It’s official – the Liberal Party will oppose the Indigenous Voice to Parliament when Australians vote on the issue in this year’s referendum.
The referendum is now firmly a politically charged issue set to divide Australians even further as the vote draws closer.
Late Wednesday afternoon (5 April), Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton announced his party’s decision to deny First Nations Australians a voice in the Federal Parliament.
He said the party had overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s model.
But he said his team supported constitutional recognition and more localised representative bodies for Indigenous Australians.
“The Liberal Party resolved today to say yes to constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, yes to a local and regional body so we can get practical outcomes for Indigenous people on the ground,” Mr Dutton said.
“But there was a resounding no to the Prime Minister’s Canberra Voice.”
The Opposition Leader said having a voice in Canberra was not going to resolve problems for Indigenous Australians, adding that it was Mr Albanese’s insistence on the government’s model and the question being put to the people that was divisive.
“It should be very clear to Australians by now that the prime minister is dividing the country and the Liberal Party seeks to unite the country,” Mr Dutton said.
“We went to the last election with local and regional voices. That is essentially the policy we continue with. It has been well worked through.”
“We want to make sure we can get the best possible outcomes for Indigenous Australians, and we do that through recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution … Having a Canberra Voice won’t resolve the issues on the ground for Indigenous communities.”
While the decision is binding on Mr Dutton’s front bench, Coalition backbenchers will be free to advocate a yes vote, which some are set to do.
In formally opposing the Voice, Mr Dutton is effectively placing his leadership on the line, but it also weakened the chance of the referendum getting up.
He would not be drawn on whether he would resign if the referendum succeeds.
The Prime Minister announced the proposed question on 23 March following the unanimous passage in the Senate of the machinery bill stipulating how the referendum will work.
The question will read:
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?
Australians will vote to amend the Constitution to include a new chapter titled Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The provisions Australians will be voting to approve are:
- There shall be a body to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and
- The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
Mr Dutton will tell Australians to vote no, saying it was not in the country’s best interest.
“I have spent literally months, like many Australians, trying to understand what it is the Prime Minister is proposing,” he said.
“We cannot get the basic detail out of them.
“The fear with the Voice is it changes our system of government forever and we end up with no practical benefit to people in Indigenous communities.
“The Prime Minister has so far changed the wording to be put to the Australian people on three occasions. The latest version was against the advice of the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General. It’s clear he’s not going to change the wording of that proposal.”
Mr Albanese earlier declared that Mr Dutton sought to undermine the yes vote with “every utterance”.
“I wish that wasn’t the case,” the Prime Minister said.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney responded to the Opposition Leader’s announcement by saying his decision was made with a focus on internal the Liberal party politics.
“Mr Dutton’s criticism is predictable,” she said.
“Despite his obsession with the Prime Minister, this is not about politics.”
Mr Burney also reminded everyone that Mr Dutton had boycotted the 2008 apology to the stolen generations.
“In 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised alongside Anthony Albanese and almost all other members,” she said.
“Mr Dutton boycotted that apology. I hope he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of his past.”