Ken Wyatt Warns Liberals Opposing Indigenous Voice Could Add To ‘Perceptions’ Party Is ‘Racist’

Ken Wyatt, a former minister for the Coalition of Indigenous Australians, warned the Liberals that failing to back the indigenous voice in parliament could increase the “global perception” that they are a “racist party”.

Ken Wyatt urged opposition leader Peter Dutton to allow the Liberals a conscience vote on the referendum, saying he knew many who would back him “if given the chance.”

Wyatt, a Yamatji man who is a member of the government’s referendum task force, said he had not spoken to Dutton about his views.

“No, and he hasn’t contacted me either. It is a two-way process. But I became engaged to Peter over time as a member of parliament. And that’s all I’ll say,” Wyatt said.

Related: What is the indigenous voice in parliament, how would it work and what will happen next?

Wyatt believed it would be a “global” mistake for the Liberals not to offer bipartisan support for a referendum, adding to the perception that the party was “racist”, citing incidents he had experienced as a minister under Morrison’s government. .

“One of the questions I was frequently asked, and the first was by the BBC when I was first elected, and I also got this from other countries: ‘What is it like to belong as an Australian member of parliament in the most racist country? ‘ And I always turned that off. And then the second question they ask me is: ‘How do you manage to work in a racist party like yours?’”. Wyatt told Guardian Australia.

“That is a global perspective. It’s not my perspective; it is a global perspective.

“So there is a perception about our party, which makes me sad, because the Liberal Party is a good party, and there are a lot of good people within the Liberal Party.”

Wyatt said Dutton’s continual calls for answers to so-called 15 questions about the voice process was a “red herring.”

“I think if Peter got the answers to the 15 questions in the form of tablets from Moses, he still wouldn’t accept them,” Wyatt said, noting that one question was about how governments would prove the aboriginality of any member of the voice.

“Today, if you ask what percentage is an Aboriginal person? What is the percentage of an Aboriginal person’s lineage? So it shows that we haven’t made progress,” Wyatt said.

“I thought we were over those days. Having had those long fights over long periods of time to get rid of that type of legislation that uses that wording. But we haven’t, not when you ask that question.

Peter Dutton has been contacted for comment.

Wyatt said he stayed involved in the referendum process under the Albanian government because he believed the voice was a practical change that would make a genuine difference to people’s lives, saying it was no different than the closing the gap strategy he negotiated. as a minister in the coalition government.

“I negotiated with state and territory ministers, and 51 high-level Aboriginal organizations about what would go into the bridging the gap strategy. And we negotiated every word, every strategy, every goal, and we came to an incredible result where there was unified agreement across the nation through the federal cabinet, the national cabinet, the state and territory cabinet, and with the major agencies involved. . It was a society.

“That’s really the front end of the voice,” he said.

Wyatt said racism “could be an issue” in opposing a voice.

“We only have to see it when the government introduces a controversial bill. People will protest in front of Parliament House, people will get in touch with the radio, people will write letters by score to relevant federal members.

“Australians are saying, we want to be heard before we make these changes, and they exercise that right and yet we get too technical legally about Aboriginal people wanting to have a say.

Related: Dutton refuses to state his position on the voice referendum despite pressure on Liberals to decide their stance

“If we take it, in that crude term of racism, that could be a problem. But I hope it’s not, that people are just afraid.”

After giving Dutton private briefings and seven meetings with the government, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the opposition leader is asking for more details as a delaying tactic.

Following the announcement of the referendum issue and constitutional change yesterday, the Liberals are left as the only federal party yet to state their position on the change.

Dutton has said he is still not satisfied with the level of detail released by the government. Albanese gave Dutton and Nationals leader David Littleproud a private briefing on the referendum question before the public announcement, which included two pages of design principles for how voice would operate.

But Dutton claimed there was “no evidence” of the practical benefits the voice would have, repeating his demand that “details are required”.

Albanese said: “We know from the republic [referendum] playbook that happened last century, which is nothing more than a tactic, and lacks the authenticity to go on saying ‘We don’t have the details.’ No matter how many details are released, Peter Dutton will say: ‘What about more details?’ That is the game being played here.

“Peter Dutton needs to be realistic about this. This is not about him, and this is not about me. It is about whether we are a better country.”

Linda Burney, the Australian indigenous minister, was even more forceful in her criticism, telling ABC she thought the Liberal Party was “looking for excuses” to oppose the referendum.

“Peter Dutton, in my opinion, has run out of excuses. More details, an enormous amount of detail, were provided yesterday,” Burney said at a subsequent news conference.

“I would invite both Mr. Dutton and Mr. Littleproud to take a close look at those design principles, to understand that this process has been the life’s work of so many people.”

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