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Voice referendum advice won’t be released

Advice from the nation’s top lawyer on the wording of the proposed change to the constitution for the Indigenous voice to parliament will not be released.

March 27, 2023
By Tess Ikonomou
27 March 2023

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says the solicitor-general’s advice supports the wording of the proposed change to the constitution on the Indigenous voice to parliament referendum, but is refusing to publicly release it.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week revealed the question to be put to voters – between October and December – and the new section of the constitution outlining how the voice will work.

Repeatedly pressed on whether the advice supported the wording, Mr Dreyfus in response said “it does support the wording” and that it was not the practice of Australian governments to produce advice.

“We’re confident that where we’ve got to is constitutionally sound, it’s the right thing for Australia,” he told the ABC on Sunday.

“I’m looking forward to the referendum succeeding when we get to it at the end of the year.”

Asked to confirm reports he suggested the words executive government be removed from the wording, Mr Dreyfus denied them as “just wrong”. 

“I have never suggested taking out executive government,” he said. 

“It’s been the position of the Australian government at all times that the voice … should be able to make representations to the parliament and to the executive government of the Commonwealth.

“That’s been my position too.”

The attorney-general would not be drawn when asked if additional wording he suggested was not adopted by the referendum’s working group.

“I don’t think poring over who said what, when, matters … what matters is where we have landed,” he said.

“Where we’ve landed is a provision which clarifies the primacy of the Australian parliament to determine the scope, the functions, and the powers of the voice.”

Asked how the voice would work practically, Mr Dreyfus said it meant government departments, ministers, and parliamentarians would know what the voice “has to say” on policy and laws affecting Indigenous people.

He said Australians were “practical people” and once the voice was enshrined, the parliament would decide how the advisory body would operate.

The attorney-general said it was a “possibility” that the voice could challenge the government in the High Court if the body felt it hadn’t been given the opportunity to provide advice to a department or to cabinet. 

But he stressed the wording of the proposed amendment clarified the power of parliament, which would regulate how that could take place.

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