Three key players failed to show for a special episode of ABC's Q&A program on Monday night that was devoted to constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, Labor Senator Pat Dodson and Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson had all apparently agreed to be panellists but seemingly pulled out of the appearance on the day the show was to be broadcast.
Their absence was noted by the show’s host Tony Jones, but no further explanation was given.
The minister has been under pressure since using his Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture address in Darwin four days ago to explicitly reject the idea of enshrining an Indigenous 'Voice' in the constitution.
it was the minister's first open rejection of the Voice proposal. At the National Press Club last month, the minister had left the door open to including a Voice in the referendum.
On Monday night, one of the delegates who signed off on the Uluru Statement – which put forward the idea for the voice in 2017 - said she was not prepared to compromise on the enshrined Voice proposal.
“As Indigenous Australians, as First Nations, we’ve compromised a lot – why do we have to keep compromising?” asked APY Lands chairwoman Sally Scales.
On the show, the government’s position was defended by Liberal MP Julian Lesser – who stated his support for an Indigenous Voice to parliament.
“I think that the minister has been clear on his position, as has the prime minister – that they are in favour of constitutional recognition but not putting the Voice in the constitution,” he said.
The MP was asked why Mr Wyatt had changed his mind since his Press Club address in July.
Mr Lesser said: “Well I think his position is the same position as the prime minister’s position: that’s now the government’s position.”
Linda Burney, the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, confirmed the Labor Party’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart “in its entirety, including the Voice”.
“Ruling things out at the moment is not a wise thing to do,” she said.
“Enshrining the Voice in the constitution for First Nations people is about giving it certainty. Whatever happens, entrenchment is important to give it permanency, so the government of the day cannot dismiss it."
Conservative Indigenous political campaigner, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, said she opposed constitutionally enshrining an Indigenous Voice because it would signify that Aboriginal people were “forever going to be disadvantaged”.
“Having it (a Voice) constitutionally enshrined is to say that we are continually forever going to be disadvantaged without the want to be part of the fabric of this country like everybody else,” she said.
Ms Price suggested that the Voice was “just a concept” that lacked "detail".
“It’s like another issue that gets pulled to the forefront that distracts us from what’s really going on and that’s how I see it,” she said.
The chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Pat Turner was quick to respond.
“It hasn’t distracted me," she said. "Because we’re working very hard to close the gap and to ensure that Aboriginal voices are at the table in negotiations with government as equals."
While discussions continue, advocates and supporters ofthe Voice to Parliament are reeling in the wake of the federal governments decision.
Thomas Mayor, an advocate of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, fears only tokenistic action will follow.
“We don’t want symbolic constitutional recognition as he (Minister Wyatt) has indicated that they will take this towards.”
“We rejected that, we said we wanted substantive recognition, and we want a Voice… And to do that at the Vincent Lingiari Memorial lecture, I think was a disrespectful place to do it,” Mr Thomas said.
Government representatives are also condemning the announcement, with Greens Sentor, Rachel Seiwart, labelling it a ‘weak approach.’
“What we are seeing right now on the Voice is watering down what the community have worked hard for and in fact demonstrates why a Voice should be constitutionally enshrined,” Senator Seiwart said in a statement.
“Minister Wyatt committed the Government to a process of co-design between Government and First Nations peoples to determine the detail of the Voice yet he has already ruled out it being enshrined in the Constitution.”
-This article was updated to clarify that Tomas Mayor did not co-author the Uluru Statement from the Heart