Releasing voice advice would break precedent: Dreyfus

Mark Dreyfus says a new federal bill will enhance Australia's response to foreign bribery.

Mark Dreyfus says a new federal bill will enhance Australia's response to foreign bribery. Photo: AAP

Releasing solicitor-general advice on the Indigenous voice to parliament would break with long-standing legal practices, the attorney-general has warned.

The federal opposition has called on the government to release the legal advice presented on the voice to parliament, following the announcement of the question that will be put to the public later this year at the referendum.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has called for more detail on the proposal before deciding the party’s stance on the issue.

However, Mark Dreyfus said while the solicitor-general was “fully involved in the process”, the advice would not be released publicly.

“It would be inconsistent with long-standing practice that successive governments, including the government for the last nine years in which Mr Dutton was a part, to release solicitor-general advice,” he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

“This has been a very comprehensive and rigorous process. The solicitor-general’s been closely involved in the process. Many other constitutional experts have been involved in the process.”

The referendum is due to be held between October and December, with the government revealing the proposed changes to the constitution last week.

A bill setting up the referendum will be introduced to parliament on Thursday, and will then be sent to an inquiry with the aim of passing it at the June sittings.

Mr Dreyfus said the advice from constitutional experts is the wording of the question and the changes were constitutionally sound.

“It’s about having a voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to assist the parliament to make better laws and assist the executive government to make better policies – and we need to do this,” he said.

“The voice can do no harm, just good for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to the country more broadly.”

Constitutional lawyer Bret Walker welcomed the news of the final wording being proposed for the referendum.

“It seemed to be to be a very safe formula, with a bit of a double precaution against some of the notions that were slated by opponents,” he told ABC Radio.

“There’s absolutely no possibility now that parliament will not be able to control the manner in which executive, for example, will deal with representations by the voice. All of that now has been put beyond any doubt by the explicit capacity of parliament.”

Nationals leader David Littleproud said the party would not shift its position on the voice following the question’s release.

While the Liberals have yet to determine their stance, the Nationals last year said they would oppose the reform.

“We just need a better bureaucracy, not a bigger bureaucracy,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“When you’ve got lawyers now at 100 paces squaring up with each other … it’s beholden on the government to take the Australian people into their trust and to release the solicitor-general’s advice around this because this is going to add more conjecture.”


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