The Liberal Party will formally oppose the government’s model for an Indigenous Voice to parliament and instead push for legislated local and regional bodies, but will support the referendum itself being held.
Styling the opposition’s stance as “yes” to constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people but “no” to what he called Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s “Canberra Voice”, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he would campaign against the government’s proposal as it was risky and divisive.
“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,” Dutton told a press conference in Canberra on Wednesday afternoon.
“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.”
The party will also commit to working with the government to attempt to reach a compromise on the phrasing of the proposed constitutional amendment at the end of a parliamentary inquiry into the wording in May, but Dutton said he doubted “very much” Albanese would change his position.
Shadow ministers will be bound by the party’s decision but backbenchers will be allowed a free vote, as is the norm. Dutton said the Voice was not “an issue of conscience, similar to the same-sex marriage debate”.
Moderate MPs including Russell Broadbent, Bridget Archer, Jennie Ware, Andrew Bragg and Richard Colbeck spoke against elements of the party’s position, observers said.
MPs in favour included Henry Pike, Paul Scarr, Andrew Wallace, David Fawcett, Keith Wolahan, Matt O’Sullivan, Wendy Askew, and Indigenous senator Kerrynne Liddle.
Speaking to ABC television after the party meeting, Archer – who is in favour of a Voice to parliament – said taking a contrary position within the party was not without consequence.
“While we talk a big game about people having the freedom to express their views and the freedom to cross the floor, in practice, it is 100 per cent not without consequence,” Archer said, adding Wednesday’s decision had tested her faith in the party.
According to observers, Broadbent said he was still open-minded about the government’s proposal, while Victorian MP Aaron Violi said he was yet to form a position.
Ware, who spoke in favour of a free vote during the meeting, said the opposition had put forward a credible alternative to the government’s “problematic” proposal.
“As the representative of the Hughes electorate, I intend to consult widely within my electorate before I finalise my position and vote when we return to parliament,” she said in a statement.
Earlier on Wednesday, Albanese accused Dutton of seeking to undermine a Yes vote in the referendum “with every utterance he has made”.
“That’s my assessment. People will make their own assessment. I wish that wasn’t the case. I seek as much support as possible for this change,” Albanese said.
Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley said the government’s approach to the Voice would not lead to practical benefits in local Indigenous communities.
“Today is not a ‘no’ from the Liberal Party, it is a day of many yeses. Yes to constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, yes to local and regional voices, yes to better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, yes to unite this country behind doing everything we can as a parliament to strengthen outcomes for Indigenous Australians,” Ley said.
Asked if he would actively campaign for the No case in the referendum, Dutton replied, “I will be”, adding he had been told by a number of Aboriginal communities to do so.
“The prime minister has sought to conflate constitutional recognition with the Voice because he sees political advantage with that,” he said.
Opposition Indigenous affairs spokesman Julian Leeser told the National Press Club on Monday the second clause of the proposed constitutional amendment was the “lead in the saddlebag” and the referendum would have a greater chance of success without it.
He said this clause, which says the Voice “may make representations to the parliament and the executive government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”, was too broad and open to activist judges to expand its meaning.
Dutton said there was enormous risk with the current proposal and what the Liberals were proposing was less risky.
Ley said the prime minister had displayed “breathtaking arrogance” and acted in an unbecoming manner throughout the Voice debate.
“I stand here today disappointed with the prime minister, disappointed with his approach. It’s his timeline, it’s his question and his refusal to meet anyone else halfway, on anything as breathtaking in its arrogance.”
( 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] )