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PM fires back at political attack over Indigenous Voice

Tess Ikonomou -

Anthony Albanese has gone on the attack after being accused of dividing the nation over an Indigenous voice to parliament.

The prime minister came under sustained pressure during Question Time on Thursday.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Albanese was "out of his depth" and deliberately withholding information about how the voice would work.

"Every day the prime minister makes a decision not to look Australians in the eye and answer the questions they appropriately are putting to him," Mr Dutton said.

"The prime minister is deliberately and willingly withholding information ... and that is why this situation goes from bad to worse, because the Australian prime minister is seeking to divide the nation."

Nationals leader David Littleproud joined the fray, arguing Mr Albanese had failed bring Australians together over the constitutional change.

When the opposition parties tried to suspend standing orders to debate the voice, the prime minister pounced, reminding people that Mr Dutton boycotted the apology to the Stolen Generations in 2009.

Mr Albanese said his opposite number was so divisive that he "could not stomach" the apology.

Earlier in 2023, Mr Dutton admitted he got it wrong when he chose not to attend the apology delivered by then-prime minister Kevin Rudd and backed by all major parties.

The push to suspend standing orders was comprehensively defeated.

The voice is a proposed advisory body that would make recommendations to the federal government and parliament on laws and policies affecting Indigenous people.

It was the first of three reforms proposed by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, along with treaty and a truth-telling commission.

The coalition is opposed to the voice, but supports constitutional recognition of Indigenous people.

It also supports establishing local and regional Indigenous advisory bodies, so long as they are not enshrined in the constitution.

In a speech to parliament, the prime minister said the coalition's position recognised the voice would make a positive difference.

"Their commitment to legislate a voice completely undermines every argument that they make against it," he said.

"They clearly acknowledge it is needed, otherwise, why would they legislate it?"

The political brawl erupted on the eve of the Garma Festival, Australia's largest Indigenous gathering.

The prime minister invited Mr Dutton to join him at Garma but the Liberal Party leader declined.

Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney also extended an invitation to the deputy Liberal leader.

Away from the sound and fury of parliament, the Business Council of Australia announced it would back the Indigenous voice, releasing data that showed its members spent more than $1 billion on Indigenous-owned businesses each year.

The council - whose members include BHP, the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas and Woodside - joined a string of community, religious and sporting organisations to back the campaign.

A referendum on the voice will be held later in 2023.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

Tess Ikonomou - AAP

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