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Libs to formally oppose voice to parliament

The Liberal Party will formally oppose enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution – which leader Peter Dutton called “the Prime Minister’s Canberra voice” – but will back constitutional recognition after agreeing a position this afternoon.

Liberal leader Peter Dutton announces the party position on the voice in Canberra on Wednesday. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Liberal leader Peter Dutton announces the party position on the voice in Canberra on Wednesday. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Dutton summoned Liberal MPs to Canberra today to discuss the party’s position on the voice.

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.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese revealed wording for the referendum question on March 23, with Australians to vote later this year.

Dutton said a short time ago that the Liberal Party did not support “the Prime Minister’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.

Moderate Liberals later expressed disappointment with the party position.

Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer said there were few MPs including herself who spoke out against the stance.

“I’m not really surprised. But I am disappointed. I think that this has been some time in the making. I think that nobody is probably going to be really too surprised about the decision that we have made today,” she said.

“Today’s decision is, whilst not surprising, it’s also a day late and a dollar short and I will continue to work with what is being proposed and encourage Australians to move towards a ‘yes’ vote.”

Archer described the party room meeting as “one-sided”, and said the Liberals needed to come to terms with the consequences of the decision it had made.

“They have to try and find a way to reconcile that and to distance themselves from views that we will see, and have already started to see, in the context of a ‘no’ campaign that are divisive, and that are racist,” she said.

Dutton said he believed only “three or four” members of his party room would campaign for a ‘yes’ vote.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said the party would still oppose any form of an Indigenous voice, but said it was likely the Nationals would support recognising Indigenous people in the constitution preamble.

“When you’ve got three political parties, basically, with different views, it’s now important for the prime minister to … lead this country in a direction that brings us together, not divides us,” he said.

“In putting in place another layer of bureaucracy (for a voice), in adding another to the over 1000 indigenous representative bodies now, it is not a principle that my party room could accept.”

Albanese earlier said calls from the Liberal Party to delay a referendum on an Indigenous voice were absurd and his government had sought bipartisan support for the proposal.

“This is a nation-building effort and I call upon everyone to support it,” he said.

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“This is not controversial and should not be an issue of partisan politics. It’s a modest proposal.

“The idea that you can simply ignore or dismiss the views of the referendum working group in my view contradicts the very concept of a voice which is about listening.”

Before the meeting, former Morrison Government minister Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous MP elected to the House of Representatives, 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 said.

Wyatt, a member of the referendum working group, 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.

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.

Before today’s Liberal Party meeting, SA senator and senior moderate Simon Birmingham called for the party to return to its values while reflecting modern Australia, saying some viewed the party as intolerant, divisive and at times nasty.

On Saturday, the Liberal Party lost its federal Melbourne seat of Aston – the first time an Opposition has lost a by-election to the Government since 1920 and prompting debate over party direction, leadership and ideology. The party is also out of office everywhere except Tasmania, following the New South Wales state election defeat.

“Times have changed and the construct and demographics of society have changed,” Birmingham said on Wednesday morning.

“We should be a party that still stands for families but we should stand for all families regardless of their construct.

“We should still be a party of small business but we should use that as a tool to embrace migrant and multicultural communities who are so entrepreneurial in their nature.”

Birmingham said that “equality of opportunity stands at the core of the Liberal belief in individual rights and individual opportunities”, that party focus on fringe issues such as transgender rights were counterproductive, and he acknowledged women did not see the party as representing their interests.

“(That) is something we hold out to everybody who is willing to make a contribution to society, regardless of their religious background, their sexual orientation, their migrant background or any other attributes they might hold,” he said.

-with AAP

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