Labor promises to ‘move quickly’ on Indigenous voice to parliament referendum if elected

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images

Labor has promised to “move quickly” on a referendum to constitutionally enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament in the first term of government if elected on Saturday.

As the polls tighten in the final days of the election campaign, Labor has released its $680m-plus Indigenous affairs policy, focused on health, housing and justice issues, while accusing the Coalition of “ignoring the needs” of First Nations people and voters.

Labor’s shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said the prime minister Scott Morrison’s “casual dismissal” of a referendum on a voice to parliament has been “hurtful and exhausting” for First Nations people, and has accused the Coalition of showing no interest in bringing the country together.

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“Those who support the Uluru Statement face a clear choice at this election,” Burney said.

“Morrison has shown nothing but disinterest in bringing the country together around these proposals. His casual dismissal of a referendum on a Voice to Parliament is hurtful and exhausting.

“Australians are more than ready for the discussion about a Voice to Parliament. We are already having it. It’s time we put the discussion at the centre of our national discourse and took it to a vote.

Early in the campaign, Morrison said it was not his government’s policy to hold a referendum, adding: “So why would I be doing that?”

He again faced criticism on Tuesday for not sending a representative to engage in NITV’s First Nations election forum.

Labor has promised to set up a Makarrata Commission with responsibility for treaty making and truth telling, taking into account processes already underway in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

It pledged $100m for housing and essential services for NT homelands, and $200m worth of upgrades of “overcrowded and run-down” remote housing in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and the NT.

“What’s needed is political leadership,” WA Labor senator Pat Dodson said.

“From Whitlam returning Gurindji land to Vincent Lingiari, to Keating’s Redfern Speech and Rudd’s Apology, Labor has shown it is ready to walk with First Nations people and all Australians towards a fairer, more just future.”

Labor also promised $79m for justice reinvestment to “turn the tide” on incarceration and deaths in custody, and says it will boost funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.

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And it has committed to 500 new frontline workers to support women in crisis and tackling family violence, and will abolish the “punitive” work for the dole scheme.

“We will abolish the punitive Community Development Program and replace it with a program with real jobs, proper wages and decent conditions. And we will abolish the discriminatory Cashless Debit Card,” the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said in a statement.

Labor is fielding a record 11 Indigenous candidates for the Senate and lower house in Saturday’s election.

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