‘Open-minded’ Speirs raises Voice doubts

Opposition leader David Speirs has “significant concern” about the federal government’s proposed Indigenous Voice to parliament, questioning if it would have the power to advise on climate change or interest rates.

Apr 20, 2023, updated Apr 20, 2023
Photos: Tony Lewis/InDaily, Johnny von Einem/CityMag

Photos: Tony Lewis/InDaily, Johnny von Einem/CityMag

Speirs told InDaily this week that he was yet to decide how he would vote in a national referendum on whether to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to parliament in the Constitution.

“I suspect in the coming weeks I’ll happily make a public statement on how I’ll vote because I think people would be interested to know what their alternate premier thinks on this, but I’m not quite at that point yet,” he said.

“I’m open-minded, but I don’t have a position that I’m going to make public today.”

However, the South Australian Liberal leader said he had “significant concern” about how the Voice would work and what powers it would be granted.

He said the breadth of the representative body appeared to be “creeping forward and becoming greater and greater with every passing day”.

“Will this provide advice to the Reserve Bank on interest rates, will it be providing advice on climate change and areas of very significant scientific evidence and the like?” Speirs said.

“We just don’t have that detail yet.

“I’m speaking as an individual here, albeit the parliamentary leader, but (Prime Minister) Anthony Albanese says: ‘Let’s vote for the vibe of this and we will formulate the detail in the days, weeks and months after a successful referendum, should the referendum be successful’.

“I’m not sure that’s cutting the mustard with most South Australians I speak to at the moment.”

It comes after the federal Opposition’s former attorney-general spokesperson, Julian Leeser, raised questions in March about how the Voice would advise the Reserve Bank on interest rates.

Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney responded: “The last time I looked, the Reserve Bank of Australia is independent”.

The SA Liberals joined One Nation in opposing the state-based First Nations Voice to parliament last month.

At the time, Speirs said the party supported the concept of an Aboriginal representative body, but the legislation was “rushed”, “fairly poorly consulted on” and had “no clear practical outcomes” to improve the lives of First Nations South Australians.

Federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton is actively campaigning against the Voice, claiming it “won’t deliver outcomes to people on the ground”.

Earlier this month, Dutton ordered his frontbench to oppose the proposal – a directive which prompted Leeser to step down.

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South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham has also said he would not campaign for a “no” vote, but newly-appointed SA Liberal MLC Ben Hood has publicly declared he would campaign against it.

As a member of the SA Liberal Parliamentary team, I do not support the Voice to Parliament and will be campaigning for the no vote, just to make it very clear.

— Ben Hood (@benjaminrhood) April 19, 2023

Speirs said the South Australian Liberal Party would not form a party position on the federal government’s Voice to parliament proposal and he would not actively campaign once he decides how he would vote.

“I think some of my colleagues will support it, equally, I think quite a few won’t,” Speirs said.

“I’m not going to be addressing public rallies one way or the other.

“It’s not an issue that I’m going to be providing significant public commentary on.”

The Opposition’s Aboriginal affairs spokesperson Josh Teague told InDaily he would wait on a parliamentary committee to hand down a report on the federal government’s Voice to parliament proposal before he decided how he would vote.

“There are parallels about what’s occurred at the state level and federally,” he said.

“I’ve said loudly and clearly that in this area in particular it is regrettable that the government should allow any partisanship or politicisation to enter the debate.

“I think we should do all we can to be united in terms of promoting better engagement and improved outcomes for Aboriginal people across the country.”

The federal Voice to parliament requires the support of a majority of Australians in a majority of states to proceed.

South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher this week said the federal Voice “does not have a veto power and it cannot override decisions made by the parliament or the government”.

“I have participated in a number of forums across South Australia in places like Norwood and Bridgewater and I think David Speirs’ views on the state Voice are out of step with most South Australians,” he said.

“I would encourage him to support the federal Voice to parliament.”

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