‘An Abrogation of Leadership’: Australian PM Responds to Liberal Decision Not to Back The Voice

‘An Abrogation of Leadership’: Australian PM Responds to Liberal Decision Not to Back The Voice
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Feb. 28, 2023. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Daniel Y. Teng
4/5/2023
Updated:
4/5/2023
0:00

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called the Liberal Party’s decision not to back a federal Indigenous Voice to Parliament a “sad day.”

In response to the opposition’s announcement that its party members were “overwhelmingly” against The Voice, Albanese cited criticism from Indigenous leader Noel Pearson who likened Liberal leader Peter Dutton to an “undertaker preparing the grave to bury Uluru.”

Prime Minister Albanese pledged last year to implement the three-part Uluru Statement from the Heart in full: embedding “The Voice” into the Constitution, setting up a commission for treaty-making between Indigenous peoples and local governments, and “truth-telling” about colonial history.

“Uluru is a generous statement, it is an invitation to all Australians to walk with First Australians to advance reconciliation,” Albanese told reporters in Sydney on April 6.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reacts during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on March 30, 2023. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reacts during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on March 30, 2023. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)

This year, Australians were to go to the polls to decide whether The Voice would be implemented. It would involve altering the preamble of the Constitution to set up a near-permanent advisory body—featuring 24 Indigenous members—to Parliament supposed to represent Aboriginal communities.

However, the Liberal Party’s decision not to back The Voice could impact the success of the referendum.

“This isn’t leadership. This is an abrogation of leadership,” said Albanese. “Yesterday’s position was confused. It said we support constitutional recognition but not now. We support Voices, but not a national Voice. We are going to have these local Voices but they are not going to have any possibility of bringing it together.”

“The disingenuous nature of this response is summed up by talking about a ‘Canberra Voice.’ This is anything but.”

Concerns Remain Over the Extent of Power Granted to Indigenous Body

On April 5, Dutton along with deputy leader Sussan Ley revealed the party room had voted “overwhelmingly” against backing The Voice, bringing the party in line with the position of its Coalition partner the Nationals.

“We’ve been clear that we don’t support [Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s] ‘Canberra Voice.’ It’s divisive, and it’s not going to deliver the outcomes to people on the ground,” he told reporters.

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton speaks during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 30, 2023. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)
Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton speaks during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 30, 2023. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)

“Our proposal is a local and regional Voice so that we can listen to those women, and listen to those elders on the ground and get a better outcome,” he said.

Dutton also warned that the lack of detail around The Voice also meant there were no clear boundaries around the type of power the body could receive.

“If there is an overreach on what the prime minister is proposing,” Dutton said. “If it does go too far, and the High Court’s interpretation is more liberal … Does the prime minister then go back to the Australian people to seek to narrow the words?

“That is a very real prospect if they overreach now, and they need to confine and tighten the words again … it does grind government down to a near halt.”

Constitutional legal expert Greg Craven expressed similar concerns saying the lack of clarity over how the body would operate opened the door to potential lawsuits.

“If you get into a situation, for example, The Voice hasn’t yet made a representation on some important view and the Commonwealth hasn’t told The Voice and given it that chance—then legally it is entirely practical for someone to take a challenge to court to stop that action until The Voice has made a representation,” he told 2GB radio in March.

Reaction to Liberal Party’s Position

In response to Dutton’s announcement, Indigenous leader and legal academic Noel Pearson said he “couldn’t sleep last night.”

“I was troubled by dreams and the spectre of darkness, the Liberal Party’s Judas betrayal of our country,” he told ABC Radio on April 6.

“I see the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Dutton, as an undertaker,” he said. “Preparing the grave for Uluru. It’s a very sad day for Australia, that we can’t have bipartisanship.”

Members of the Mutitjulu Aboriginal community walk through the grounds in Mutitjulu, near Alice Springs, Australia, on July 6, 2007. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Members of the Mutitjulu Aboriginal community walk through the grounds in Mutitjulu, near Alice Springs, Australia, on July 6, 2007. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

“But nevertheless, I am certain that every attempt to try and kill Uluru and bury it. It will not succeed the Australian people will rise to the historical opportunity we have to achieve conciliation at last.”

Meanwhile, Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt said the Liberals had “nothing to offer this country.”

“We’re starting to reckon with our past as we march towards a Treaty, but Peter Dutton is trying to ignite a culture war. Leave them behind. We’ve got more important things to do,” he wrote on Twitter.

While former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman welcomed the move.

“It’s an important stance for the [Liberal] Party and the LNP to stand against a racially divisive change to our Constitution,” he wrote on Twitter.

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
twitter
Related Topics