Dutton’s opposition to the Voice casts him as the mansplaining whitefella – Sydney Morning Herald

Dutton’s opposition to the Voice casts him as the mansplaining whitefella - Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Dutton, who famously, and now regrettably, eschewed the apology to the stolen generations, could have used the debate about the Voice referendum as an opportunity to reposition the Liberal Party, particularly after the recent historic defeat in the Aston by-election.

Instead, the leader of the opposition has persisted with a call for “more details” and subsequently announced the Liberals will advocate for a No vote.

Are Peter Dutton’s motivations for saying No to the Voice nakedly political, or based on a wilful ignorance of the Constitution?

Are Peter Dutton’s motivations for saying No to the Voice nakedly political, or based on a wilful ignorance of the Constitution?Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The constitutional amendment to create a Voice to parliament is a potential turning point in the evolution of post-colonial Australia. It’s an opportunity to recognise something that should have been obvious at first contact: the people who have successfully lived in this land for more than 60,000 years are likely to have worked through a few issues, and will have some useful tips for young players. But with his truculent resistance, Dutton has made it less likely for the referendum to succeed.

His call for more details about the Voice suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of our Constitution, and the decision to oppose its creation will long be remembered for the sheer absurdity of the explanation that followed.

Consider first, the absence of detail. The Constitution sets out the topics about which parliament has power to make laws. Those powers are listed in broad terms to give parliament flexibility to draft laws that deal with a particular issue. For example, parliament has power to make laws with respect to “foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth”. No further information is provided. It does not include any detail or the legislation that parliament may pass, or even a summary.

The Commonwealth’s Corporations Act 2001 includes 1697 sections plus schedules and endnotes. And that’s the simplified version! Imagine how unwieldy the Constitution would be if it included not only the corporations’ power, but the detail of the implementation of that power.

The corporations’ legislation, like most legislation, is regularly amended. The current Corporations Act is vastly different to the legislation that existed only 40 years ago.

If the proposed amendment was to introduce a power to make laws with respect to trading or financial corporations, would any Australian seriously need to see the legislation (or even a summary) that may be enacted using that power before deciding how to vote? What would be the point given that successive governments could amend the legislation?


The proposed amendment to introduce the Voice is no different. It will create the Voice, identify its purpose and empower parliament to make necessary laws. It will create a body rather than give parliament power to create a body. But that is not unique. Importantly, once created, paragraph 3 of the amendment expressly reserves to parliament the power to determine the mechanics of how the Voice may be composed, how it may function, what powers it may have and what may be its procedures.

Julian Leeser resigned from the Liberal frontbench over the party’s opposition to the Voice.

Julian Leeser resigned from the Liberal frontbench over the party’s opposition to the Voice.Credit: Brook Mitchell

They are also matters that may change by legislative amendment according to the government of the day. They are not questions for the referendum.

And so then to the Liberal Party’s new position. Dutton’s announcement was what most had suspected: that the Liberals would advocate a No vote. The explanation that followed made even less sense than the call for details. Dutton said: “I don’t believe it is in our country’s best interest and don’t believe it is going to deliver the practical outcomes for people in regional and rural areas.”

Based on that belief, the Liberals would support a series of local or regional voices but not a centralised voice (which, as Waleed Aly pointed out, is inconsistent with the Liberal Party’s own policy to support a centralised voice created by legislation alone).

First, the Voice was the product of work by Indigenous groups in consultation with communities, government agencies and other interested parties. It has been driven by Indigenous Australians for Indigenous Australians. Surely they are better placed to know what is likely to “deliver the practical outcomes” than a mansplaining white politician like Peter Dutton.

Second, as Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney said in response to the Liberal announcement, Dutton is simply wrong. The Voice will consider the needs of local or regional Indigenous Australians as the Langton-Calma Report makes clear.

Third, the denial of a unified voice is designed to deny any voice at all. A separate mechanism for each local community voice to deal separately with parliament would be completely unworkable and only compound an existing sense of disconnection.

There have only been eight successful referendums since Federation in 1901, so bipartisan support is important. Since Wednesday’s announcement, Ken Wyatt has resigned from the Liberal Party and Julian Leeser from the frontbench. Both men have taken a principled position to do what each knows is right and should be applauded for doing so. Hopefully, others will follow their lead.

If Peter Dutton is pandering to the extreme right and rejecting the Voice simply for political gain, it may be just another step in the Liberal Party’s descent into oblivion. But it will also result in a tragedy for the whole of Australia.

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Source: smh.com.au

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