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Voice to Parliament: Where do the Liberals stand?

Emma Ruben -

As a referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament becomes imminent, federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has yet to make the stance of the Liberal Party clear, and his approach has drawn criticism from Indigenous and non-Indigenous figures.

In December, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced at Queensland's Woodford Folk Festival a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament will be held before December 2023.

Since his announcement many politicians of various different parties have thrown their support behind a Voice to Parliament.

In January, Mr Dutton asked for more information on the Voice and challenged the current government to release a draft bill before a referendum or to legislate the voice.

Mr Dutton released a letter with 15 questions for Mr Albanese to answer before Australia goes to the polls.

"I believe you are making a catastrophic mistake in not providing accessible, clear and complete information regarding your government's version of the Voice, condemning it to failure and, in turn, damaging reconciliation efforts in our country," he wrote.

"Your approach will ensure a dangerous and divisive debate grounded in hearsay and misinformation."

Mr Albanese slammed the letter, which was dropped to select media outlets before it was received by the Prime Minister, as a "cheap culture war stunt".

"So, even though I talked with Peter Dutton on Friday at the (McGrath Foundation) event, he gives a letter to multiple media outlets as (an) 'exclusive' on constitutional recognition and the Uluṟu Statement - a letter I still haven't seen," he wrote.

"People are over cheap culture war stunts."

In December 2021, while Mr Dutton was a minister in the Morrison Government, his cabinet colleague, then Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, released a 272-page report on the Indigenous Voice co-design process.

In light of Mr Dutton's letter, Mr Wyatt said the "naysayers" should take a look at the final report.

"The detail as I've said previously is in the final Tom (Calma) and Marcia (Langton) provided me as I took to cabinet to seek the next steps I wanted to take," Mr Wyatt said on Sky News.

"At the moment from what I've seen of Peter's letter, you'd have to say that he was a naysayer. But I know from discussions I've had with Peter about what the model should look like, my recollection was he had no issue with that."

Yiman and Bidjara academic and co-writer of the Indigenous Voice co-design report, Marcia Langton, expressed her disappointed at Mr Dutton's words in The Saturday Paper.

"The key gripe of Peter Dutton and his shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Julian Leeser, is that "no detail" has been provided about the Voice - what it would do, who its members would be, how they would be appointed, how much they would be paid," she wrote.

"What the opponents mean is that they will seek to deceive the public into believing that there is 'no detail', ignoring at least three reports on the matter..."

Professor Langton said she had not forgotten Mr Dutton's previous "politics of denial".

"Dutton admits he was wrong to reject the apology and walk out of parliament while it was being read. Howard admits he was wrong to berate the participants at the Reconciliation Convention. Crocodile tears after their failure to respond to the nation's most profound moral questions are hardly convincing.

"I do not expect the hard men and women of right-wing politics to grasp the enormity of the reference question on the Voice."

Additionally, attorney general Mark Dreyfus accused Mr Dutton of asking questions to which he already knows the answers.

"I think it's time to stop talking out of both sides of his mouth," he said to Nine newspapers.

"The issue is too important to Australia. What we are voting on is constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, something we've been talking about for decades."

Mr Dutton's lack of a clear position comes after Tasmania's federal Liberal representatives split on the Voice.

Senator for Tasmania Wendy Askew said she has an "open mind" on the Voice while calling for more details on the proposal while member for Braddon, Gavin Pearce, said he couldn't support the constitutional change with the information he had been provided.

On the opposite side of the country, WA Liberal are also split on the Voice with Senator Matt O'Sullivan personally supportive of regional Voice models, and Ian Goodenough supports the line of questioning Mr Dutton has pursued.

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