Anthony Albanese set Peter Dutton’s path with his focus on the Voice. Now his rival has locked in a U-turn – ABC News

Anthony Albanese set Peter Dutton's path with his focus on the Voice. Now his rival has locked in a U-turn - ABC News

In a moment, Anthony Albanese changed from candidate to prime minister.

He had taken the stage on election night, flanked by his partner and son, as tears flowed down the cheeks of the assembled Labor true believers standing beneath him.

“I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners on the land in which we meet,” a nervous Albanese began.

“I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.”

Change had come and the crowd erupted.

Little did Peter Dutton know that Albanese had also set his path for the next two years.

Dutton took control of the Coalition a little over a week later but was making no such commitment to Uluru. But he also wasn’t saying no to a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.

Peter Dutton, a year into the job, is heading in a different direction to when he became opposition leader.()

Some of the earliest and most persistent questions were how could one of the nation’s most well-known political figures, a person who had spent decades framing himself as a conservative strong man, win back the teal voters who had turfed the Coalition from government.

These people, the consensus argued, were long-term Liberal voters who could no longer see themselves in the party. They had turned to socially progressive, economically conservative, independent women to represent them.

They were pro-climate, pro-women, pro-integrity and likely pro-Voice. They wanted a gentler, more consensus-driven approach to their politics.

So how would Dutton, a man who was infamous for having boycotted the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations, bring them back into the fold?


Is it Dutton or the party moving to the right?

An early sign that he might be tacking the party back to the centre came with the eyebrow-raising appointment of Julian Leeser to take on the Indigenous Australians and attorney-general portfolios. 

Leeser was somewhat of an anomaly in Liberal circles. A long-term campaigner for constitutional recognition of First Nations Australians, he was also a supporter of a Voice to Parliament. 

Here was Dutton picking the person with the greatest chance of delivering Coalition support for a Yes vote.

Dutton himself would go on to again concede he should have stayed for the apology.

Here he was leaving open the possibility of the unthinkable to many — that the Coalition would back the Yes campaign. 

Almost a year on and it wasn’t to be. 

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price replaces Julian Leeser holding the Coalition’s Indigenous Australians portfolio.()

Revisionist historians will wonder if there was ever a chance and that it was inevitable that Leeser would have to quit the frontbench to advance a policy his party doesn’t back.

That Dutton chose to replace Leeser with one of the Coalition’s most well-known vocal opponents of a Voice, first-term senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, tells you he sees the politics of it today very differently to how he did in the days after the election loss.

Some in the commentariat have wondered if Dutton is dragging his party to the right. A better question might well be, is the party dragging Dutton further right?

More pragmatic than ideological

When the Liberals met to decide their Voice stance, few left with little doubt that the overwhelming majority of the party backed the No campaign.

In selecting Price, the opposition leader is turning to Leeser’s ideological opposite.

Dutton, while conservative, is far more pragmatic than he is ideological.

This is a man who despite his personal opposition to same-sex marriage worked inside the former government to help forge a path to its legalisation. 

But in picking Price and vowing to actively campaign against the referendum, Dutton has put everything on the line.

He’s betting his read on the mood of the nation, even if the published polls tell a different story.

Should the referendum fail, Dutton will claim victory and it’ll cement his leadership. 

It’ll be an entirely different calculation if the referendum passes and leaves him and his party on the wrong side of history.

Marise Payne is expected to retire from federal politics later this year.()

Another heads to the backbench

Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews joined Leeser on the backbench this week and in announcing her looming retirement from politics warned that the opposition had become too focused on opposing the Voice.

She wants her side of politics to return its focus to cost-of-living issues, to get back to the concerns on the minds of voters. 

Few expect Andrews will be the last to head for the exit. 

There’s already at least one seat to fill and finding that replacement is getting ugly quickly.

fresh round of factional warfare has broken out among Liberals in New South Wales, where a hotly coveted Senate seat is open.

The party is seeking a replacement for the late Jim Molan to fill the final five years of his term.

Molan, a conservative, looks likely to replaced by a moderate, with Parramatta candidate Maria Kovacic and former NSW minister Andrew Constance the frontrunners. 

Some Liberals have been circulating a smear message against Maria Kovacic, who is a favoured candidate for the party’s vacant NSW Senate seat.()

A smear campaign questioning Kovacic’s family’s ethnic heritage is being seen as the opening salvo in the bitter factional fights that are kicking off.

Former foreign affairs minister Marise Payne, who has more than five years left on her Senate term, and former prime minister Scott Morrison will both be expected to quit federal politics in the coming months. 

That will open up another round of factional fighting in a state branch still licking its wounds from two election losses in the last year. 

Who they pick will have ramifications for that party room that Peter Dutton leads.


All eyes on NSW

The loss of Leeser, Andrews and likely Payne will see the quietening of moderating voices. 

It’s little wonder moderates leader Simon Birmingham, who wanted a free vote on the Voice, isn’t planning to step down from the shadow cabinet over the matter.

He fears the loss of moderate voices at the Coalition’s top table will only see it drift further to the right.

He’ll be closely watching to see who the NSW Liberals pick to join his Senate team.

The controversial Warringah candidate Katherine Deves had also expressed an interest in contesting the seat.

There’s no love lost between Deves and Birmingham, who on election night said the anti-trans-rights activist likely had a contagion effect on the neighbouring Liberal seats being lost to the teals.

Toppling the teals is likely the only way back to government for the Coalition. 

Dutton and Birmingham are far from factional allies but might just find themselves hoping for the same outcome when their NSW counterparts pick their candidates.

Failure to do so could land Albanese back on that election victory stage.



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