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Voice will ‘enhance’ system of government: Solicitor-General’s advice

Lisa Visentin for The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 2023.

The opinion of the Commonwealth’s top legal adviser that the federal cabinet and public service will not be forced to consult with the Voice before making policy has thrown down a challenge to conservatives adamant that enshrining the body in the Constitution risks clogging up the courts and hamstringing government.

Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue’s written opinion, published on Friday, was proclaimed by Labor and Voice advocates as further confirmation the Constitutional change was legally sound, but it failed to allay the concerns of the Coalition which demanded the full legal advice provided to cabinet be released.

In advice attached to a submission by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to a joint parliamentary inquiry into the referendum, Donaghue said the Voice would “enhance” Australia’s system of representative and responsible government, and “will not fetter or impede” the powers of the parliament or executive.

Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue says the Voice to parliament will “enhance” Australia’s system of government. CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

His opinion comes amid a raging debate over the proposed power of the Voice to make representations to the executive government, which some constitutional conservatives and politicians have argued would result in another layer of bureaucracy and trigger a deluge of High Court litigation if the Voice believed it had not been properly consulted.

But Donaghue found the proposed wording of the amendment to enshrine the Voice in the Constitution posed no threat to Australia’s democratic system of government.

He said the Voice would act only as an advisory body to the executive and parliament and would have no power to make laws or develop or administer policies.

“The Voice clearly has no power of veto,” Donaghue said.

These words were repeated by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at his press conference in Sydney on Friday morning, when he backed in the submission, calling the solicitor-general’s opinion “very clear and it’s unequivocal” and saying it should put to bed “nonsense and falsehoods” about the Voice’s power.