• Bill Shorten says Labor remains committed to giving Indigenous Australians a formal voice (AAP)
Labor says it remains committed to giving Indigenous Australians an enshrined voice in parliament, despite reports it’s set to drop the push for an early referendum.
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27 Nov 2018 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 27 Nov 2018 - 11:45 AM

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has dismissed reports his party is abandoning plans to give Indigenous Australians a voice as "nonsense".

Mr Shorten says Labor remains committed to establishing an Indigenous voice and putting to it to the Australian people.

“A Shorten Labor Government will establish a Voice for First Nations people, and seek the support of the Australian people for that Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution,” he said in a statement with Linda Burney, Patrick Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy.

“We support the voice. We support enshrining it in the constitution. It is our first priority for constitutional change."

The response follows earlier reports in The Australian that Labor is set to walk away from a push for an early referendum recognising an Indigenous voice to parliament and instead accept a parliamentary report expected to recommend rejecting constitutional recognition until further work is done.

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Mr Shorten is also backing a new vote for a republic, committing a Labor government to a potential future plebiscite which would ask Australians if they support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state.

But Cape York leader Noel Pearson said Indigenous recognition would need to come first, urging Mr Shorten to delay a republic vote.

Mr Pearson said going with a republic first would be a "shocking" idea.

“It is a completely shocking idea and, quite frankly in my mind, an appalling idea. There is only one major reform that can be affected in the first term of a Labor government,” he told ABC Radio National.

“Otherwise we will have an Australian republic with the blood of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history still not cleaned up … and what a horrible republic that would be.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says Australia cannot move to become a republic before justice for First Nations peoples is realised.

“We can’t move to become a republic before we have justice for First Nations peoples. That includes enshrining the Voice before we vote on a republic” she said.

“We have unfinished business in this country that must be addressed.”

But Mr Shorten said a Labor government would work towards making a First Nations voice a reality, and if bi-partisanship cannot be reached it would look to legislate a new body as a first step.

“We will move quickly following the election to agree on a process with First Nations people – including a clear pathway to a referendum.”

"We will also work with them in establishing a Makarrata Commission for agreement-making and truth-telling."

It comes ahead of a final report from the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Recognition expected to be tabled on Thursday.

The committee was established after the federal government rejected calls for an Indigenous voice to parliament proposed in last year’s Uluru Statement from the Heart.

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