Stephen Fitzpatrick: Eminent lawyers petition Turnbull to rethink Voice stance

Malcolm Turnbull’s “profoundly disappointing” decision to reject a proposed indigenous advisory body to parliament “underestimates the decency and intelligence of Australians” and must be reversed, two of the country’s most senior silks said.

A gathering outcry against the binning last week of the Referendum Council’s main recommendation swelled yesterday to include a petition written by former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley and signed by eminent individuals.

NSW Bar Association president Arthur Moses SC said the legal profession would “mediate” with the government to help resolve the issue after Mr Turnbull falsely declared the body “would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament” and described it as a “radical” idea that would not succeed at a referendum. “The recommendations of the Referendum Council, which included one of the leading jurists ever to serve on the High Court, Murray Gleeson AC, are not revolutionary, and in no way does the voice recommendation impact on the sovereignty of the parliament or create a third chamber of parliament,” Mr Moses said.

“The report requires careful analysis and explanation to the community by our political leaders, not slogans, and such an approach underestimates the decency and intelligence of Australians. If there’s any misunderstanding by government on that issue, the legal profession will be more than happy to mediate to come up with a solution.’’

Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod SC said she was “profoundly disappointed” the proposal was rejected out of hand “after extensive consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, building on a decade of work”. “I had no inkling it was coming and we were looking forward to consulting with government and the relevant ministers on a way forward, including on the shape of the advisory body,” Ms McLeod said.

“The ‘third chamber’ language shows a lack of understanding of what’s proposed. What’s suggested is an advisory body, and the reason for it to be constitutionally entrenched is so that there is some protection against being defunded or wound back.”

Professor Stanley’s petition calls on the Prime Minister “to reconsider his position as a matter of urgency” and points out the proposed body would have “no voting rights and will not alter the makeup of parliament.”

Constitutional expert Rosalind Dixon, a University of NSW law professor, said the proposed body could be compared to parliamentary scrutiny committees, which provide advice on laws but have “no hard veto.”

David Allinson, CEO of the Uphold and Recognise organisation founded by lawyers Julian Leeser MP and Damien Freeman to promote the fundamentally conservative nature of the proposal, said the “political games being played at the moment” were “misinforming the public”.

This article first appeared in The Australian on 1 November 2017.

Uphold & Recognise