The deputy chair of the parliamentary committee examining the Voice has called on the Albanese government to compromise on the wording in order to minimise the constitutional risk of the reform.
Keith Wolahan, the member for Menzies and the lead Coalition MP on the Voice committee, said there was “serious evidence of risk” with the current wording for the proposal and if there is a way for the wording to be tightened, the government should take it.
“We’ve heard evidence from people, including the Solicitor-General, that the risk exists. His view is that it is low, others like former High Court Justice Ian Callinan say it is higher than that,” Mr Wolahan told Sky News Australia’s Kieran Gilbert.
“You can have a different view about whether it’s unlikely or likely, but it’s there. And if there is a way for the wording to be tightened I think the government should take it.
“And I think that can occur in a way that doesn’t interfere with the intent of the process.”
The member for Menzies said he wasn’t “filled with confidence” about the chances of compromise, but that it would go a long way towards resolving concerns about the proposal.
“For the advocates of the yes case, they’re saying to Australians this is a modest proposal and there is nothing to worry about,” he said.
“I think there is some suspicion from the public, and certainly from members of the Coalition, that this is not a modest proposal and it does have serious risks.
“So if it truly is modest I think the government should demonstrate that by winding the wording back just a little bit.”
Mr Wolahan, a former barrister and officer in the Commandos, said that there are broadly three different reasons why people have reservations about the voice – the principle of equality of citizenship, whether it shifts the dial on Indigenous disadvantage, and constitutional risk.
“For those focused on the last part, constitutional risk, that risk is still there.”
Asked if he would shift from a No to a Yes if the government agrees to modify the wording, Mr Wolahan said that he also had concerns about the principle of equality of citizenship, but that if there were changes to minimise the constitutional risks he would “look at that seriously”.
Mr Wolahan said there were various different proposals to reduce the risk, with many coming from vocal supporters of the Voice.
“Julian Leeser proposed a model at the press club, which involved removing clause 2. Frank Brennan’s one is tighter, Uphold and Recognize had a way to deal with it with other provisions in the constitution like section 75.
“So there are many different ways you could reduce the risk.”
The deputy chair of the Voice committee said that it was hard to tell where the committee would land on the proposal, but that he hoped the Labor members on the committee were open to compromise.