Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz rejects notion of treaty with First Nations people

Eric Abetz
Eric Abetz

Treaty and provision for a dedicated Aboriginal voice in Parliament should not form part of a constitutional re-write to acknowledge First Australians, says Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt this week announced a three-year pathway towards recognition of Aboriginal people in the Australian Constitution which he hoped would result in a referendum on the issue.

This follows the 2017 Uluru Statement which proposed writing into the Constitution the proposition of an Aboriginal representative body to advise Parliament on policy which impacted its people, and agreement over a treaty.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council chairman Michael Mansell said the organisation preferred a treaty resolution over a voice in Parliament.

"Political realities dictate that either a treaty or a voice will be put to the federal parliament but not both," he said.

"The voice model will ultimately produce an advisory body that has no legislative powers, delivers no services, returns no land, has no budget to distribute and cannot even determine its own membership.

"It will offer advice that can be listened to or ignored.

"On the other hand, a treaty would return land and allow Aboriginal people to share in the distribution of power (designated seats)."

Senator Abetz said having no qualifications regarding ethnicity for seats in Parliament was a strength of the country's democracy.

"Taking race considerations out of our Constitution was part of the rationale for the groundbreaking 1967 referendum," he said.

"Reinserting racial considerations would be a backward move."

Senator Abetz said a treaty with the country's Aboriginal population was not appealing as it lacked practical benefits.

"(It) would become a lawyers' playground," he said.

Tasmanian Labor Senator Carol Brown said Parliament should respect the Aboriginal community and work with them to progress the agenda set by the Uluru Statement.

"The Uluru Statement from the Heart only recommended one referendum change or constitutional change - that was the voice," she said.

"The truth-telling process and agreement-making process or treaty - the other part of the Uluru Statement - do not require a referendum change."