Former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has warned an Indigenous voice to parliament would fail if put to a referendum now.
Mr Gooda voiced these concerns as he joined current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar, and former Indigenous commissioner Tom Calma at a parliamentary hearing today to present a plan calling for a commitment to achieving constitutional reform within five years.
"For me there are too many unknowns right now. I think if we went to a referendum on a voice, in its purest sense that we just have a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to parliament, I think that's a guaranteed failure," Mr Gooda told the hearing Thursday.
"If Australians don't understand what they're voting for in a referendum, they will vote no," he said.
However, Mr Gooda also said an Indigenous voice needs to be considered among a range of reform elements.
Meanwhile, Professor Tom Calma said he is confident there is support for the notion of a voice, but reiterated there is a need to better inform the public how it would work.
"Once [the detail of the voice is] determined or recommended, [and] if there is broad support for it, then we should go into another round of campaigns," he said.
"Going by the experience we've had in the last few years, I think that we will get that support across the nation."
Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar has joined forces with all four of her predecessors, Mr Gooda, Professor Tom Calma, William Jonas and Mick Dodson to address the ‘unfinished business’ of reconciliation and delivering social justice for Indigenous Australians.
They say a representative voice for Indigenous peoples must go hand in hand with constitutional reform, a truth-telling process and an agreement or treaty-making framework.
"They are needed in order to recognise the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this nation and to deal with the racial discrimination, inter-generational trauma and human rights issues faced by Indigenous Australians,” Ms Oscar told the hearing.
For the past 25 years, all five commissioners have long-advocated for reconciliation and social justice, and all have continually raised the issue of a representative voice, constitutional reform, truth-telling and treaty-making.
Ms Oscar said it is now time to move beyond the "discussions and the political stalling of the last 25 years", and to begin discussions between First Nations peoples and the parliament,"so all Australians can commit to action".
"We see this committee as critical in moving beyond the identification of potential options to a pathway for achieving them," she said.
The commissioners' plan includes a new legislated framework to ensure Indigenous Australians are involved in decision-making and negotiating unfinished business, a regular formal motion process to indicate whether federal MPs support reform, and a five-year commitment to achieve reform.
They also call for a negotiation process between the government and Indigenous Australians to finalise the wording of constitutional recognition, saying the government must show leadership to unite the Australian public.
"There is no place in the foundational document of this nation for racial discrimination. Our Constitution must reflect the Australian nation that we want to be in the twenty-first century," Ms Oscar said.
They said repealing the "racially discriminatory provisions in the Constitution" is a critical element of the necessary reform if Australia wants to make good on its commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“In taking these steps, we should be represented in all policy matters that affect us, and be at the decision-making table when it comes to realising a future reconciled Australia.”
A final report from the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition is expected by November 29.