Victorian Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe has defected from the Greens to sit on the crossbench, declaring she wants to fully represent the “Blak Sovereign Movement” in parliament.
The announcement by Thorpe, who has been the party’s spokesperson on First Nations issues, follows her sustained criticism and questioning of the Voice referendum. It also comes before the Greens this week formally announce their position on the Voice.
Thorpe said in a Monday statement that she was not stating her final position on the Voice – she wanted to continue her negotiations with the government.
Her departure, though a blow for the Greens, is not entirely bad news for them. While they lose a senate number, she has been a thorn in their side, and muddied their message on the Voice.
Her defection complicates the Senate position for the government. Previously, the government needed the 12 Greens plus one crossbench vote to pass contested legislation. Now it will need two crossbench votes.
The defection means the Coalition and non-Greens crossbench can form an absolute majority.
The position of crossbencher Jacqui Lambie is strengthened, including potentially on the legislation for the Voice referendum. Lambie has expressed concern about the Voice.
She said on Monday she “wanted to see the practical side – I want to see what difference this is going to make in these communities”.
Thorpe said she would vote with the Greens on climate but has not given a guarantee on other matters.
Thorpe has been a centre of controversy repeatedly.
In October she was sacked as a deputy leader of the Greens, after she failed to disclose a relationship with the former president of the Victorian Rebels outlaw motorcyle gang.
Taking the oath of allegiance at the swearing-in after the 2022 election she said: “I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the colonising Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second […]”. She was required to repeat the oath using only the proper words.
Thorpe entered the Senate in 2020 filling a casual vacancy left by former Greens leader Richard Di Natale. Before that, she was briefly in the Victorian parliament in 2017-18.
Thorpe previously indicated she would vote against the Voice if its establishment would cede First Nations sovereignty. The government insists it would not affect the sovereignty issue.
Thorpe said on Monday: “This country has a strong grassroots Blak Sovereign Movement, full of staunch and committed warriors and I want to represent that movement fully in Parliament”.
She could not do this from within the Greens, she said. “Now I will be able to speak freely on all issues from a Sovereign perspective without being constrained by portfolios and agreed party positions.”
She said Greens inside and outside parliament had told her they wanted to support the Voice. “This is at odds with the community of activists who are saying Treaty before Voice. That was the message from the January 26 street rallies, she said. “This is the movement I was raised in – my Elders marched for Treaty. This is who I am.”
Thorpe said while First Nations sovereignty was crucial, “so is saving lives today”. The government “could do that by implementing the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report,” she said.
“My focus from now is to grow and amplify the Blak Sovereign Movement across the Nation. I have spent my entire life fighting for justice, to defend our Sovereignty, to save Blak lives. That is my goal.
“My strength and conviction comes from a lifetime of activism, from my Ancestors and from my Matriarchs, who continue to say to me every day, ‘keep infiltrating, keep your integrity, keep the fire burning, keep our fight alive.’”
“To my mob, I say this – your strength is my strength, your fight is my fight, your struggle is my struggle. I’m ready for what comes next in the fight for a future where our kids are with their families, where our people are not killed in custody, where the chains that the system wraps around our people are lifted”.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said he had tried to persuade Thorpe not to go. He said he hoped Thorpe and the Greens “will continue to work closely together on important issues given their strong policy alignment”.
Bandt said he had confirmed with Thorpe that under the Greens’ constitution she could vote as she wished on The Voice. If she voted differently from her colleagues “she would retain her portfolio but not be the party’s spokesperson on the referendum”.
“I’m sad to see her go, as I respect her greatly as a fighter for her people,” Bandt said.