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‘Clear as mud’: Cracks in Coalition over Voice to Parliament details

Liberal leader Peter Dutton and Nationals leader David Littleproud are at odds over the Voice.

Liberal leader Peter Dutton and Nationals leader David Littleproud are at odds over the Voice. Photo: TND/Getty

Cracks are emerging within the Coalition over the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The Opposition has attacked the referendum proposal by raising questions about its details during a bruising debate over the past fortnight in Parliament.

But on Sunday, it was questions about the Liberals’ stance on the Voice that pointed to a new dividing line in the debate, both within the federal Opposition and with state party branches.

While opposed to constitutionally entrenching a “divisive Canberra voice,” Opposition Leader Peter Dutton advocates “very strongly” for passing laws to create local and regional Indigenous advisory bodies.

On Sunday, his Coalition partner, the leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, declined to back that stance.

Real concern

“I have a real concern about going back to regional models because what it means to us in regional and remote areas is hundreds of thousands of square kilometres – not 20 square kilometres across a couple of suburbs,” he told the ABC.

Mr Littleproud said the Nationals party room would decide its stance on local Voices (the party declared its opposition to the Voice months before Mr Dutton and the Liberals).

Published polls have recently shown support for the referendum faltering.

Still, on Sunday, the Special Minister of State Don Farrell said he was confident that high levels of support among younger voters would get the ‘Yes’ vote across the line.

“In the last couple of weeks, the [Australian Electoral Commission] announced that we’ve almost got 98 per cent of Australians on the roll and 94 per cent of Indigenous Australians on the roll,” he said.

“I think when push comes to shove, when the vote takes place on the referendum, that we’ll have majority support.”

Signs of broader disagreement were showing within the ‘No’ camp and between state and territory divisions of the Liberals and its federal party room.

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley reaffirmed the federal Liberals’ plan to legislate local Voices, saying it was important that the Liberals’ stance was not wholly negative.

But in an interview on Sunday, she was at odds with the leader of the Liberals in her state of New South Wales, who endorsed the Voice.

Last week state opposition leader Mark Speakman said the benefits of the Voice outweighed any risks.

“I think he’s got this one wrong,” Ms Ley told Sky News.

Tasmania’s Premier Jeremy Rockliff, the only state Liberal leader holding office, is campaigning “vigorously” for ‘Yes’.

Liberal deputy leader Sussan Ley

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley is the spearheading the Coalition’s offensive.

ACT Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee is also for the Voice.

But neither Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto nor Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli have publicly stated their positions.

“I have a lot on my plate,” Mr Pesutto said this month.

In Western Australia, Liberal leader Libby Mettam’s about face on the Voice prompted speculation from Labor about whether an ongoing factional dispute had swayed her.

Ms Mettam praised the Voice in January as a chance to advance reconciliation.

But last week, she said a controversy over an axed state law on Indigenous cultural heritage, not internal party issues, had led to her change of thinking.

The WA Nationals, too, had come out in favour of the Voice, but the party now has a new leader and will vote again on the issue this week.

Complete confusion?

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney seized on the disunity within Coalition ranks when speaking at Multicultural Australia for the Voice forum launch on Sunday.

“The message from the opposition here is as clear as mud,” she said.

“What is clear is that not even the members of parliament of the opposition of the Coalition know what their position is – they are completely confused.”

Manager of Opposition Business Paul Fletcher denied any conflict in Liberal ranks.

“Ultimately, (the referendum is) a decision for every Australian,” he said.

“What the federal opposition is focused on doing under Peter Dutton’s leadership is seeking as much information as we can through question time and the other processes of the Parliament.”

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