11 April 2023
What You Need to Know: Ken Wyatt resigned from the Liberal Party over its opposition to the Indigenous Voice
Ken Wyatt, the first Aboriginal person to hold the Indigenous Australians portfolio, has resigned from the Liberal Party over its opposition to the Voice. Wyatt, a long-time advocate for the Voice, warned that the Liberal Party would be seen as racist if it opposed the body.
The Liberal Party’s rejection of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s model for the Voice to Parliament prompted Wyatt to resign. The party confirmed his resignation, despite colleagues describing him as an “outstanding” MP and minister. Liberal MP Linda Reynolds acknowledged that the party did not agree with Wyatt’s stance on the Voice, while colleague Paul Fletcher said he had “enormous respect” for Wyatt but declined to comment on the reasons behind his departure.
Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, a Guugu Yimithirr man and one of the chief architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, has warned against Peter Dutton’s stance against the Voice. Pearson said that Dutton’s opposition would “bring the country to shame” and accused him of “trying to bury” the Uluru Statement.
Pearson warned that the public debate would hit “extreme lows” over the next six months, but maintained that the Voice, which polling shows retains strong community support, was still likely to succeed. Dutton backed constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and local and regional bodies to “get practical outcomes… on the ground,” a position with strong majority backing in the party room.
However, Pearson maintained that a “unity ticket” between Dutton and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson is unlikely to succeed at the ballot box. Pearson warned against the dangers of the “Canberra Voice” framing of the issue by Dutton, which he called “disingenuous.”
Thomas Mayo, a member of the Voice working group, called Dutton’s framing of the issue disingenuous as well. Mayo, a Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man, stressed that the Uluru Statement from the Heart emerged from years of consultation with regional communities and was “driven by the grassroots.”
Mayo said the Liberals’ decision would give the Yes camp clarity after months of Dutton running a “soft no” campaign. The Liberals’ announcement was described as “very disappointing” by Malarndirri McCarthy, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians. McCarthy urged Australians to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart and said discussions should not be focused on politicians but on what First Nations people are “generously asking and inviting you to journey on.”
The debate over the Indigenous Voice continues, with RBA and political leaders clashing. As Wyatt and Pearson warn against opposition to the Voice, political leaders remain divided on the issue. The Voice remains a key priority for Indigenous Australians, who have long sought greater representation in the political process.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart has emerged as a key document in the debate, with proponents arguing that it represents the views of Indigenous Australians across the country. The Statement calls for a “First Nations Voice” enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to oversee truth-telling and treaty negotiations.
The RBA has also weighed in on the issue, with Governor Philip Lowe saying that the Voice could help to build trust between Indigenous Australians and the wider community. Lowe has argued that the Voice is a way to ensure that Indigenous Australians are heard and their views are taken into account in policy-making.
However, opponents of the Voice argue that it is unnecessary and would create a “third chamber” of Parliament. The Liberal Party’s rejection of the Voice has been met with criticism from Indigenous Australians and their supporters, who argue that the move is a step backwards in the ongoing effort to achieve reconciliation.
Despite the opposition, advocates for the Voice remain hopeful that it will eventually be implemented.