Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has used a speech to parliament to slam Peter Dutton and double down on his insistence the Voice be allowed to talk to “executive government”.
Debate on the Constitution Alteration Bill has been running all week, with MPs given the chance to explain their reasons for supporting or opposing the referendum before Australians vote sometime between October and December.
Former shadow attorney-general and constitutional conservative Julian Leeser has joined campaigners like Mick Gooda in calling for the government to remove the executive government powers clause of the proposal in order to garner more support.
But in his speech before the parliament on Wednesday, Mr Leeser – who resigned from the shadow frontbench to advocate for the “yes” campaign – did not mention his concerns, instead giving a wholehearted endorsement of the need for constitutional recognition.
Meanwhile, earlier this week the Opposition Leader – who was first to speak – slammed the entire proposal, saying it risked being “regressive, not progressive”.
In his speech to the House of Representatives on Thursday, Mr Albanese pleaded with Australians to back the Voice as he sought to explain the rationale for including the contentious clause, saying that while he had the “upmost respect” for Mr Leeser and their shared passion for advancing reconciliation, there was a reason for the argument.
“The argument put forward is not illegal or an unconstitutional one. Saying that the Voice, they are not saying that the Voice should not talk to the executive government, they are just saying that it should not be included in that part of the Constitution,” Mr Albanese said.
“In recognition as well of course that the executive government under our system as opposed to systems such as the United States derives its power from the parliament. From this parliament.
“Instead, they want to alter the proposal in the hope of gaining more support. To that I say two things. Firstly, the changes that were made to the Garma draft and agreed to by the referendum working group are able to precisely at reinforcing the primacy of the parliament.
“Secondly, in spite of that, the Liberal Party frontbench already locked themselves into saying no before the committee process that they called for and they said was important had even commenced its work. And the National Party decided to say no before the draft question had even been finalised.”
Mr Albanese also hit back at Mr Dutton, who in his speech on Monday channelled George Orwell as he warned that the Voice would “re-racialise” the country and divide Australia “in spirit and in law”, suggesting it would make Indigenous Australians more equal than non-Indigenous Australians.
“It is disappointing but not surprising that the loudest campaigners for the ‘no’ vote have already been reduced to relying upon things that are plainly untrue,” Mr Albanese said.
“It’s also very telling, and in his desperation, the Leader of the Opposition is now seeking to amplify this misinformation and all of its catastrophising and contradictions.
“Those exhausted cliches of Orwell and identity politics, the ongoing conceit that there is apparently no inequality in Australia now. No legacy of discrimination, no disadvantage to address, no gap to close. That logic suggests, of course, that there is no need for a minister for Indigenous affairs. Job done.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney, who gave the second speech, had earlier slammed Mr Dutton for spreading “disinformation and scare campaigns”.
Mr Albanese reiterated Ms Burney’s argument.
“This is the same Leader of the Opposition who says that he boycotted the national apology because he thought it was just symbolism and wouldn’t make practical difference. Now he’s leading a campaign against constitutional recognition through a voice saying that he only wants symbolism, not something that will make a practical difference,” the Prime Minister said.
“Let’s be clear about this. There is of course a powerful, uplifting symbolism in recognising the first peoples of Australia in our Constitution. The fact that we share this island continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture is a source of pride for all of us.
“The fact that our national story stretches back 65,000 years is something our nation’s birth certificate should recognise and celebrate.”
His speech, only the third he’s made since being relegated to the backbench last year, detailed his commitment to constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians but warned the Voice model proposed by the government was full of “risk”.
Debate continues on the Constitution Alteration Bill on Thursday before a vote in the House next week. It will then go to the Senate.