The government’s bid to pass a referendum to enshrine an Indigenous Voice in the constitution has been dealt a blow, with the Nationals announcing they will oppose it.
Nationals leader David Littleproud said the party didn’t believe the Voice would “genuinely close the gap”.
It believed in “empowering local indigenous communities, giving them the power at a local level, not creating another layer of bureaucracy here in Canberra,” he told a news conference on Monday after the Nationals party room endorsed the position.
he said he had had consultations with Uluru Statement from the Heart co-chairs Megan Davis and Pat Anderson “to make sure we understood what this was trying to achieve”.
The Nationals, emphasising they are a separate party, have pre-empted the Liberals announcing a position. Opposition leader Peter Dutton has delayed declaring a stance until more detail of the referendum proposal is released. The government is committed to a vote this term but has not set a date.
Indigenous Nationals senator Jacinta Price, who has been outspoken against the Voice since she entered parliament at the election, told the news conference, “What we need now is practical measures, not an idea that lacks complete and utter detail that’s based on emotional blackmail”.
It was “not racist to disagree with a proposal that’s been put forward to the Australian people that lacks detail, that divides us along the lines of race,” she said.
“I do not buy into that narrative. I would suggest that that sort of narrative is coercive control. It’s a way to push people into feeling guilt for our nation’s history when we should be celebrating who we are as Australians.
“Only then can we actually achieve anything real for our marginalised,” Price said.
“It doesn’t automatically make you marginalised to be an Indigenous Australian, but we do have a hell of a lot of marginalised Australians. And those people are largely out of sight, out of mind.
“Those people do not speak English as a first language. And those people still live very much along the lines of traditional culture. They are who we should be focused on.
“Unfortunately, this Voice model is about empowering the elites. It’s about a transfer of power and nothing more than that.”
Littleproud and Price were flanked by party colleagues.
Price took a personal swipe at the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.
“Minister Burney might be able to take a private jet out into a remote community, dripping with Gucci and tell people in the dirt what’s good for them. But they are in the dark and they have been in the dark.”
There has been earlier speculation the opposition might allow its members to decide their own positions on the referendum, because of the division within its ranks.
Former prime minister John Howard told The Australian earlier this month he would counsel against the Coalition having a free vote.
Howard said there were “substantial arguments against the Voice”.
He said among the people he saw in the Liberal base “I don’t find any reaction to the Voice other than one of hostility”.
“I don’t get the impression the Voice is something that is going to unite the country the way the 1967 referendum did because that was just so palpably fair, whereas people are suspicious of the Voice”.
Labor’s special envoy for reconciliation and implementation of the Uluru Statement, Pat Dodson, told the ABC the government had not yet put forward the bill to set up the referendum “so it is a bit premature really and a bit inept to think that you would adopt a position well out before you saw anything of what the people, First Nations people were asking for the government”.
A referendum requires support in a majority of states as well as an overall majority to pass. Only eight of 44 questions have been caried, and it is conventional wisdom that bipartisanship is needed for success.