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The Nationals are determined to make Andrew Gee pay a heavy price over the Voice

August 7, 2023


By Peter Holmes

The festering sore between independent Calare MP Andrew Gee and his former colleagues in the federal National Party shows no sign of healing any time soon.

Gee quit the party in December 2022 over the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, which the Liberal and National Coalition is not supporting.

On the weekend Gee attended the Garma Festival near the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory, along with the likes of PM Anthony Albanese, other politicians from all major parties, actor Jack Thompson and a media contingent. The festival invited Liberal leader Peter Dutton and Nationals leader David Littleproud, but they were unable to attend.

Gee said during a panel discussion the decision by Dutton and Littleproud to oppose the Voice was purely political.

“But politically I think it is the road to ruin for them, and to borrow from JFK, that type of victory will be ashes in their mouths because they will have lost that traditional liberal base, a large swathe of it that has always carried them into power,” Gee said.

He said that “labelling the voice ‘Orwellian’ or saying that it’s going to ‘racialise Australia’ - if people think that is the way to political salvation, they’ve got rocks in their head.”

The Australian Financial Review’s Phillip Coorey reported last week that he was sent a text message from a Coalition MP during last Wednesday’s debate between Albanese and Dutton in the chamber over the Voice: “We can’t win the election unless we defeat the Voice solidly, ie we need to defeat it to get to the election starting line.”

Coorey wrote: “The Coalition’s aim is to defeat the Voice not because it opposes one per se, but because it wants to inflict a political loss on the prime minister. Look at parliament this week. The Opposition asked question after question on the Voice, and then accused the government of talking about the Voice and not the cost of living.”

Andrew Gee and Jack Thompson at the 2023 Garma festival. Facebook.

Littleproud’s people sent out a media release on Monday in response to Gee’s statements, in which the Nationals leader said: “Andrew Gee is entitled to his own views, but I think his own electorate would be very interested. And I think they're very interested if you poll them, to know that they're not in support of the Voice.

“This is an important decision for Australians to make. Politicians will make their determinations and make their statements, but I think we need to create an environment and The Nationals will create the environment where we allow the Australian people with the right tone and the right respect to make this decision by themselves without the argy-bargy and the petty comments.

“And I don't intend to engage in that, and none of The Nationals have from the start.”

Littleproud was then asked by a reporter: So you don't agree with Andrew Gee that it's been weaponised politically?

“No, that's up to Andrew Gee," Littleproud said. "I mean, I'm not going to get into a slanging match with Andrew Gee, if he wants to stoop to that. It's up to him.”

A screenshot from David Littleproud's Facebook.

By accusing Gee of stooping (to a presumably low and unseemly level), Littleproud was of course doing exactly what he just said he said he wouldn’t do, but that’s politics.

You could never accuse Littleproud of being an inspirational political figure. He was simply the least worst person available when the leadership came up.

But he’s staying on script so far with the Voice - wheeling out all the lines about the risks of voting for something without seeing the legislation first. Yet Littleproud knows that this is not how it works with a referendum.

The question that will be put to the Australian people later this year is this: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

Littleproud knows that parliament won't legislate specifics for something (for example, the Voice) that doesn’t yet exist. He knows that if and when a referendum was successful, opposition MPs such as himself would work together with the government, the crossbenchers and the Indigenous community to establish the exact mechanism for the Voice. He knows this, yet he behaves as if he doesn't.

And he knows the Voice would have no power to pass legislation.

People like Littleproud willingly allow hundreds of corporate lobbyists to infest the halls of Parliament House in Canberra unfettered, looking to peddle influence behind our backs, but they're worried about Indigenous Australians making representations to the parliament?

He knows all of this, and yet he chooses to create fear and panic.

If the scuttlebutt about former deputy premier, and MP for Bathurst, Paul Toole shaping up for a tilt at Gee and Calare at the next federal election proves true, Gee’s massive electoral buffer will face a stress test unlike any before. And the Voice will play a significant role in that.

The impact of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News After Dark being pumped into the regions free of charge in recent years cannot be underestimated.

The anti-Voice talking points of its cavalcade of lunar right presenters - which include Andrew Bolt, Rita Panahi, Paul Murray, Rowan Dean, Peta Credlin, Cory Bernardi - are parroted by everyday Australians on local social media.

Along the way, two Aboriginal figures opposed to the Voice - conservative mining executive Warren Mundine and conservative politician Jacinta Nampijinpa Price - have been elevated by Sky and its viewers to near god-like status (though few of even Price's greatest fans could be bothered to learn her full name), while people involved in the Yes campaign such as Noel Pearson and Megan Davis are viewed with suspicion and portrayed as dangerous radicals.

A loose No coalition has been formed, and it includes Indigenous Australians who believe the whole thing will not assist people on the ground; right-wing figures such as Pauline Hanson, who say giving Aboriginal people an enshrined voice is only for the elites; left-wing figures such as Lidia Thorpe, who say the whole thing doesn’t go nearly far enough; old-school racists; people who can’t make any sense of what is happening; those who believe the Voice will not hear from the people in remote areas who need it most; and those worried that Indigenous people are about to come and take their houses and their land and demand reparations.

Polls show that the Voice - which was initially well-supported - now lagging well behind. In the regions it’s further behind than in the cities.

The No campaign - backed by the likes of US citizen Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media and mining corporations concerned about their ability to extract materials without side distractions - has done a good job in creating a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. But then it is so much easier to tear something down by muddying the waters and presenting bad faith arguments than it is to build it up in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation.

The Yes campaign has so far done a fairly woeful job at explaining what is going on. At allaying people’s fears. Pearson is an articulate speaker, but Labor politician Linda Burney has not yet proven to be a captivating and persuasive presence.

There is talk that the Yes campaign is keeping its powder dry, as it is wary of wearing people out, and will conduct a three-week blitz before the vote to convince people of the referendum’s merits.

If this is the case, it will be seen in the aftermath as either a tactical masterstroke, or a blunder of Uluru-sized proportions.

Gee told the Garma festival panel he was “quietly confident that the Voice is going to get over the line. But let’s just say it doesn’t. So where does that leave the conservative side of politics? They will be seen by a large section of the community as reconciliation wreckers. Nations overseas who wish us ill will say, ‘Look at that. That’s Australia’”.

And in a pointed, teal-tinted warning to the Coalition, he added: “I can tell you opposing the Voice, that’s not going to get your seats on the (Sydney) Northern Beaches back. It’s not going to get you Wentworth. It’s not going to get you in. At some point, if this does not succeed, there’s a lot of people, there’ll be a big feeling of emptiness.”

In an interview with The Guardian Gee said the Coalition was using the Voice as a fundraising tool.

“I still get the emails, these party emails, that say, ‘We have to oppose the voice. Please send us money, donate money.’ So yeah, they are using it to fundraise. They’re using it as a rallying point, and they think that energises the base, and they think that it’s going to launch them through to the next election.

“I think at some point in time, they will get mugged by reality … they will have alienated a whole cross section of voters who traditionally would support them.”

He said that if the referendum fails, conservatives “will be seen as reconciliation wreckers”.


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