Ex-minister quits Liberals amid fury at party’s negative stance on Voice

Former Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt has quit the Liberals following the party’s decision to oppose the Indigenous voice referendum.

Apr 06, 2023, updated Apr 06, 2023
Ken Wyatt. (Photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP)

Ken Wyatt. (Photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP)

Wyatt, the first Indigenous person to hold the portfolio, reportedly handed in his resignation on Thursday.

“I still believe in the Liberal Party values but I don’t believe in what the Liberals have become,” he told the West Australian newspaper.

“Aboriginal people are reaching out to be heard but the Liberals have rejected their invitation.”

The resignation follows the Liberal Party’s decision to support constitutional recognition for Indigenous people in the constitution but not an enshrined voice to parliament and executive government.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton confirmed the stance on Thursday.

Wyatt was a member of the referendum working group which helped shape the final proposal being put to the public at the poll later this year.

He was also a member of cabinet in Scott Morrison’s government when a previous version of the Indigenous voice was being considered.

Wyatt served as a minister from 2019 to 2022 before losing his WA-based seat at the last federal election.

Meanwhile, outspoken backbencher Bridget Archer has also considered resigning over the party’s voice position.

She said like-minded moderate Liberals keep her on the opposition benches as she fights for the party’s return as a “credible alternative” to the government.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Dutton had been part of a government that was in power for nearly a decade but had not advanced the issues they now called for.

“We’ve waited 122 years to recognise in our constitution the privilege that we have of sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth (and) I say to Australians: do not miss this opportunity,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“We need to acknowledge that with the best of intentions and good will, what we have done until now is not working.

“We need to consult on matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Dutton said he had approached the proposal with an open mind and disputed claims by the prime minister that he had been consulted on the terms of the voice.

“The prime minister misrepresents those meetings … I wouldn’t frame it as a genuine engagement,” he told ABC Radio.

Asked if his position could ultimately put him on the wrong side of history, Dutton said he was in favour of practical outcomes for Indigenous people.

“The voice has turned into … an opportunity for there to be input into every aspect of government work,” he said.

“I don’t believe that that is going to deliver the practical outcomes to Indigenous Australians that we all crave.”

But Albanese said the opposition leader’s repeated referral to a “Canberra voice” demonstrated the disingenuous nature of the Liberal Party’s position.
“Peter Dutton underestimates the goodwill and the generosity of so many Liberal and National Party voters who will … support a voice and support constitutional recognition,” he said.

“This is about whether we as a country can be optimistic … can come to terms with the fullness and richness of our history, can express our pride in sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on Earth, or whether we shrink in on ourselves.

“This is a divisive position that Peter Dutton has taken, this is opportunistic.”

Indigenous academic and one of the Uluru Statement’s architects Noel Pearson said it was a sad day for Australia that there would not be bipartisan support for such an important national enterprise.

“I’ve got a great belief that the Liberal Party is greatly out of step with the sentiment of the Australian people on this issue,” he told ABC Radio National.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. I was troubled by dreams and the spectre of the darkness of the Liberal Party’s Judas betrayal of our country.”

Pearson described the opposition leader as an undertaker who was “preparing the grave” for the Uluru Statement.

“(Dutton) doesn’t mind chucking Indigenous Australians and the future of the country under the bus just so he can preserve his miserable political hide and it’s sad,” he said.

“Nevertheless, I am certain that every attempt to try and kill or bury Uluru will not succeed (and) the Australian people will rise to the historic opportunity we have to achieve reconciliation at last.”

Yet Liberal senator Simon Birmingham insisted there was still an opportunity for bipartisanship and said the party supported constitutional recognition.

“There can still be a means of salvaging something that can provide for the country a unifying, bipartisan moment,” he told ABC News.

“Something that is achieved without the type of risks or concerns to constitution and operation of government that have increasingly been discussed through the course of this debate.”

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