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Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has attacked Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s proposed second referendum and expressed optimism that the public will accept Indigenous Australians’ outstretched hand of friendship by backing the Voice.
Dutton said last Sunday that if the Voice referendum failed, and he won the next election, he would call another referendum to recognise Indigenous Australians but exclude a constitutional Voice.
Noel Pearson and Anthony Albanese last month.Credit: Louie Douvis
The Coalition’s Indigenous affairs spokeswoman and leading No campaigner, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, days later failed to declare support for the idea, which Pearson claimed had eviscerated the Coalition’s reconciliation plans and proved it was not Dutton who set party policy.
Pearson said Dutton was “absolutely not” serious about the second referendum plan, labelling it a “mirage”.
“The leader of the opposition is trying to have his cake and eat it too. But, you know, it’s like chuck the cake overboard and then somehow we’re going to get a chance to eat it later.”
“It pushes this debate for another five years. We’re already 15 years into it: John Howard promised this thing … on the election eve 2007.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“The fact is, we will never get a referendum for constitutional recognition out of these people. They are here for constant debate, constant argument, interminable conflict and debate. They want this issue to go on for another five years. They want this issue to never end. They love conflict, and disputation, whereas the Yes campaign is saying: do this on October the 14th.”
Opinion polling has shown a steady decline in support for the referendum, but Pearson and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles both said on Sunday they had confidence it could still succeed.
“At this stage, I believe we still have the capacity to do the right thing,” Pearson said on ABC’s Insiders program.
“I just don’t believe when the hand of friendship and reconciliation is extended from Indigenous people that at the end of the day, their love will be unrequited. I just can’t believe that.
“I cannot believe we still live in Australia where that hand would be just swept aside. This unrequited love is my worst nightmare. I just don’t believe Australians are capable of that at this time in our history.”
Pearson rejected concerns the proposed Voice model was too wide in scope and had made it impossible for more Liberal MPs and conservatives to back the referendum.
He emphasised it was only advisory and could not control the government of the day, and suggested “fearmongering” over the Voice’s potential advocacy on issues such as nuclear submarines was disingenuous.
The Cape York Institute leader, who was integral in the creation of the Voice concept, said both major parties had goodwill towards the proposal until December when the National Party revealed it would campaign against it.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has not expressed support for Peter Dutton’s proposal.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“Politics has entered the fray,” Pearson argued, and “made it into something that questions have been raised about and unreasonable misinterpretations have been made about.”
“[Bipartisanship] broke when [Nationals leader David Littleproud], forced by [Price], decided suddenly late last year they would be opposing the Voice whereas previously they had supported it.”
“She’s obviously been a very compelling arguer in favour of the No case, in fact I think she set the policy for the National Party and the Liberals followed later.”
Marles, speaking on Sky News, said he was still positive about the referendum, saying the idea of creating a body to help consult with Indigenous people was something people supported when it was explained to them.
“I do feel optimistic about being able to see this referendum pass,” he said.
“There is an enormous amount of support.”
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