Tony Abbott hits out at proposed Voice to Parliament, attracting a rebuke from Noel Pearson – ABC News

Tony Abbott hits out at proposed Voice to Parliament, attracting a rebuke from Noel Pearson - ABC News

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has offered a staunch criticism of a proposed constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, just hours after getting into a spat with a parliamentary committee investigating the looming referendum.

The former Liberal leader — who said he supported constitutional recognition but not the Voice — appeared before a parliamentary committee in Canberra, after earlier in the day saying it was a “scandal” that he had been denied the chance to appear at a public hearing. 

Mr Abbott made a written submission to the inquiry, which is examining the proposed referendum’s wording, but was not listed to appear on Monday.

Labor chairwoman Nita Green later said the committee had met privately and invited Mr Abbott to appear. 

Mr Abbott compared the proposed Voice to the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, suggesting it would be representative body based on heredity.

Unlike the Lords, the Voice would be an advisory body and not have any influence over the passing of laws.

It would advise but there would be no obligation on the parliament to consult the Voice, the government has repeatedly said. 

Mr Abbott said he supported recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first Australians.

He said he expected the Voice would divide Australians, irrespective of the outcome. 

“I think it’s important that we achieve Indigenous recognition, but this is so much more than recognition. This is about government,” he told the committee.

“I don’t want to change the way we’re governed. I just want to acknowledge the fact that Indigenous people were here first and should be respected as the first Australians.”

Mr Abbott’s appearance at the committee comes alongside some of the nation’s most-recognisable First Nations figures: Warren Mundine, who is against the Voice, and Noel Pearson, who is in support. 

Members of the Attorney-General’s Department and senior legal figures are also appearing. 

Tony Abbott received a late call to appear at the inquiry after saying it was a “scandal” for not having received an invite.()

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese — on the advice of an Indigenous working group and legal experts — has proposed a form of words for the Voice referendum, which, if successful, would give the body the power to make representations to the parliament and to “executive government” on matters affecting First Nations Australians.

A previous hearing saw some of the nation’s most pre-eminent barristers, academics and former High Court justices endorse the inclusion of the words “executive government”.

Law professor Father Frank Brennan — who supports the Voice and would vote for it in its current form — said changing executive government to “ministers of the state” could broaden support for the referendum among Coalition politicians. 

“I think what is necessary is, as best as possible, get the formula of words as good as possible … with the hope that it might attract on board some of the key Liberals,” he told the committee.

Father Brennan also said the nation and parliament should be “ashamed” for having not already amended sections 25 and 51.26 of the constitution.

“I am one of those Australians who is disappointed that, even if this referendum is an overwhelming success, we are still going to have the blight of section 25 in our constitution, an absolutely outdated 19th century provision,” he said.

“We are still going to have the blight of section 51.26 about making special laws with respect to the people of a particular race for whom it’s deemed necessary to make special laws.

“We should be ashamed as a nation and, if I may say, you should be ashamed, as a parliament, that in the 21st century we are going to amend the Australian constitution without attending to those matters.”

Father Brennan said he had hoped the referendum would go further and properly acknowledge Australia’s Indigenous history in the constitution.

“It is one of my regrets that, simply by adding this section nine (the Voice) and leaving unattended section 25, leaving unattended section 51.26 and leaving unattended a full acknowledgement of Aboriginal history makes our constitution, if I may say so with respect, a bit of a dog’s breakfast,” he said.


Indigenous leaders at odds over Voice

Former politician Nyunggai Warren Mundine, a key figure in the No campaign, said the referendum was dividing Australians.

He said the debate had “silenced people” and he called on Australians to vote in any way they like. 

Yes campaigner Noel Pearson, who has previously accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of “preparing the grave” to bury the Uluru Statement from the Heart, said he looked forward to the referendum, dubbing it a “good thing” for Australia and the democracy.

“What the Voice does is improve [the constitution] by giving a voice to the most marginalised in our country,” he said.

Mr Pearson said it was “absurd” of Mr Abbott to have suggested that the referendum had been “rushed” and should be abandoned to return to the drawing board.

Earlier, a body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria told the committee it was important that the group was able to speak directly to the state’s executive. 

Representatives from the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria told a parliamentary inquiry about how the body operates on a state level. 

“What we don’t want — and didn’t want — was the status quo, that there were being policies and strategies that were put in place by government and the executive for us, not by us, and not with out consent,” Aunty Geraldine Atkinson said.



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