• Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion (AAP)Source: AAP
Fallout continues after the Turnbull government has officially rejected the Referendum Council's proposal for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous body.
27 Oct 2017 - 10:07 AM  UPDATED 27 Oct 2017 - 1:57 PM

There has been an uproar in the community following news that the government will not pursue the main recommendation from the Referendum Council's report on constitutional recognition. 

On Thursday Labor Senator Pat Dodson described the move as a 'kick in the guts' and a 'slap in the face,' but speaking to NITV's The Point last night Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion staunchly defended the government's position, saying the proposal would never have been agreed to by the wider public. 

"The option that they think has been slapped from their hands was never available. It was never available to them, and would’ve caused a great deal of damage to our relationship had we pursued it," he said.

Mr Scullion said the Referendum Council had deviated "so completely and utterly" from its terms of reference and "original task" of recognising Australia's First Peoples in the constitution.

"A lot of people who have been involved in ten years of working for recognition in the constitution feel gutted that that work and those funds and that investment and that consultation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be shattered in a moment by one of the most recent considerations, which is by the Referendum Council," he said.

The Referendum Council was appointed in 2015 and was given the task of advising "the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on progress and next steps towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution".

When it finally reported back in June this year, after months of community consultation, it argued that a Voice to Parliament, enshrined in the constitution, was “the most endorsed singular option for constitutional alteration”.

The proposal for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament is not a new idea.

In 2014 a Joint Select Committee looking at recognising Indigenous peoples in the constitution took a submission from Noel Pearson's Cape York Partnership. It called for a “constitutionalised Indigenous body”.

Speaking to ABC radio on Thursday, Mr Pearson said the Prime Minister had "broken the hearts" of Indigenous people. 

"Malcolm Turnbull has not had the decency to put the proposition that Indigenous people have a voice to the Parliament — not a voice in the Parliament," Mr Pearson said.

"Why not just put it to the Australian people, as we are putting through a plebiscite on the question about same-sex marriage at this very moment?"

"The reality is that after today, we'll need a new Prime Minister. Indigenous recognition will need a new PM if it's ever to come to fruition."

What's next?

National Congress of Australia’s First People Co-chair, Dr Jackie Huggins, told NITV that Congress won't stop supporting the Uluru Statement and Referendum Council recommendations.

"I think there’s a lot of angst about the decision," she said.

"We’ve heard from people all day about their great disappointment that this is not being carried forth. And what we’ll do is to continue to support the Uluru Statement Working Group, who have been working tirelessly."

Ms Huggins said Indigenous people will continue to strive towards Indigenous rights, treaty and closing the gap. 

The Referendum Council's report and the May Uluru Statement also supported calls for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a treaty-making process between Indigenous peoples and governments, and a truth-telling process. 

Mr Scullion told NITV those proposals have not been knocked back by the government.

"They're sensible suggestions and we need to pursue those," he said.

"That will be part of the work of the joint-parliamentary committee."