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Conservative MPs baulk at Indigenous voice

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Conservative MPs are resisting the creation of an Indigenous voice to federal parliament, with a new pledge on constitutional change sparking fresh divisions within the Coalition government.

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Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt wants Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised in the constitution within three years.

He’s also forging ahead with establishing an Indigenous voice to advise parliament, either enshrined in the nation’s founding document or through legislation.

But the minister could face roadblocks inside the Coalition party room, with right-wing politicians casting doubt over a new parliamentary advisory body.

Queensland LNP senator Amanda Stoker said inserting “flowery” language or entrenching an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution would not help fix social issues.

“If we think that putting words in the constitution is going to solve that diverse bag of really serious but practical problems, we’re going to be really disappointed,” she told 2GB radio today.

Stoker said any advisory body should be located in Indigenous communities, rather than in Canberra, before warning against major changes to the nation’s founding document.

“If what we’re talking about is elevating them into some different category and entrenching the kind of identity politics of racial differences in our constitution, well I think that would be deeply harmful,” she said.

The proposal for an Indigenous voice to parliament – a key recommendation of the 2017 Uluru Statement – has for years proven a vexed issue for the Coalition.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull have both spoken out against enshrining a “third chamber” of parliament in the constitution.

Wyatt has indicated the body would include the voices of individuals, families, communities and Indigenous organisations who want to be heard by decision-makers.

Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson warned against any change which threatened Australia’s parliamentary system or treated Australians differently based on race.

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce believes giving more Senate representation to regional Australia is a better way to boost Indigenous representation.

He said states should be divided into six regions with two senators each to widen the geographical area upper house representatives cover.

“By its very nature … it will most definitely represent Aborigina­l people in a better way,” the Nationals MP told The Australian.

Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly described an Indigenous voice to parliament as a “de facto third chamber” and argued the idea would be defeated at a referendum.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese likened opposition to the proposal to the boycott by conservative MPs of the apology to the stolen generations more than a decade ago.

“Those people who walked out by and large have expressed their regret at doing that,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“I think anyone who doesn’t support constitutional recognition will regret it in later years because once it happens it will strengthen our nation, it will unite our nation and we’ll be all the better for it.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton didn’t attend the apology, but has since expressed his regret for not appreciating its importance.

– AAP

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