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Gee stares down Nats to support Voice to Parliament, as Pearson says Littleproud is "a boy"

November 29, 2022

Andrew Gee with members of the community. Supplied.

By Peter Holmes

While Andrew Gee was helping out in Eugowra on Monday, his National Party colleagues in Canberra got together for a party room meeting, followed by a press conference and photo opportunity.

At the meeting it was decided the Nationals would oppose the Voice to Parliament, a mechanism by which Indigenous Australians would be given a direct, but not legally binding, say on Indigenous matters to the Australian Parliament.

The question of whether a Voice to Parliament will be enshrined in the Australian Constitution will go to a national referendum, although no date has been set.

Flanked by his colleagues, but minus Gee, Nationals leader David Littleproud announced on Monday that the federal National Party would oppose a Voice to Parliament.

"As the men and women who represent rural, regional and remote Indigenous Australians, it was important that we got comfort with the fact that this would close the gap, and unfortunately we've got to a position where we don't believe this will genuinely close the gap.

"So the National Party has made a position that we will not support the Voice to Parliament. We believe in empowering local Indigenous communities, giving them the power at a local level. Not creating another level of bureaucracy here in Canberra."

Andrew Gee (fourth from right with clipboard) at the Naidoc Week launch in late October. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Calare federal MP Andrew Gee responded on Tuesday.

"I have been a long-time supporter of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament," he said in a statement.

"I wasn’t present for the Nationals’ party room meeting on the issue yesterday as I was in Eugowra, but my position on it hasn’t changed.

"While I respect the opinions of my colleagues, I’m still a supporter [of the Voice to Parliament]."

Gee added that the federal government needed to "provide more detail on what is proposed - a number of our local Indigenous groups want this detail as well because they want to make sure they have a voice within the Voice".

"So yes," he said, "there is still a heck of a lot of hard work to do. To achieve a Voice we’ll need that as well as goodwill, open minds and generosity of spirit. Reconciliation in Australia has made significant progress in recent years but there is still a long way for us all to travel.

"Let’s keep working at it and walking down that road. Together we can do it."

A screenshot from David Littleproud's (right) press conference on Monday. ABC TV.

Noel Pearson, Indigenous lawyer, academic, activist, founder of the Cape York Partnership and one of the driving forces behind the Voice to Parliament, told ABC Radio National on Tuesday morning he wasn't expecting the about-face from several Nationals MPs.

He said he had spoken to many MPs about the Voice to Parliament and said Nationals MPs appeared to be the most positive about an Indigenous Voice being enshrined in the Australian Constitution.

"I am very surprised because I've spoken to almost every national senator and MP over recent years, and of all the political parties the Nationals were the most supportive. Better than the Liberals and better than some Labor party people.

"This has been my experience for the last 10 years. A number of MPs have told me that the reason they were open to the Voice was that they have Aboriginal people in their electorates, they see Aboriginal people every day, they enter the doors of their offices. So this is just a complete turnaround for the National party."

Pearson mentioned former Nationals leader Michael McCormack: "You could not find somebody more articulate and supportive of the Voice. Obviously something has changed at the National Party."

Noel Pearson. Supplied.

Pearson said the arrival into parliament of Indigenous Northern Territory senator Jacinta Price - a fierce critic of the Voice to Parliament - "has turned everything around", but he laid much of the blame at the feet of party leader David Littleproud.

"Littleproud," he told the ABC. "Little pride. A man of little pride. He's like a kindergarten kid, not a leader. The Nationals have foisted the mantel of leadership on a boy who is incapable of the leadership that is necessary for the country."

Labor is yet to present to parliament a framework for how the Voice would work. It is expected a referendum could be held within 12 months.

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