The Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt today said he hopes to put forward a "consensus option" for constitutional recognition within the next three years.
In his first Press Club address, Mr Wyatt said the Morrison Government has put aside $7.3 million for a co-design process to "improve local and regional decision making" while $160 million has been allocated for a future referendum once the model has been determined.
While the promise of constitutional recognition in the next three years comes as a relief to some Indigenous Australians, the question to be put to the nation remains unclear.
"We need to design the right model to progress to a point at which the majority of Australians, the majority of states and territories and Indigenous Australians, support the model so that it is successful," Mr Wyatt said.
"The Morrison Government is committed to recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and working to achieve this through a process of true co-design."
"Constitutional recognition is too important to get wrong and too important to rush," said Mr Wyatt.
The announcement follows the rejection of the Statement from the Heart by former Coalition leader, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in 2017.
It called for a constitutionally enshrined "First Nations Voice" which would be able to speak to Parliament, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission which would lay the foundation for a Treaty between federal and state governments and the First Nations.
The federal government has now committed to the development of a local, regional and national voice but the details are still to be revealed.
"It is my intention to work with the State and Territory Ministers to develop an approach - underpinned with existing jurisdictional Indigenous organisations and advisory structures established to provide advice to State and Territory Governments," Minister Wyatt told the National Press Club audience.
"The concept of the “Voice” in the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not a singular voice and what I perceive is that it is a cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians at all levels," he said.
In terms of developing a nationwide Treaty between the federal government and the First Nations people, Mr Wyatt said it is important that State and Territory jurisdiction’s take the lead.
The referendum would need to earn the support of the majority of voters nationally and at least four out of six states.
Constitutional law expert Megan Davis said she was positive the First Nations delegates who participated in the Uluru dialogues would support the co-design process announced by Mr Wyatt.
“The Uluru dialogues ruled out constitutional symbolism so we know right now that there would be no support from our communities for a statement of recognition,” she said. “What we know is that it was a unanimous decision of all the dialogues that they supported a Voice to Parliament and that’s really the primary option on the table.
“After today – mid-NAIDOC week – we are that one step further along the line towards constitutional recognition… and when I say that, the only form of meaningful constitutional recognition ... [is] the Voice to Parliament.
“It’s a really quite a momentous day for the nation with the Morrison government and Ken committing to a co-design process that will lead to a referendum on a voice to parliament.”
In his address, Minister Ken Wyatt described the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Linda Burney as integral to the recognition process. On the weekend, the pair stood side by side at the national NAIDOC ball in Canberra pledging to work together in the future.
Earlier this morning, Labor Senator for Western Australia and Shadow Assistant minister for Constitutional Recognition, Pat Dodson, criticised the three-year time frame proposed by the Coalition.
"We know the Labor party is up for this, so it’s a question of [Mr Wyatt] getting his party organised and getting the consultations with the first nations underway, and clarity around the model and that shouldn’t take more than 6 to 8 months," Senator Dodson told ABC AM.
Elsewhere, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert welcomed the Minister’s commitment to a process of co-design, but said there remained a lack of details about what the co-design will look like and whether First Nations peoples will lead the process.
Ms Siewart also expressed concern regarding the Coalition's ongoing commitment to controversial programs affecting Indigenous communities.
“In spite of the commitment to walk in partnership with First Nations peoples, the Government continues to support punitive and racist programs like the Cashless Debit Card and Community Development Program," the senator said in a statement.
"I was disappointed to hear the Minister’s support for these programs and I urge the Minister to take a critical look at these programs. It is clear from the evidence that they are not working. People are still unable to exit the Cashless Debit Card program despite the new so called opt out process that started last week."