If the referendum passes, Labor would establish local and regional Indigenous voices around the nation as a significant concession to Liberal MPs who support the idea.
Despite seeking to avoid committing to a specific model before the referendum, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said the Albanese administration was committed to the idea for local bodies.
Before a nonpartisan, tax-payer-funded television campaign asking Australians to discuss constitutional recognition and the Voice to parliament was set to air on Sunday, Burney made the statement.
The minister’s action aims to appease Liberal Voice backers Andrew Bragg and Julian Leeser, both of whom have urged for local and regional bodies to cascade into a federal one.
“Regional voices are an important component of the Voice – it’s about grassroots solutions being heard in Canberra,” Burney said.
“We’ve already seen jurisdictions like South Australia and Victoria make great progress on regional voices.”
According to Burney, the $20 million set aside by the Morrison administration for regional voices was extended in this month’s budget, and the “post-referendum process will help determine the design of regional voices.”
Between October and December, Australians will cast ballots in a referendum that would give Indigenous Australians a voice in parliament and cement that recognition in the constitution. The group would be allowed to voice concerns to the government and parliament regarding matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
After the Resolve Political Monitor, which was published in this masthead on Wednesday, revealed that support for the Voice had decreased from 58 to 53 percent over the previous month in the “yes or no” issue equivalent to a referendum, supporters of the Voice have been confronted with doubts about whether their campaign is on track for days.
Until the bill authorizing the referendum is passed, the federal government’s advertisement, which it describes as providing “neutral civics information,” will run for four weeks starting on Sunday afternoon.
The ad urges Australians to “have a conversation about the referendum” and features a number of Australians talking about constitutional recognition and the Voice.
“The Voice will be a permanent body,” one person says in the 30-second ad.
“And it will give independent advice to parliament and government on matters that affect First Nations people,” another voice says.
In contrast to the initial television ad for the Yes campaign that aired last month, the emphasis on the Voice is different. The advertisement merely made a hashtag-based mention of the Voice at the end while promoting constitutional recognition.
Senior government officials, including cabinet ministers, who were not authorized to speak in public, expressed concern that the Yes campaign’s choice to minimize the Voice would have aided the No side’s “Recognize a Better Way” campaign.
“You have to take on the No campaign’s arguments, not vacate the space,” one government source said.
Asked whether there had been a decision to downplay the Voice, a spokesperson for the Yes23 campaign said: “This first ad was about having a simple and straightforward conversation with everyday Australians about recognising Indigenous peoples in the constitution and giving them a say in their own future.”
“It is the first step in what will be a sustained effort to engage and have conversations with everyday Australians between now and referendum day.”
Warren Mundine, a prominent No supporter, claimed that the Yes side’s words provided him with “easy ammunition.”
“I’ve got a whole heap of advertisements coming out in the next couple of weeks on this very issue: why aren’t they [the Yes side] talking about the Voice?” he said.
“On radio, TV – we’ll be asking: ‘What happened to the Voice? It’s disappeared’.”
The Yes side, according to Mundine, began to emphasize constitutional recognition and minimize the Voice because polls indicated the former was significantly more popular.