Labor senator Patrick Dodson says the Prime Minister needs to "come clean" about his plan for an Indigenous voice to the parliament after the government's federal budget announcement on Tuesday allocated $7.3 million to "support local and regional decision making processes" that increase the participation of First Nations groups in the development and delivery of relevant policies and services.
“Scott Morrison needs to immediately come clean with First Nations people about his real position on a Voice, having [already] rejected the proposal that came from Uluru,” Mr Dodson told NITV News.
“[The] budget measure suggests he has changed his mind, or is simply trying to fool First Nations people into believing he supports a Voice. His position needs to be immediately clarified before the election.”
Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she was surprised by the announcement, warning that Indigenous groups need to lead the process.
“Absolute priority is that First Nations peoples are the ones leading that… are doing the dialogues, the same way they did that with the Referendum Council is absolutely, fundamentally important,” she told NITV News.
“Proper consultation takes significant time and investment to do it genuinely, particularly when you’re talking about making sure it is done in community across Australia, and in language.”
Scott Morrison rejected the idea of a Voice in September last year, claiming such a body would constitute a third chamber in the parliament. He now concedes the proposal is an important issue, but says he is more focused on youth suicides in remote Indigenous communities.
While the allocation to facilitate a self-determination model was buried deep in the budget papers, the government still intends to put the prospect of constitutional recognition to Australian voters via a national referendum.
The budget papers said the government "remains committed" to the process of constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, and will conduct a referendum once a model has been settled.
Mr Morrison said an Indigenous Voice, recommended by around 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at Uluru in 2017, was important.
Morrison says Indigenous youth suicide ‘number one priority’
"But what remains even more important, to be honest, is the package we announced the other night," he said, referring to federal funding for youth mental health and suicide prevention.
"Youth suicide is reaching devastatingly into remote Indigenous communities," he said.
"If you ask me what my number one priority is for Indigenous Australians, I want to do everything I can to ensure that young indigenous Australians don't take their own lives.
However, First Nations peak groups have criticised the budget allocation of $15 million, arguing that it does not go far enough to combat Indigenous youth suicide.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health Chair, Tom Brideson, said the funding "is not enough to meet our needs."
“Indigenous people comprise 3% of the population and have about double the suicide prevention needs, and three times the mental health needs, of other Australians,” he said.
“We estimate about 9% of the total package, about $70 million, should be dedicated Indigenous expenditure.”
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation CEO, Pat Turner, said she was also disappointed with the funding commitment.
“The physical and mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities needs to be a priority for the Australian government,” she said.
“The gap between the health outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians will continue to persist unless there is a significant commitment.”