Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is using the Voice to parliament referendum to lay a political trap for the opposition, deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley claims, and as a possible springboard to an early federal election.
In a fiery speech to Liberal Party true believers in the must-win Western Australian seat of Curtin, Ley will ramp up the Coalition’s hostility towards the referendum, just a day after the Yes campaign was formally launched.
Labelling the Indigenous recognition campaign a Labor vanity project, the deputy opposition leader will claim “Anthony Albanese would rather see the Liberal Party say no and this referendum fail than the Liberal Party say yes and this referendum succeed.”
“That’s at the heart of everything driving his agenda on this issue.”
While Ley will say, according to an advance copy of the speech, that she has no doubt the prime minister wants to see better outcomes for Indigenous Australians,“the problem here is that Anthony Albanese has tied constitutional recognition of our first Australians – which everyone across the parliament supports – to a concept called the Voice which he cannot explain”.
“He wants this referendum to succeed, yes, but only on his terms. Sadly, I suspect he is using this referendum as a platform for an early election.”
While the government would need a double dissolution trigger to go to an election in the first half of 2024, the opposition has voted against major legislation, including the government’s National Reconstruction Fund.
If the Greens were to follow suit and shoot down the NRF twice in three months, this would hand the government the trigger it needs – and if the Voice is passed at a referendum without opposition support, an early election would be a tempting option for Labor.
The remarks represent a hardening of the opposition’s position on the referendum, which will be held in the final months of the year and retains the support of a majority of voters.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and his colleagues have asked for more details about how the proposed advisory body would operate, which proponents have repeatedly said would be decided by parliament after a referendum in which a principle-based question is asked.
To date, opposition MPs have not publicly accused Albanese of using the Voice to harm the Coalition’s electoral standing and boost the government’s re-election chances.
“Anthony Albanese, if you are genuine about the Voice succeeding, stop laying traps, stop willing the Coalition to oppose this, stop making it a re-election vanity project,” Ley will say.
A Liberal Party source, speaking anonymously to discuss the party’s political strategy, said it had decided to heighten its attack on Labor’s handling of the referendum because Albanese had enough time to change his approach by giving more specific answers on Voice’s model, and giving administrative funding to the Yes and No campaigns.
Albanese has repeatedly said he wants major parties to work harmoniously to deliver the most substantial advancement in Indigenous advancement in decades. Labor demonstrated some willingness to work with the Coalition earlier this month when it agreed to send pamphlets to voters explaining the referendum proposal.
Dutton has not decided whether the party will force shadow ministers to advocate against the Voice or if he will permit supporters within the Coalition to publicly back the referendum.
Moderates including Senator Andrew Bragg are pushing for MPs to be free to support the Voice, but some MPs and conservative figures outside parliament believe the Coalition is duty bound to oppose the Voice, because taking an equivocal position could allow the referendum to succeed.
Senior members of the Yes campaign, including From the Heart director Dean Parkin, met with many Coalition MPs earlier this month in Canberra. Some expressed outright opposition while others said they would support the Voice if it was blocked from advising the executive – including the cabinet – and thereby posed less risk of sparking High Court challenges.
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