Photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP
The Coalition’s demand for more details on the Indigenous vote in parliament is a “total diversion” and “game of spoiling” that threatens to end any chance of reconciliation forever, warns First Nations leader Noel Pearson.
Pearson, one of the key architects of the Uluru statement, says the details were a matter for parliament to decide after the vote referendum.
“The referendum is about the constitution. Legislation is for Parliament,” Pearson told ABC radio.
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Pearson said shadow attorney general Julian Leeser and opposition leader Peter Dutton “may just choose to spoil the game.”
“It’s very disturbing,” Pearson said. “I hope they’re not.”
He said 2023 was the “most important year” for reconciliation since the arrival of the first fleet.
“We need to understand what is at stake – and this is an opportunity for reconciliation,” Pearson told ABC radio.
“And if the referendum is rigged by the game and the opposition’s spoiling the game, we will lose that chance forever.”
Leeser, a leading supporter of the Coalition in the parliamentary vote and its spokesman for Indigenous Australians, warned the Albanian government that it was in danger of “losing”.
He called on the government to release more information on the vote to help supporters make their case.
“It’s very difficult to explain how this will work when the government doesn’t provide details,” he told the Young Liberals convention on Saturday.
Pearson said the coalition had been in power for nine of the last 12 years, and after commissioning a 2019 report on how parliamentary voting would work, “they had three years to generate their version of the details and they didn’t.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday that the referendum working group, due to meet again on February 2, would reveal more details.
Guardian Australia understands that more information on the voting process will be revealed shortly after.
Albanese said the opposition has more than six months to comment on the government’s draft wording for the referendum question, announced at the 2022 Garma festival.
“There have been no suggested changes to this project from the Coalition.”
A group of indigenous leaders from 14 communities across Australia wrote to Albanese and Dutton over the weekend, asking them to “show leadership” and find common ground.
Their letter warned that the nation was “at a crossroads” on the matter.
“To close this gap, local people, not just politicians, need to have a say,” they wrote.
Ian Trust, a Gidja man and chairman of the Empowered Communities indigenous leadership group, said every prime minister since John Howard supported the need for First Nations people to be recognized in the constitution.
“Are politicians really saying they can’t work together now, in the run-up to the referendum, to prepare details that will satisfy both parties when we need them after a successful referendum?” Trust said.
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Fiona Jose, a Kuku Yalanji Island and Torres Strait resident from Cape York and another signatory to the letter, said if the Coalition doesn’t support recognizing a constitutional vote, “it’s not because they have answers for Australians or indigenous peoples”.
“Twenty-one of 26 years of governance with many setbacks and backward momentum is proof of that,” Jose said.
Jose urged politicians to take an impartial approach to the indigenous voice in parliament, “which will give us a voice on issues that affect our lives.”
“This is the commitment we need from all political leaders now – we expect you to work together,” she said.
The letter was signed on behalf of Aboriginal community leaders from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Kimberley, Arnhem Land and NPY Lands in South Australia and the Northern Territory.