• Failure to enshrine the ‘voice’ in the constitution means it would lack long-term security. (AAP)Source: AAP
A new joint parliamentary committee investigating recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution has met for the first time.
28 Mar 2018 - 12:30 PM  UPDATED 5 Apr 2018 - 9:40 AM

A new joint parliamentary committee  looking at reconciliation and the Constitution has held the first of many meetings according to co-chairs Labor Senator Pat Dodson and Liberal MP Julian Leeser.

In a joint statement, Senator Dodson and Mr Leeser said the committee is looking for 'common ground' and a way forward on Indigenous recognition. 

"As a committee, we are looking for common ground and ways forward on these critical matters for Australia’s future. We hope to hear from Australians about the next steps for recognition of First Nations peoples," they said. 

"We plan to consult widely, starting with First Nations leadership. We understand that a great deal of work has already been done: the job of this committee is to build on that work and to now take the next steps." 

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Mr Leeser said the committee will follow the work of previous inquiries. 

"Our role is to build on the recommendations and the directions given out of those four previous inquiries, particularly the direction that came from Uluru and from the Referendum Council," he told NITV News. 

"That is that Indigenous people want to have a say in their own affairs and they want to be heard," he said. "We think that if Indigenous people are consulted and engaged more they can have more buy-in in the policies and the policies will be more successful." 

The announcement of another parliamentary committee was not received well by many in the Indigenous community - particularly after the First Nations Convention in Uluru. 

But Mr Leeser says the government wants to ensure they get it right.  

"If any of the matters the committee deals with go to referendum they have to both the support of Indigenous people but also cross-party support," he said. "Only eight out of 44 attempts to change the constitution have been successful and no-one wants put a referendum on this topic that fails." 

WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson says while there have been some setbacks the new committee will provide 'an opportunity to come together in a spirit of constructive engagement.'

"I am aware as much as anyone about the cynicism of another committee on this issue," he told NITV News. 

"We are being asked to consider once more what many people feel has already been clearly put by First Nations. There has already been a great deal of work on what needs to be done, the job of this committee is to work out how we might take these critical matters forward," he said. 

The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was appointed after it passed Parliament this month. 

It came after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten agreed on the scope of the new committee and follows an initial collapse in bipartisanship.

Mr Shorten backed an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, as recommended in the Uluru Statement from the Heart last May, while Malcolm Turnbull rejected the idea.

Mr Turnbull said the constitutionally-entrenched body would fail at at a referendum and would be a third chamber of parliament, a claim widely dismissed by constitutional specialists.

Mr Leeser says while Mr Turnbull ruled out supporting 'one specific model' of a constitutional Voice, Ms Leeser says there are many other mechanisms for consultation and engagement. 

"That's what Aboriginal people were saying to us at Uluru that they want a voice in the affairs that affect them and that's what is incumbent on our committee to come up with."  

The committee is calling for submissions and considering options for public meetings and hearings. Written submissions should be received by Monday 11 June. 

The Joint Parliamentary Committee will deliver an interim report in June and a final report in November.

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