Australia

Conservative MPs wary of indigenous voice

The government wants a referendum on changing the constitution to recognise indigenous Australians. (AAP)

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt will have to convince wary conservative coalition MPs to back giving First Australians a voice to parliament.

Conservative coalition MPs have raised concerns about an indigenous voice to parliament, after the federal government signalled it would forge ahead with constitutional change within three years.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt has announced the ambitious timeline for a referendum on changing the constitution to recognise indigenous Australians.

Mr Wyatt also committed to bringing an indigenous voice to parliament, although it is unlikely to be enshrined in the constitution.

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 on Thursday.

Senator Stoker said any advisory body should be located in aboriginal 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.

Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson said any change which threatened Australia's parliamentary system or treated Australians differently based on race would be a backwards step.

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 government.

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

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 said.

Labor wants an indigenous voice to parliament enshrined in the constitution, but has committed to working constructively with the government on the issue.

"A voice to parliament absolutely has to be entrenched in the constitution," the opposition's indigenous affairs spokeswoman Linda Burney said.

Mr Wyatt has stressed the government won't go ahead with a referendum until it's certain it will succeed.

"Because if we lose it, the impact is profound," he told ABC's 7.30 program.

"I would love to achieve it in this term of government but I'm also going to be pragmatic and say we will do it when we have the right mix of all of the ingredients that are necessary for a successful referendum."

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