mr Chaney, a Fraser government minister and one-time deputy leader of the federal Liberal Party.

Ms Daniel opened the forum by phrasing the Voice as a straightforward question for the nation: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

The MP described the Voice as a simple proposition.

"It will give First Nations people a say in the formulation of the policies and laws that affect them. It's as simple as that," she said.

Echoing the words of the legendary Archie Roach - "We can choose to write a new story" - she added.

Ms Daniel reassured the forum that the specific legislative architecture of the Voice must come after, rather than before, a 'yes' vote.

"Referendums are about principles. Parliaments are about laws," she said, adding that a yes vote allows the creation of "practical results" through legislation.

Senator Dodson, the first speaker, tackled the federal Liberal Party's anti-Voice strategy directly.

"I understand that there's a lot of muddying of the waters about detail," he said.

"It's about free, prior and informed consent of the Aboriginal people. That will be the discussion and debate post referendum if it's successful.

"We're sending an international as much as a national message here as to how we as Australians view the first peoples of this country."

Ms Rust addressed a question from Ms Daniel regarding the argument that Treaty should come before Voice.

"I get why people like Senator Thorpe have that view. And it's a passionate view and it comes from a good place," she said.

Ms Rust said that Reconciliation is an ongoing process, and Treaty is the ultimate goal, but the Voice is not a threat to that process, rather, it will help achieve Treaty.

"If the Voice doesn't get up, it will be damaging for the Treaty and Truth elements. Politicians are often followers and not leaders in the sense that if they don't have a groundswell of support and they don't have that pillow of what they think is a mandate," she said.

Ms Rust went on to refute the criticism that a Voice would just be "symbolic", adding that even in itself symbolism can be important.

"For many members of the Stolen Generation and their descendants, it meant the world to have that acknowledgement (Kevin Rudd's apology)," she said.

Mr Chaney called for the Liberal Party to come to the table.

He noted that the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, a document signed by every state premier, the prime minister, and both chief ministers, as an agreement that revolves around "partnership, of doing things together" with Indigenous people and organisations.

"They clearly can't be in partnership if you can't hear the other side," he said.

Mr Chaney said he is "puzzled" by the "no" case.

"I think it's largely rubbish and I think it's largely based on a desire to return to an assimilation policy where the Aboriginal people quietly disappear into the community," he said.

"I think it's against the facts, it's against the reality. And I really despair that people can't come on to that."

Mr Chaney said there is a heavy legislative responsibility on land rights, heritage and racial discrimination in the federal jurisdiction.

"You've got to hear an Aboriginal voice on that," he said.

"It's advisory. It has no veto capacity over the deliberation of Parliament. It will simply ensure that governments are less likely to act in ignorance - and that would be a real step forward."

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