Thorpe says she won’t lead progressive No campaign against the Voice
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Independent Victorian senator Lidia Thorpe has declared she will not lead a progressive No campaign against the Voice and will probably abstain from voting on the referendum bill next month, saying she could not share a position with “racist” No supporters nor back a “powerless” Voice.
In an interview explaining her approach to the referendum campaign, Thorpe insisted she would not join a No campaign but would continue to advance the criticisms held by “progressive No” voters, who argue the Voice will not deliver enough for Indigenous people.
Independent Victorian senator Lidia Thorpe said she would not lead a progressive No campaign against the Voice.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
She said she was considering writing “treaty” on her ballot paper rather than casting a vote when the referendum is held later this year, with October 14 the government’s preferred date.
“I’m not comfortable with the racist rhetoric of a No campaign, and to have a powerless Voice that has parliamentary supremacy over it at all times is not something that I was hoping for in 2023. I think we’ve come too far as a nation to just tinker around the edges,” Thorpe said.
“I’ll be giving a platform to Aboriginal people who have real concerns … those concerns are very similar to the issues I have but they’ve made a decision to say No, and I haven’t. I’ve told them that. I’ll give them a voice but I do not sit in that camp of No.”
Support for the Voice has fallen from 58 to 53 per cent over the past month when voters are asked to choose either yes or no in a question akin to the referendum, according to a recent exclusive survey for this masthead.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese this week implored Australians to be on the “right side of history” and vote Yes, as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton argued the proposed model would “re-racialise” Australia and undermine equality of citizenship.
Pressed on whether progressive voters might interpret her criticisms of the Voice as a defacto No, Thorpe said they would need to make their own decisions, adding: “I’m not part of the No camp. I’ve never been part of the No camp, and I don’t intend to be part of a No camp.”
“I’m thinking maybe I’ll just write ‘treaty’ on my ballot paper so I don’t get a fine,” she said.
She said the referendum had given a platform for racists to “come out of the closet”, and accused No advocates of “spreading fear about Aboriginal people taking over the country”.
“This whole process has been done badly. In the First Nations space, you have communities divided and families divided, and then in the wider population we’re getting an earful of fearmongering,” she said.
The Indigenous senator, who quit the Greens earlier this year to lead a black sovereignty movement after a fallout over the party’s pro-Voice position, has long been a critic of the push for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution. Thorpe believes a treaty should take priority and that constitutional recognition undermined Indigenous sovereignty.
The Constitution Alteration bill, which in effect authorises the referendum, is expected to pass the lower house next week before being debated in the Senate in mid-June. Thorpe will move an amendment to enshrine First Nations sovereignty in the Constitution alongside the Voice.
The amendment would insert a definition of sovereignty as involving “the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to exercise an unimpeded and collective self-determinate governance over their political, economic and social affairs”.
Thorpe said unless the amendment was supported, she would abstain from voting on the bill. The Albanese government has already made clear it will not amend the bill.
“If that amendment is not passed by the parliament, then I think that sends a very strong message to the rest of the country and First Nations that our sovereignty is not part of this ongoing conversation,” she said.
The bill is expected to easily clear the Senate after Dutton said the Coalition would not stand in the way of the Australian people having their say at the referendum.
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