The campaign for an Indigenous Voice to parliament has suffered a major blow after federal Liberals backed a “resounding no” to the proposal and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton vowed to campaign against the change at a referendum later this year.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese conceded the Liberal Party decision would put the case for the Voice at risk of defeat, as Indigenous leaders warned the outcome would damage the attempt to improve the lives of First Australians.
Dutton said on Wednesday his party would oppose what he dubbed the “Canberra Voice” and instead backed constitutional recognition of First Nations people and the creation of local and regional voices.
Four days after the shock loss of the formerly safe Liberal seat of Aston in Victoria, Dutton said his party would wave through the bill to enable the referendum and that backbenchers would be able to support the Yes vote.
But the shadow cabinet will be bound to oppose the Voice and Dutton promised to campaign for a No vote in a decision that draws party-political battle lines and heightens the chances of the constitutional change being defeated.
The Liberals’ decision increases political risks for both major party leaders, directly linking Albanese and Dutton’s political fortunes and leadership to the success or failure of the referendum, as opinion polls show support for the Voice softening across the country, particularly in Western Australia and Queensland.
Albanese slammed the Liberal Party’s decision, saying “of course” the Liberals’ decision would make it more difficult for the referendum to succeed “and that’s why it is so disappointing that in the press conference today, it was all about politics”.
The prime minister vowed to press on with the referendum – expected later this year – and said he was still “very hopeful” it would pass.
“I’m very saddened by the response of the Liberal Party today. Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley … spoke all about politics and all about politicians. They know full well this isn’t something that’s come from politicians, this is something that’s come from the ground up, from Indigenous people themselves.”
Dutton said his party room wanted the best possible outcomes for Indigenous Australians and that a Voice to parliament in Canberra would not resolve the issues in Indigenous communities.
“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 [but] there was a resounding no to the prime minister’s Voice,” he said.
Deputy leader Sussan Ley said the prime minister had displayed “breathtaking arrogance” and had acted in an unbecoming manner throughout the Voice debate.
“It’s his timeline, it’s his question and his refusal to meet anyone else halfway on anything is breathtaking in its arrogance,” she said.
The Liberals’ formal opposition to the Voice brings them in line with their Coalition colleagues in the Nationals, who came out against the Voice last November.
On Wednesday, National Party leader David Littleproud welcomed Dutton’s move and argued that if the prime minister “wanted to be constructive”, he should rework the constitutional amendment proposal to take in Coalition concerns.
“When you’ve got three political parties, basically with different views, it’s now important for the prime minister to reflect, to understand, and about his opportunity to lead this country in a direction that brings us together,” Littleproud said.
The Liberal Party’s decision was immediately criticised by Labor, the Greens, pro-Voice campaigners and Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer, who all vowed to continue the campaign for a Yes vote.
One of the Voice proposal’s leaders, chair of Lowitja Foundation Pat Anderson, released a statement saying the Indigenous community strongly supported enshrining the Voice in the constitution, not the symbolic recognition backed by the Coalition.
‘The rest of the country is starting to reckon with its past as we march towards a treaty, but Peter Dutton is trying to ignite a culture war.’
Adam Bandt, Greens leader
“After 12 years, seven processes and 10 reports, the Liberal Party have made a decision to campaign for a ‘No’ vote,” she said.
“This ignores the majority of First Nations peoples at the grassroots across the country … Their decision is a vote for business as usual.”
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said Dutton had met Albanese seven times over the Voice and not made any proposed changes to the constitutional amendment.
“If Mr Dutton supported the Voice, he would have supported [former Liberal minister] Ken Wyatt’s proposal in the Morrison government. And he didn’t,” she said.
Albanese has told colleagues that bipartisan support for the Voice referendum was not essential because modern voters were less attached to the positions of major parties and more able to be swayed to support a change.
Archer said she would cross the floor if necessary to back the Yes vote and vowed “I will campaign actively for the Yes campaign…I will not in any way attach myself to a vote No”.
Shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser, who has long supported constitutional recognition but who set out the Liberals’ concerns about the current proposal at the National Press Club on Monday, did not appear alongside Dutton and Ley.
Greens leader Adam Bandt accused the Liberals of being “a small racist rump sliding into irrelevance” and promised his party would campaign strongly for the Yes vote.
“The rest of the country is starting to reckon with its past as we march towards a treaty, but Peter Dutton is trying to ignite a culture war,” Bandt said.
Arnold Bloch Leibler partner and Referendum Council member Mark Leibler said the Voice process had been the most systematic, comprehensive and culturally sensitive consultation.
“The leader of the opposition says he and his party support constitutional recognition, yet how on earth can he or anyone else genuinely support recognition but reject the form of recognition favoured by the people we seek to recognise?” he said.
Dean Parkin, the director of the Yes campaign, said the decision to oppose the Voice “was made by a number of politicians in Canberra, [but] the referendum is a decision for the Australian people”.
“Indigenous people have put their faith in the people of Australia, because they will get it right,” he said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk criticised the lack of information from the Albanese government for lagging support for the Indigenous Voice to federal parliament in her state.
“I think people are after the detail, and I can understand, there would be some hesitancy … so I’ll be I’ll be talking to the prime minister about how they can put [out] clear information,” she said.
With Matt Dennien
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )