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“I intend to campaign for ‘yes'” - Julian Leeser quits Liberal frontbench over party’s Voice stance

Callan Morse -

Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Lesser has quit the Liberal party front bench citing personal opposition to the party's "no" stance on a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Mr Leeser, who previously co-chaired a committee on constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples said his decision reflects the "different position" he holds in relation to the Voice.

"With the referendum due later this year, I believe the time for the Voice has come," Mr Leeser said during a Parliament House press conference.

"I believe in local and regional voices. I believe in a national Voice drawn from local and regional bodies, and I will support the referendum being put this year.

"I believe that the Voice can help move the dial on Indigenous education, health, housing, safety and economic development."

Mr Leeser said his efforts over the past year to persuade Liberal party colleagues to join him in supporting the Voice referendum had gone unsuccessful.

"I've had many respectful discussions with colleagues about the Voice over the past year," he said.

"I've listened to their views and they've heard mine, but ultimately I haven't been able to persuade them."

Mr Leeser's resignation from the shadow Attorney-General and Indigenous Australians portfolios gives him an opportunity vote on the Voice referendum according to his conscience and not along party lines, as Liberal backbenchers are not tied to the party's position, unlike the party's shadow cabinet ministers.

"It's clear that the shadow cabinet and the party room and I have taken a different position in relation to Voice," he said.

"The Liberal Party believes in conscience and freedom. Unlike almost any other party in the parliament, the Liberal Party gives backbenchers the freedom to champion the ideas they believe.

"I want to exercise that freedom because I intend to campaign for a yes vote."

In resigning from the shadow cabinet, Mr Leeser reinforced his support of opposition leader Peter Dutton.

"I resign without rank or bitterness and I remain a loyal Liberal, fully committed to the leadership of Peter Dutton."

However after months-long dialogue with Mr Dutton, Mr Leeser said it was "clear' that his position on the Voice differed to that of the opposition and majority of the Liberal Party.

"Peter and I had a conversation about my position last December on the Voice. We've talked several times since. They've been respectful conversations," Mr Leeser said.

"Peter did everything he could to keep me, I respect that and I respect him very much.

"But it was clear on the day before shadow cabinet in the party room meeting last week that I was in a different position to a majority of my colleagues."

Mr Leeser will remain in the house of representatives as the Liberal member for Berowra.

More to come.

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