PM, state and territory leaders formally back Indigenous voice to parliament with statement of intent

<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

In a show of unity, the prime minister and state and territory premiers have officially backed an Indigenous voice to parliament after Friday’s national cabinet meeting in Canberra.

State and territory heads signed on to a “statement of intent”, formally supporting an Indigenous voice to parliament.

“Today all first ministers in recognition of our commitment for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s first peoples and also with a voice to parliament being enshrined in our constitution,” Albanese said.

Related: Albanese says voice referendum will go ahead even if political dissent presents risk of failure

New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet speaking to reporters at a press conference after cabinet, said the voice should be “above politics” as the debate continues, seemingly at odds with federal Liberal politicians claiming a lack of detail from the government.

“It should be above politics … It should unite the country, not divide it,” Perrottet said.

Albanese said it was priority for all state and territory first ministers “to secure a successful referendum in the second half of this year”.

National cabinet has also recommitted to the Closing the Gap targets which were formally signed up on under the previous Morrison government.

Pat Turner, the lead convener of the Coalition of Peaks, which brings together Indigenous controlled organisations and peak bodies working with state and territory governments to address disadvantage, spoke at the national cabinet meeting, but Albanese acknowledged that the Closing the Gap targets were “failing” and that governments have failed.

“The gap which is there on education on health, life expectancy, on justice issues. In too many areas is not closing in accordance with the targets,” Albanese said.

He said that Turner believed that a successful referendum and voice to parliament would address systemic disadvantages facing too many Indigenous peoples: “She sees a direct link between constitutional recognition and respect and a voice in achieving better outcomes in the future.”

The government’s 60 member voice referendum engagement group is in the process of finalising education materials it will release during the national “week of action”, from 18 to 25 February.

Selwyn Button, a group member and chair of the Lowitja Institute, says they will soon release fact sheets and information in “very plain language” to help Australians understand the voice, the referendum and the timeline of the process.

“Our role is very much centred to go out and engage with the public and provide consistency of message, not only to our own people, but the general Australian public to make sure that people understand the benefits of the voice.”

“Fundamentally, our role is now to make sure that we can come up with some consistent messages.

“Now we’re getting to the crux of finalising some of that detail in terms of fact sheets and Q and A’s and simple information that we can hand to every engagement member, so they constantly walk into conversations and start talking about the benefits of the voice.”

Button, a Gunggari man, said “the opportunity to have the conversation more intensely about treaties will come up”.

Button says the Albanese government has committed to treaty processes after the voice referendum is successful.

“What we have now is a significant opportunity for structural reform in the Australian constitution, and that opportunity of structural reform will inform what treaties look like.

Related: Voice bill to come before parliament next month with campaigning to kick into gear quickly

“Not just a single treaty, what treaties look like for First Nations people across the country.

“And that structural reform is the piece that we’ve got an opportunity to create, and to get in the constitution at the end of the year.

“So we need to focus on that opportunity first, and then treaties will follow.”

Button says Aboriginal people will need time to talk about multiple treaties – with governments, with each other. He says questions will need to be resolved about whether there is one or multiple treaties, who will negotiate those, and on whose behalf.

“It is very, very clear from the people that have been involved in those conversations is about treaties. Because it’s about a treaty between government and a nation of people. It’s not a collective of people.

“So in my case, as a Gunggari man from western Queensland, the conversation would be among Gunggari people about what a treaty looks like, not the collective Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander population.”