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Indigenous voice debate continues amid violence concern

Debate on setting up the referendum into the Indigenous voice is continuing amid concerns of "spontaneous violence" from nationalist groups and protesters.

The final version of the question set to be put to the public at the referendum on the Indigenous voice will be back up for debate in federal parliament.

MPs face another late-night session of parliament on Wednesday as talks on the Indigenous voice continue.

Parliament is set to vote on the final wording of the referendum question along with the changes to the constitution should the proposal succeed.

The head of Australia's domestic spy agency ASIO said there was a lot of "awful but lawful" commentary online with some linked to neo-Nazi groups. 

Mike Burgess said there was a risk of "spontaneous violence" arising from inflamed tensions, nationalist groups and protesters but any such violence would be a matter for law enforcement.

"We continue to watch if there's anyone doing planned violence, to promote politically motivated violence, promotion of communal violence, or someone is trying to interfere from a foreign interference perspective," he said. 

ASIO has also done a recent threat assessment ahead of the referendum.

Mr Burgess said there are no indications of people planning a terrorist attack or other nations threatening the vote through foreign interference.

Senior Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham said the rise of online hate was concerning but thought a respectful debate similar to the tone stuck by "the vast, vast majority of Australians" on the same-sex marriage plebiscite was possible.

"I hope we can see the same through the voice referendum," he told ABC radio.

Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers told senators the AEC needed to receive essays outlining the case for either 'yes' or 'no' on time and within the legal framework, otherwise, they would be rejected.

"It might mean that we're distributing a booklet with only one case," he said.
"Whatever parliamentary processes put in place by the 'yes' and the 'no' groups that are formed, it will be very critical to make sure that we get all of that material on time."

The commissioner said he was concerned about the "unpredictable information environment" in the lead-up to the referendum.

"We're already seeing an increase in disinformation on social media and a regrettable increase in threatening commentary."

Peter Dutton has been accused by Greens leader Adam Bandt of using race to divide the country ahead of the voice referendum.

Mr Dutton said the Indigenous voice to parliament would take the country backward, labelling it Orwellian and a reckless roll of the dice.

Senator Birmingham, a moderate Liberal, said he wouldn't offer a running commentary on his leader's comments throughout the debate.

"Many people will have had many things that are said during this debate and I hope that they are all said as respectfully and considerate as possible," he said.

The lower house isn't expected to vote on the voice bill until next week when the debate will shift to the Senate.

The bill is expected to be finalised in June ahead of the referendum, which will be held between October and December.


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