This picture illustrates the division among Australia’s politicians over Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s proposed Voice to Parliament.
As attorney general Mark Dreyfus introduced the bill that will set up the referendum later this year on Thursday morning – the Constitution Alteration Bill – he would have seen a contrasting scene across the chamber.
While the government benches and public gallery were brimming with people, there were few Opposition faces in the chamber.
Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton was not present, nor was his deputy Sussan Ley.
While more members of the Coalition filtered in as Mr Dreyfus wrapped up his speech, the division between one side and the other was abundantly clear.
This single photo illustrates the division on the Prime Minister’s Voice to Parliament
While the government benches and public gallery were brimming with people, there were few Opposition faces in the chamber
Mr Dreyfus told those gathered ‘this is an important reform, but it is modest’, adding that it would ‘provide a path for the executive government and the parliament to consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’.
The conclusion of his speech was greeted with raucous applause from the Labor benches and much of the crossbench.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among those on his feet, and pointed up to the public gallery where members of the government’s referendum working group and other Indigenous leaders were watching the historic moment.
Coalition MP Russell Broadbent was among those clapping following the speech.
Mr Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney were offered well wishes and hugs by members of their own party.
Senators Malarndirri McCarthy, Jana Stewart and Nita Green also watched along from the sides.
While the government benches and public gallery were brimming with people, there were few familiar faces representing the Opposition
As attorney general Mark Dreyfus introduced the Constitution Alteration Bill to the House of Representatives on Thursday morning, it was a starkly contrasting scene looking across the chamber
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among those on his feet, and pointed up to the public gallery where members of the government’s referendum working group and other Indigenous leaders were watching the historic moment
Mr Dreyfus attempted to make further clarifications as to the Voice’s purpose in his speech, after rampant criticism from the Opposition that Labor has not done enough to inform the community about its purpose.
He said: ‘It supplements the existing structures of Australia’s democratic system and enhances the normal functioning of government and the law.
‘It creates an independent institution that speaks of the parliament and the executive government. But it does not replace direct or impede the actions of either.’
Mr Dreyfus said the Voice would not be required to form an opinion on every law or policy, only those which it determines to be important.
‘The Voice will determine when to make representations by managing its own priorities and allocate its resources in accordance with the priorities of First Nations peoples,’ he said.
‘Critically, the Voice will be proactive. It will not have to wait for the moment to seek its views before it can provide them but all the constitution amendment obliges is the parliament or the executive government to consult the voice before taking action.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton was not present, nor was deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley
‘The Voice will create a critical link between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the parliament and the executive government. Nothing in the provision it will hinder the ordinary functioning of our democratic system.’
The Australian public will have the opportunity to vote on whether they want a Voice to Parliament later this year.
Mr Dreyfus said: ‘I trust the Australian people to understand that this is the opportunity for a better future, not just for the first peoples of Australia, but for all Australians.’
But there are many outspoken critics of the Voice who question the scope of the powers which will be made available to members.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said one of his primary concerns is whether it will have the power to ‘slow down the machinery of government’.
‘You just can’t say to people, well if you feel good about it just vote for it,’ he said.
‘If it ends up in the High Court for years and years, if it slows down the machinery of government, if it adds billions of dollars to the cost of doing business, all of that is just passed onto taxpayers.’
Mr Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney were offered well wishes and hugs by members of their own party
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed the exact wording of the question to be asked of the Australian public last week
In an emotional press conference last Thursday, Mr Albanese choked back tears as he revealed the wording of the referendum about the Voice to Parliament.
In the referendum, due to be held between October and December, the public will be asked to consider: ‘A proposed law: to alter the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?’
Mr Albanese teared up five separate times as he said: ‘This moment has been a very long time in the making. It’s a simple matter from the heart.
‘Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in our Constitution is the best chance this country has had to address the injustices of the past and move Australia forward for everyone, the best way to do this is to give people a voice.’
For 122 years, the Constitution has made no reference to continent’s original inhabitants who, the PM pointed out, have had ‘more than 65,000 years of continuous connection to this vast land’.
Anthony Albanese appeared on the verge of tears several times during his announcement
Member of the First Nations Referendum Working Group Dr Marcia Langton was emotional as she listened to Anthony Albanese