Australian group launches campaign to stop Indigenous voice in parliament
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian group on Monday launched a campaign against a referendum to create a consultative committee in parliament representing the nations' Indigenous citizens, saying it would not fully resolve the issues affecting them.
The landmark referendum, to be held later this year, will establish a so-called Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice that can make representations to the parliament on matters affecting them. The referendum would add language to Australia's constitution that includes its Indigenous people for the first time.
The "Recognise a Better Way" campaign, which includes some prominent Indigenous Australians and lawmakers, has proposed to set up an all-party parliamentary committee to focus on the rights of native title holders, instead of the referendum.
"I don't believe it needs to be in the constitution ... we're looking at all the problems we're having at the moment, they can be sorted out for legislation and ministers getting out there and doing their job," Warren Mundine, an organiser for the group and a former Labor Party national president who is Indigenous, told ABC Radio.
Mundine also criticized the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on the referendum campaign, which could instead "be used in those communities."
Australia's constitution cannot be amended without a referendum.
Australia's Indigenous people track well below national averages on most socio-economic measures. A government report out last year showed the country failed to meet almost half its targets for improving the lives of Indigenous people.
The "No" group also raised concerns that the Voice could disrupt the parliament by delaying legislation, which federal government officials dismissed.
"It's completely untrue and it won't be the only thing that gets said during this debate that's completely untrue," Employment Minister Tony Burke told Sky News.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been seeking bipartisan support for a "Yes" vote, staking much of his political capital on the referendum in a country that has only passed eight of them since Australia became an independent nation.
A poll conducted for the Sydney Morning Herald last week showed the support for the referendum has dropped to 47% from 53% in September.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)