One of Australia’s top lawyers has backed the government’s wording for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, arguing it will strengthen the country’s system of government.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus released Solicitor General Stephen Donaghue’s 24-page legal opinion on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s controversial proposal on Friday, amid calls from the opposition to do so.
Every Australian adult will vote later this year in a referendum that will decide whether to change the country’s constitution to allow an Indigenous advisory body to influence government policy.
The intention is to improve the plight of Indigenous Australians, but critics, led by Liberal leader Peter Dutton, argue it will be a ‘Canberra vote’ and just another layer of bureaucracy.
Anthony Albanese’s government released the 24-page memo Friday morning in an attempt to counter opposition criticism from Peter Dutton
In his memo, Mr Donaghue said: ‘The proposed amendment is not only compatible with the system of representative and accountable government enshrined in the Constitution, but it also enhances that system.’
Mr Donaghue dismissed concerns that the Voice would act as a ‘third chamber’ and claimed it would support parliament’s primacy.
What Solicitor General Stephen Donaghue’s report claimed
1) No ‘third chamber’ of parliament or part of the executive government
It would ‘only operate as an advisory body to those two branches’
2) The Voice ‘clearly has no right of veto’ over government decisions’
3) The Voice won’t ‘clog up’ the courts: ‘Litigation is very common’
“The Voice would not be part of parliament or the executive government, but only act as an advisory body to those two branches of government,” he said.
“The Voice clearly has no veto power.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the advice was “very clear and unequivocal.”
“This puts an end to the utter nonsense of Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce… which they continued, saying that somehow recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution will lead to Anzac Day is being abolished, it’s complete nonsense,” he told reporters on Friday.
“They’re just determined to play politics with this.”
Mr Donaghue dismissed concerns that “authorizing the voice to object to the executive government” would clog the courts.
“(It) ignores the reality that litigation over the validity of executive government decisions is already very common and it has no effect on either.”
The function of the vote to protest will not “impede or impede the exercise of the executive government’s existing powers,” he said.
‘No’ figures such as Opposition Indigenous Affairs spokeswoman Jacinta Price claim The Voice will become a Canberra-focused bureaucracy
National MP Keith Pitt said the advice would not affect his view that all Australians should be treated equally and the referendum should be voted down.
He said there is still a risk of decisions being taken to court.
“I have seen other (legal) advice that is different. This is always the case until it is tested,” he told Sky News.
The Solicitor General’s comments were released as a submission to an inquiry into voting referendum legislation.
The government plans to hold a referendum later this year, between October and December.
Meanwhile, less than half of Australians support an Indigenous vote, new polls show.
Support has fallen to 46 percent of Australians since December, according to a survey by Roy Morgan.
Despite the polls, Mr Albanese said he was confident the referendum would succeed.
The number of ‘no’ votes had risen to 39 percent, an increase of nine points, while the number of doubters fell by two points to 15 percent.
Victoria is the only state in the country with a majority in support of the proposal, with 52 percent of voters in favour.
Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine said the ‘yes’ vote has lost support in recent months.
“The notable change since December is the politicization of the issue,” she said.