‘My door is open’: Anthony Albanese challenges political foes to contribute to voice legislation

by Katharine Murphy
PM’s call comes as Greens face party split on issue and Liberals signal they will oppose the proposal

Anthony Albanese has challenged political colleagues across the spectrum to put the Indigenous voice debate “above politics”, declaring his “door is open” if leaders of other parties want to offer constructive suggestions on points of detail.

As the Greens senator Lidia Thorpe signalled she could break ranks and vote against legislation enacting the advisory body unless Labor provided “guarantees” that First Nations sovereignty would not be not ceded, the prime minister made a public appeal for parliamentarians to prioritise the national interest.

Albanese’s comments on Sky News on Wednesday afternoon follow Peter Dutton signalling clearly on Tuesday night the Liberals would line up with the National party in opposing the voice if the opposition concluded the reform had “fatal flaws”.

Dutton, who has to manage hardline opposition to a constitutionally enshrined First Nations advisory body within his own ranks, has spent the summer declaring there is not yet enough detail about the proposal for the Liberals to take a position.

The Greens will resolve their formal stance on the voice before parliament resumes in February. Prominent South Australian senator Sarah Hanson-Young has already made it clear she will campaign for a yes vote during the referendum campaign, but Thorpe has been more equivocal about her intentions.

Rolling political debate about the voice to parliament has intersected with a significant law-and-order crisis in Alice Springs following a spike in crime after the cessation of alcohol restrictions.

Asked if he was frustrated by Dutton’s positioning on the voice over the summer break, including the constant call for additional detail, Albanese put the ball in the opposition leader’s court.

“My door is open on this,” the prime minister said. “If there are practical suggestions going forward, I’m certainly up for that.”

Albanese said Indigenous leaders and “people of goodwill” were working towards securing a successful outcome. He said Dutton and the shadow attorney general, Julian Leeser, would be welcome to take part in one of the meetings of the referendum working groups.

“When we talk about leadership, I’m not the only person in a position of leadership in this country,” Albanese said on Wednesday.

“The leaders of other major parties, and indeed minor parties, including the Greens political party – this is a moment for them as well. Will they seize the opportunity to unite the nation and to take us forward as one?”

Albanese declared failure to rise to the occasion would be “a missed opportunity”. He referenced a similar dynamic in the lead-up to the apology to the Stolen Generations, where people opposed “that moment in reconciliation”.

The reference is pointed, because Dutton refused to take part in the apology in 2008. The Liberal leader later expressed regret for taking that stance.

In respect of the detail, Albanese said more would be forthcoming. “There are some principles out there, but they’re going to be filled out, those principles,” the prime minister said. “There’ll be more detail out there.”

A range of opinion polls show a majority of Australians are favourably disposed towards a voice to parliament, but the history of referendum campaigns suggests bipartisanship is required to deliver a yes vote. The Nationals have already derailed that prospect by declaring they will oppose the reform.

After a Greens party room meeting on Wednesday, Thorpe signalled she could break ranks if her party locked in. “Regardless of the final party room position, I have informed party room I will not support the legislation for voice to parliament unless I am satisfied that First Nations sovereignty is not ceded.”

She added: “It would take a lot for me to change my personal and long-held view that I don’t think First Nations justice will come from being written into the coloniser’s constitution.”

It opens the possibility that the Greens will be split on the final vote, and hints the party will formally support the voice. Guardian Australia understands numerous Greens members had privately expressed concerns that Thorpe’s position could see the party oppose the referendum, and effectively line up alongside Liberal and Nationals opponents.

The Uluru statement from the heart’s website notes that the statement says “First Nations’ sovereignty was never ceded” and that “sovereignty is not undermined nor diminished by Voice, Treaty and Truth”.

Albanese has the support of the premiers, and a number of prominent community and business leaders. The prime minister was asked on Wednesday whether a rejection of the voice at this year’s referendum would be a setback for reconciliation and weaken his prime ministership.

The prime minister said the voice debate was not about him. In terms of the impact on reconciliation, Albanese said: “Quite clearly, if it is not successful, then that will be difficult.”