- The Australian Electoral Commission will get $66.3 million to prepare for the referendum.
- An agency helping drive the federal government’s Yes case will receive $6.5 million.
- The Coalition has reserved its position on the Voice, demanding the government provide more detail.
- The budget also allocated $5.8 million over three years to start work on a “truth-telling” Makarrata commission.
Australia’s electoral commission will be beefed up by almost $70 million over two years to prepare for the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to parliament, while an agency helping drive the federal government’s Yes case will receive $6.5 million.
In a move likely to provoke opponents of the Voice proposal, the National Indigenous Australians Agency will receive $6.5 million by 2023-24, with part of it to be spent on the working groups set up to advise the government on its referendum strategy.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, at the Garma festival in East Arnhem Land in July, recently told the Voice working group the government was “all in” on the Voice referendum.Credit:AAP
The budget papers reveal the money is to go towards the referendum efforts, “including the establishment of a governance structure to support the special advisory groups that will engage with stakeholders and provide advice to government”.
The electoral commission will receive $66.3 million, the bulk of which is allocated to this financial year, to prepare for the nationwide vote. Included in this amount is $16.1 million to increase the number of Indigenous Australians enrolled to vote. It takes the total spend to $75.1 million on preparatory work for the referendum when other departments are included.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers used the opening remarks of his budget speech to emphasise the government’s commitment “to a Voice for First Nations people”, amid speculation a national vote could be held as soon as late 2023.
The federal government has not allocated any funding to official Yes and No campaigns, but in September established a 21-member working group of First Nations leaders to provide advice on key strategic questions, including the best timing for a successful vote and how the proposed constitutional amendment and question could be refined.
Addressing the advisory group last month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the referendum would be held during the next financial year, telling it the government was “all in” and there was “not a day to waste” as it prepared the strategy for a Yes vote.
Members of the high-powered group include former Liberal minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, as well as Noel Pearson, Pat Turner and Uluru Dialogue co-chairs Pat Anderson and UNSW professor Megan Davis. A secondary “engagement” working group has been tasked with advising government on how best to build momentum for the Yes case and engage with Indigenous communities.
The Coalition has reserved its position on the Voice, instead demanding the government provide more detail around how it would operate amid a brewing debate over its advisory scope despite assurances from advocates that it would have no veto power over decisions of the executive or parliament.
Northern Territory Coalition senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has emerged as a leading critic, while former prime minister Tony Abbott has indicated he will campaign against it, as has prominent Indigenous leader Warren Mundine.
They argue the Voice will make no practical difference to the everyday lives of Indigenous Australians while embedding the body in the Constitution is racially divisive.
The budget papers show the government has also allocated $5.8 million over three years from 2022-23 to start work on setting up a “truth-telling” Makarrata commission, which was one of the three pillars of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, along with Voice and treaty.
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