Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet has confirmed it has turned its back to its own Referendum Council's proposal to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.
In a joint statement, the Prime Minister, Attorney-General George Brandis and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said “The Turnbull Government has carefully considered the Referendum Council’s call to amend the Constitution to provide for a national Indigenous representative assembly to constitute a ‘Voice to Parliament’”.
“The Government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum,” the statement read.
The government expressed it believed a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to Parliament that was only to be elected by Indigenous Australians, would be interpreted as a third chamber of Parliament and “undermine the universal principles of unity, equality and ‘one person one vote’”.
The statement explained the inclusion of an Indigenous representative assembly would defy the foundational principles of the Australian democracy, where all Australian citizens have “equal civic rights” and the ability to “stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national Parliament - the House of Representatives and the Senate”.
“Moreover, the Government does not believe such a radical change to our constitution’s representative institutions has any realistic prospect of being supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of States,” the statement said.
Earlier today, The Courier Mail had already reported the government had decided to walk away from the Council's recommendation for an Indigenous voice to Parliament, and instead moving to "personally salvage Indigenous Constitutional recognition" preferring a "less ambitious proposal" for a referendum that the Constitution be changed with a simple acknowledgement. The information had come from a leaked cabinet report.
It was also reported that Mr Turnbull voted against the cabinet submission by Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Attorney-General George Brandis, who supported the Referendum Council’s proposal.
It is not clear whether Mr Turnbull will also reject calls from the Uluru Statement from the Heart for a Makaratta Commission to supervise a treaty-making process between Indigenous peoples and governments, and a truth-telling process.
Indigenous Labor Senator Pat Dodson labelled the rejection as a 'kick in the guts' to the Referendum Council.
"And certainly a slap in the face to the proponents for the entrenched of a voice for the Indigenous peoples in our Constitution," to told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
Mr Dodson said there are other recommendations made over a long period of time, like the Makarratta Commission, truth-telling and agreement-making.
"Those matters are still afoot and I would hope the efforts of the Prime Minister will be to bring people together to see whether there is a way forward on such matters," he said.
In a joint statement, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Senator Dodson accused the Prime Minister of turning his back on Indigenous recognition.
"Reports of Cabinet leaks this morning suggest that Malcolm Turnbull and his conservative government are walking away from Indigenous recognition," the statement read.
"After years of hard work and goodwill, this looks to be a sad day for First Nations Australians and all of us who believe First Nations people deserve meaningful recognition in our nation’s Constitution."
The statement goes on to say that Mr Turnbull is seeking to impose his own view of what recognition of First Nations people should be and does not seem willing to listen to First Australians about what recognition and reconciliation mean to them.
Mr Dodson said on Wednesday he feared Indigenous Australians would end up with nothing, and the issue would 'die on the vine.'
"The hard work over ten years or more of the Expert Panel initially, the Parliamentary Committee, the Referendum Council, those many 12 or so dialogues around the nation culminating at Uluru, that will all dissipate and go to nothing. It will leave the nation still wondering how to recognise the Indigenous people. Because Indigenous people are not going to go away, the First Nations are going to agitate for recognition in some shape or form," he told ABC Radio.
But Federal Minister Ken Wyatt insisted constitutional recognition was still on the agenda.
"The Prime Minister has been working closely with Senator Scullion and certainly Senator Brandis, I know that they've had discussions. That issue hasn't gone away, [the] government is still committed," he told the National Press Club on Wednesday.
It comes after Indigenous leaders called on the government to provide a response to the Referendum Council's proposals since it was delivered five months ago at Uluru.
Earlier in the week, Cape York leader Noel Pearson called on non-Indigenous Australians to step up and support the Uluru Statement or risk it falling off the political agenda.
"We need ninety per cent of the country on board. It's about your country, it's your responsibility, don't put this on us. The three per cent can't carry a successful referendum, can't! We need the whitefellas to take ownership of Australia and to define it like it's never been defined before, as a blackfellas' country too," he said.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion refused to comment.