Senior Indigenous and legal voices have criticised Malcolm Turnbull for reportedly rejecting the Uluru statement in favour of a symbolic model of constitutional recognition, calling it “a despicable act of mean-spirited bastardry”.
News Corp has reported that Turnbull voted against a submission in favour of the Uluru statement recommendations, which include embedding an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution, at a cabinet meeting this week, saying a referendum proposing that change was “too ambitious” and would not get majority support.
He instead reportedly suggested a return to a symbolic recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s founding document.
News Corp said Turnbull was drawing on recommendations made by a parliamentary joint select committee on constitutional recognition in 2015 but it is not clear whether he supported the other changes proposed in that report, which include a new constitutional provision prohibiting racial discrimination.
The cabinet submission was co-sponsored by the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, and the attorney general, George Brandis. A spokesperson for Scullion said he did not comment on cabinet discussions.
Turnbull is expected to make a formal statement on his government’s position soon.
The Uluru statement was drafted following a three-day summit of more than 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders and legal experts in May, following a year of consultation. The process was conducted by the Referendum Council, which was funded by the federal government to develop a model for constitutional recognition that had support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, following opposition to the process being led by the Recognise campaign.
The overwhelming message of the summit was a rejection of symbolic constitutional reform in favour of a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament, which would sit outside the parliamentary structure but provide advice and consultation on issues and legislation affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Uluru statement also proposed establishing a Makarrata commission with a view to establishing a treaty, or treaties, between Indigenous people and Australian governments.
Sean Gordon, the chief executive of the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council and one of the main spokespeople in support of the Uluru statement proposals, said he was “extremely disappointed” by cabinet’s rejection of the reforms.