Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe has demanded that none of her fellow Greens MPs, including another Indigenous senator, meet with Indigenous community members about the Voice to parliament, insisting only she was allowed to do so.
Thorpe’s argument relied on the fact that she is the party’s First Nations spokeswoman, a position that is under scrutiny after the formal deal struck last week that gives Thorpe free rein to campaign against the proposal while the Greens decide if they will support the referendum.
The Greens will announce their stance next week.
In deciding where the Greens stand on the referendum, party leader Adam Bandt must reckon with Thorpe’s Indigenous activist base, who reject the Voice and demand treaty first, while maintaining the support of mainstream Greens voters who support the Voice much more strongly than Labor voters, according to polling.
The latest Resolve Political Monitor survey found 72 per cent of Greens voters backed the proposal, with 7 per cent against and the rest undecided. By comparison, only 47 per cent of Labor voters say they would vote yes, with the remainder oppositional or unsure.
Thorpe’s demand was made on multiple occasions in November and December, according to Greens and Indigenous sector sources who requested anonymity to detail private conversations.
Thorpe did not dispute the claims when put to her, saying through a spokeswoman that it was “normal for the First Nations portfolio holder to lead on matters pertaining to the First Nations portfolio”.
“Many of Senator Thorpe’s party room colleagues do vital work with First Nations people, often with her direct support,” the spokeswoman said.
Bandt said Thorpe’s actions were appropriate and consistent with her responsibilities as spokeswoman.
“In requesting that she maintain primary responsibility for managing relationships with key stakeholders in the area, Lidia Thorpe has acted thoroughly appropriately as the First Nations portfolio holder,” he said, adding that he and other MPs had met with Voice advocates.
“I would expect all of the Greens spokespeople to act in this way, as their counterparts would in cabinet or shadow cabinet.”
Three senior Greens who spoke on the condition of anonymity while the party resolves its position, said they were frustrated that Thorpe’s overt hostility towards the Voice is seen as the Greens’ position because, as the party’s spokeswoman on Indigenous issues, the high-profile senator is leading negotiations with the government.
Greens MPs and senators attended a two-day retreat in Mount Macedon, Victoria, this week to determine the party’s agenda for the year ahead. Thorpe was unable to attend but participated virtually.
A clear statement on the Greens’ Voice position is now expected early next week, with sources saying the party room was still awaiting more information from the government regarding the Voice’s effect on First Nations’ claims to sovereignty.
Asked whether it would be viable for the Victorian senator to remain in the role if she split with her colleagues on the issue, the senator’s spokeswoman defended her work. “There’s so much more to the First Nations portfolio than Labor’s Voice to parliament,” Thorpe’s spokeswoman said.
Ahead of the retreat, WA Greens Senator Dorinda Cox, the party’s other Indigenous member, gave a rare interview on her Voice position, revealing a more supportive view than Thorpe, telling the newspaper the referendum could be a “unifying moment for Australia”.
The Greens’ official policy is to progress all three elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including its primary call for an enshrined Voice, while prioritising the truth-telling and treaty-making components.
While this position suggests a baseline level of support for the Voice, Thorpe has stepped up her criticism of the referendum over the summer, labelling it a “waste of money”.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Monday it would be devastating if the Voice failed. When asked about Thorpe’s position as Indigenous spokesperson, she said portfolio responsibilities were Bandt’s responsibility.
Thorpe has said she would not support legislation for a Voice to parliament “unless I am satisfied that First Nations sovereignty is not ceded”.
She worries that signing up to the Voice’s inclusion in what she describes as the “coloniser’s constitution” would be a tacit admission that Indigenous people accepted the legal and political authority of British settlers, potentially undercutting claims to land and self-determination.
A group of constitutional experts advising the Albanese government on the Voice on Thursday affirmed that the issue of sovereignty is unaffected by the Voice, and Hanson-Young said she believed the matter could be “very easily dealt with”.
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