Labor MP Linda Burney says Malcolm Turnbull's refusal of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is nothing short of scaremongering.
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15 Feb 2018 - 11:59 AM  UPDATED 15 Feb 2018 - 11:59 AM

Labor MP Linda Burney says the Prime Minister's refusal to commit to an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is 'nothing short of scaremongering.' 

"The Prime Minister remarkably has refused two days in a row in Question Time to commit him and his government to the outcomes of the Uluru Statement and that was a call for a Voice to advise the Parliament on issues as they pertain to First Nations People," she told reporters in Canberra on Thursday. 

"The Prime Minister's refusal and a threat to make this an election issue is nothing short of scaremongering," she said.

Her comments come as Mr Turnbull reaffirmed his government would not support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, saying it would fail if put to a referendum.

"If that referendum proposal were to be put up and if it were to succeed, and I have no doubt that it would fail," he told Parliament on Wednesday. 

The Indigenous-elected body was a key proposal of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a result of three days of deliberations during the historic First Nations Convention held at Uluru last year.

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Mr Turnbull said such a body would, in effect, become a third chamber of Parliament. 

"The reality is there is not one bill that goes through this parliament that does not impact on and affect Indigenous Australians. The scope of that third chamber would get wider and wider, and a fundamental principle of our democracy would have been aggregated. The Coalition will not support it. The Labor Party want to advocate that at the election, and it appears they do - we will let the Australian people decide," he said. 

But Ms Burney said Mr Turnbull's description of the body as a third chamber is incorrect. 

"He has described a Voice to the Parliament as a third chamber. Not true," she said. 

"He has also said that this puts the rights of Aboriginal people above the rest of Australians. I think the rest of this country would be shocked if they truly understood the disadvantage of Aboriginal people." 

She said the fact the Prime Minister has threatened to make this an election issue is reprehensible.

"Labor has been incredibly pragmatic. If there is not going to be a referendum about establishing a Voice to the Parliament, we will legislate. As Bill Shorten said we will work with you but we will not wait with you," she said. 

"This is threatening the bipartisan of Aboriginal affairs that has been established over two decades now. We want to work with the Government. But if the Government is not prepared to work with Labor, we will not wait for the Government." 

Cape York leader Noel Pearson, and other Referendum Council members, said they were furious about the Prime Minister's response to a Voice to Parliament. 

"The Prime Minister had pre-judged the whole dialogue process even before the consultations with Indigenous people and the wider Australian community had even commenced," Mr Pearson told the ABC. 

"The Prime Minister shows every week how poor his policy and political judgment is — why should this opportunity for recognition be lost because of his ineptitude and lack of imagination?"

Earlier this week, Mr Turnbull handed down the tenth Closing the Gap report which found just three of the seven targets to reduce Indigenous disadvantage were on track to being met. 

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The tenth Closing the Gap report reveals three of seven targets are on track to being met, compared to only one last year.

The four remaining targets which include literacy and numeracy, employment, school attendance, and a key measure to close the 10-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2031, are lagging.

The Closing the Gap framework was established in 2008 under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a pledge to commit to Indigenous health and life expectancy equality within a generation. 

Ms Burney, and many Indigenous leaders, say the disadvantage is getting worse - particularly in relation to incarceration and the rates of child removal. 

"There is no time that I can think of in my long career in politics where we have seen starkly the disadvantaged and the increased incarceration and the amount of children being put into care," she said. 

On Tuesday, the nation marked ten years since the historic National Apology to the Stolen Generations. A decade on, and many Indigenous groups said the removal of children has never stopped. 

"It's devastating to know the extent that our kids that still, everyday, being removed from our families," said NACCHO CEO, Pat Turner. 

Ms Burney says the rates of removal are appalling. 

"Today, in the news we heard the shocking statistics in New South Wales alone of the amount of Aboriginal children being removed into statutory care. It has doubled since the Apology. It is a completely untenable situation," Ms Burney said.  

"I know that many people just see this as statistics, but the statistics are real children, real people that are dying to early, that are not getting the outcomes that the rest of the country is experiencing. And for the Prime Minister to say no, we'll make this an election issue and propagating a scaremongering campaign about a Voice to the Parliament is completely unacceptable to my party."  

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