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Dutton to campaign against Voice after Liberals say an official no

Govt introduces Voice legislation

The Liberal Party will formally oppose enshrining an Indigenous voice in the constitution – with leader Peter Dutton pledging to campaign against it.

“I don’t think this is in our country’s best interest,” Mr Dutton said after announcing the decision on Wednesday.

“I have spent literally months, like many Australians, trying to understand what it is the Prime Minister is proposing. We cannot get the basic detail out of them. We think it is deliberate. We are waiting, waiting for advice. They have deliberately decided not to give advice.”

The announcement came after Mr Dutton summoned Liberal MPs to Canberra for a meeting to discuss the party’s official position on this year’s referendum.

After a two-hour meeting, the party agreed to support constitutional recognition of Indigenous people but not a constitutionally enshrined voice to the parliament and executive government.

Mr Dutton said the Liberal Party did not support Anthony Albanese’s “Canberra voice”, but rather wanted a legislated local and regional voice mechanism.

“We want to make sure that we can get the best possible outcomes for Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“We do that through recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution and by providing for their say, their voice to be heard by government, in a very clear way but at a local level.”

The opposition will propose amendments to the model introduced to parliament by the government at the end of March.

The model was based on recommendations from the referendum working group which provides advice on the voice.

While Liberal backbenchers are free to vote with the government on the legislation, the shadow cabinet is bound by the party position not to support the model.

“There might be three or four people on the backbench who will want to advocate for a yes position … If you talk about the mood in the shadow cabinet and the ministry, or indeed in the party room, overwhelming majority of the position has been adopted,” Mr Dutton said.

One of those is Tasmanian Liberal Bridget Archer. She said Wednesday’s decision had tested her faith in the party.

“Coming on the back of other issues, recently, that also test my faith in the Liberal Party, I think those are some of the lessons from the 2022 election and also obviously from the Aston by-election on the weekend,” she told the ABC.

“But I signed up to those values, I believe in those values, and I have a loyalty to the grassroots membership that preselected me for the Liberal Party to run for them and I know that many of those people are like-minded and that they agree with my views. And so that drives me on to a degree – I think it is worth fighting for.”

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said the decision was “not a no from the Liberal Party”.

“It is a day of many yesses – yes to constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, yes to local and regional voices, yes to better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, yes to Australians having their say if the Prime Minister is determined to continue his my way or the highway approach,” she said.

“But it is a no for dividing Australians.”

Mr Dutton also said the Liberal decision was about “actually uniting the country and bringing people together on something practical that will work but not disrupt the way of government”.

Mr Albanese earlier said calls from the Liberal Party to delay the referendum were absurd and his government had sought bipartisan support for the proposal.

Afterward, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said Mr Dutton’s criticism was predictable.

“But despite their obsession with the Prime Minister, this is not about politicians, this is about closing the gap,” she said.

“Mr Dutton has tied himself in knots. Apparently he’s for a Voice and against it, and his backbenchers won’t be tied to this decision. That’s about as clear as mud.

“If Mr Dutton supported a Voice, he would have supported Ken Wyatt’s proposal to the Morrison government. And he didn’t.”

Before the meeting, Mr Wyatt – a former cabinet colleague of Mr Dutton – warned his ex-colleagues a decision not to support the Voice could come back to bite the Liberal Party.

“Parties that are out of touch will pay the consequence in the future,” he told ABC Radio National on Wednesday.

Mr Wyatt, a member of the referendum working group and the first Indigenous Australian to hold that portfolio in cabinet, said the Voice proposal was not new and had been the subject of multiple reports considered by consecutive prime ministers.

“People who argue contrary to that shows they did not give scant attention to even the executive summary of those reports,” he said.

Nationals leader David Littleproud welcomed the decision. The Nationals came out in formal opposition to the Voice in December – a move that prompted NSW MP Andrew Gee to quit the party.

“If the Prime Minister wanted to be constructive, he’d sit down and rework this … It’s now important for the Prime Minister to reflect about his opportunity to lead the country to bring people together,” he said.

A Newspoll conducted for The Australian and reported on Tuesday night showed 54 per cent of all voters support constitutional recognition and and the Voice to Parliament, with 38 per cent opposed.

The poll signalled the likelihood that a referendum would meet the critical double majority test to succeed if one were held today.

Referendum working group member Thomas Mayo said the early polling indicated the sentiment of Australians was with the referendum working group and the ‘yes’ campaign.

“[Australians] have walked with us for a long time now … to see these results tells us that we can succeed when the referendum is held,” he told Sky News.

The referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament is expected to be held sometime between October and December.

-with AAP

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