Liberal senator says Coalition MPs shifting to support Indigenous voice to parliament

Andrew Bragg’s views backed by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, who says Uluru statement contains ‘deeply liberal ideas’


June 7, 2021 | Katherine Murphy

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg says he believes Australians will support a legislated voice to parliament and an amendment to the constitution that obliges the commonwealth to ensure that Indigenous peoples are heard.


Bragg – the backbencher who is leading efforts to persuade colleagues to adopt the Uluru statement – will use a speech to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday night to try and map a pathway through the Coalition’s internal differences.


Bragg’s efforts have also been backed by the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, who used remarks at a book launch earlier this week to argue the Uluru statement contains “deeply liberal ideals”.


In endorsing Bragg’s campaign, Berejiklian also noted “a growing mood for change on the issue of reconciliation”.


On Tuesday night, Bragg will tell the Sydney Institute the Coalition party room is becoming more supportive of change, particularly in the current generation of new parliamentarians.


The Liberal senator will say that shift is encouraging, but the government also needs “to think about what the people will ultimately support”.


“I believe that the Australian people will support the parliament establishing a voice and that they will support an amendment to the constitution that obliges the commonwealth to ensure that Indigenous peoples are heard,” Bragg will say.


“I do not believe that the Australian people will support an amendment to the constitution, however, that is highly complex and explicitly creates a new entity in the constitution.”


The Uluru statement calls for the establishment of a “voice” to parliament that would be enshrined in the constitution. A constitutionally enshrined “voice” cannot be abolished by the government of the day.

Senior Coalition players have derided the concept, erroneously, as a third chamber of parliament but the minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, has embarked on a co-design process for the “voice”.


Under a proposal outlined in an interim report in January, the federal government would be obliged to consult the Indigenous voice to parliament when crafting laws on race, native title and racial discrimination that impact upon Aboriginal Australians. But the voice would have no power to overturn policy or prevent laws being passed.


While Wyatt has been attempting to land a consensus position, the government has never fully endorsed constitutional enshrinement of the Uluru proposal, and has been tracking towards a legislated option. Wyatt has argued repeatedly the process should not be rushed because any proposal that ultimately failed at a referendum would set back the cause for many years.


Bragg supports some form of constitutional change. He will say on Tuesday night Uluru calls for constitutional enshrinement and a “voice established in legislation as part of a package that includes a constitutional amendment that obliges the commonwealth to hear Indigenous peoples is a liberal way of delivering what Uluru calls for”.


Addressing negative pushback from colleagues about the proposal, Bragg will say: “Putting an obligation on the commonwealth to consult doesn’t give a special deal to a minority, it provides a duty to consult which should have been there at the outset.”


Bragg argues the Liberal party needs to lead this debate because the “party of patriots should … drive this agenda because it is a patriotic agenda”.


“We cannot change the past but we need to make sure that the restlessness in Australia is concluded by delivering a national reconciliation worthy of a great nation,” Bragg will say on Tuesday night.

“Until we do this we are denying our children their full and proper inheritance”.


The Labor senator Pat Dodson has recently blasted the Morrison government for a lack of progress.

“[Wyatt’s] got to lead, he’s supposed to be the leader in the First Nations space, it’s no good prancing around if you won’t lead on hard issues, and this is a hard issue,” Dodson told reporters in March.


“He’s the bloke with responsibility, with the PM, and they should be leading and helping the nation to heal the wounds of the past divisions and discord, and taking us forward to build a better relationship. And if they’re not prepared to do that, they should get out of the road and let someone else run the place.”


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