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Parliament votes to set up voice referendum

House of Representatives MPs have voted to set up the Indigenous voice referendum, ahead of Australians heading to the polls on the issue later this year.

May 31, 2023, updated May 31, 2023
Liberal backbencher Julian Leeser sought to make changes to the referendum, by removing the references to the voice being able to advise executive government. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Liberal backbencher Julian Leeser sought to make changes to the referendum, by removing the references to the voice being able to advise executive government. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The House passed laws on Wednesday to finalise the wording of the question to be put to the public, along with the changes to the constitution should the referendum be successful.

The vote passed 121 to 25 followed by applause throughout the chamber.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton voted for the bill to pass.

Debate will move to the Senate where it is likely to pass parliament in June, ahead of the referendum being held some time between October and December.

The opposition nominated several MPs as “authorised dissenters” to vote ‘no’ in the house, in order to enable them to have input on the referendum pamphlet which will be sent out to all households.

Those voting ‘no’ included Nationals leader David Littleproud and former deputy prime ministers Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack.

Liberal backbencher Julian Leeser sought to make changes to the referendum, by removing the references to the voice being able to advise executive government.

Leeser, who quit the opposition frontbench to support the voice, said the changes would give the referendum a greater chance of success.

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“Winning a referendum is hard and I want the voice to win, the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate,” he told parliament.

“My goal is not to hollow out or to weaken the alteration as some have claimed, rather it’s to remove the central argument of the ‘no’ case.”

But Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government would not back the amendments, calling them “neither necessary or desirable”.

“It is important that the voice’s functions of making representations to the executive government is guaranteed in the constitution,” he said.

“Without that guarantee, a future government may entirely remove the ability for the voice to make representations to the executive … Australians can have confidence in this constitutional amendment.”

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