Referendum Council's fifth meeting

Indigenous AffairsConstitutional RecognitionReferendum Council
Tuesday, 09 August 2016
Publication author(s):
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Publication abstract:

The Referendum Council met in Melbourne today to discuss the progress of its work and next steps.

The Referendum Council met in Melbourne today to discuss the progress of its work and next steps.

Co-chairs Mark Leibler and Pat Anderson reported to members that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten had reaffirmed to them their joint and ongoing commitment towards a successful referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have requested the Council provide them with an interim report by 8 September 2016 to outline progress to date and the next phase of consultation. In a conversation with the co-chairs, Mr Turnbull reiterated the imperative that the Council’s report reflect the outcome of comprehensive consultation with Indigenous people and that no proposal should proceed without the support of Indigenous people. He also emphasised the importance of the proposal being achievable and having near-universal support.

Council members discussed the outcome of the first phase of consultation which comprised three meetings involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in Broome, Thursday Island and Melbourne. The meetings were a critical first step for the Council to seek guidance from leaders about the upcoming series of Indigenous-led dialogues to be held around the country. Members noted that about 150 participants had attended the meetings, including participants who took part in the 6 July 2015 Kirribilli meeting with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Shorten.

Members acknowledged the broad-ranging views being raised at the meetings and noted this was to be expected given the complexity of the issue, the diversity of people being canvassed across the country and the reality that Indigenous peoples had not been given such an opportunity previously to express their hopes and concerns to the wider community.

Members also noted the strong message received from meeting participants that the consultation process should not be rushed by working to an artificial deadline.

In light of the feedback, the Council today agreed to a new timeframe for its work, which will now see consultations continuing into 2017 with a view to presenting a final report to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition by mid-year.

The Council agreed to the framework for the upcoming series of regional dialogues, set to begin in the coming months. It was noted that a separate engagement process would be held to take the conversation to the broader Australian community.

Members also considered a public discussion paper, which sets out the options and issues for constitutional change to help guide community discussion. The paper will be translated into a number of Indigenous languages and will be published just prior to the next phase of consultation.

During the meeting, Council members reinforced their commitment to the process and the role they had been tasked with, as well as their desire to ensure the process was managed with respect and understanding.

The Referendum Council consists of 16 eminent Australians and was appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten in December 2015. Its role is to provide advice on constitutional change, including a proposal to create the foundations for a referendum.


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