April 6, 2023

SUBJECT | Canberra Model - Voice | 6 April 2023

NARELDA JACOBS: Dan, Noel Pearson also described Peter Dutton as the undertaker, preparing the grave to bury Uluru. Is Mr Dutton also burying his own leadership and party?

DAN TEHAN: Well, we have to remember that every member of the federal parliament, no matter what their political persuasion, wants the best outcome for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. And what this is about is making sure that we get the very best approach to do that. Now we are deeply concerned that the Prime Minister's model, his Canberra model, will not make a difference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the ground. We're also very concerned that the Prime Minister has not negotiated in good faith with the Opposition. For instance, we've asked to see the Solicitor General's legal advice because we're deeply concerned that this will lead to a legal quagmire. He won't provide that legal advice. He hasn't had a constitutional convention, and this is the biggest change to Australia's constitution since the Federation. We're about to take the principle away of everyone being equal and treated equally in our Constitution. And yet the Prime Minister has determined an approach which will be very top-heavy. It doesn't come from the ground up, and we just don't think that this is in the national interest because it won't achieve those outcomes on the ground that everyone's looking for.

JACOBS: Proponents of the all the rest of it all say that everything you've said is completely untrue, that the solicitor general, while we haven't seen the legal advice that they've provided, say that everything about the statement, about the proposed changes, is above law and it won't cause any legal issues down the track; that your proposal, what you've said to it being a Canberra voice is also untrue because they're going to be elected members of First Nations across the country — so it will in fact be grassroots. So what was it like in the party room yesterday, knowing that there are numerous supporters of the Voice, some on the frontbench, who are directed to now oppose the Voice? Why not allow the front bench a conscience vote?

TEHAN: Well, let me just pick up on a couple of the points you've made, and then I'll address the latter part of your question. If the solicitor general's advice doesn't say that this will be a potential legal quagmire, then why not release that advice? The Prime Minister released advice from the solicitor general four or five months ago without hesitation. Now he won't. We know that the attorney general, his attorney general, asked the referendum working group to change the wording, and they didn’t. And they won't provide the recommendation that Anthony Albanese's own attorney general made. So there are serious issues about the legal advice, and you have to remember, this is the biggest change to our Constitution — we are adding a chapter — that's been made in over 100 years.

JACOBS: Dan, you’ve got High Court judges said that there are going to be no legal issues.

TEHAN: And then you've got other high court judges saying that there will be; you've got other very learned counsels saying that there will be.

JACOBS: We don't have much time. I wanted to ask you a few more questions. Why not allow a conscience vote? Bridget Archer says she's going to cross the floor. That's a right afforded to backbenchers. There'll be a lot of backbenchers doing the same. So is this position, is this no position on the voice, going to lay bare the division within the Liberal Party so everyone can see?

TEHAN: Well, my understanding is we might have three or four people who take an alternative approach. That's the wonderful thing about the Liberal Party. We enable our backbenchers to do that. If they were in the Labor Party, they would be expelled by the Labor Party. For us, we've always allowed people to act according to their beliefs, and that's one of the great strengths of the Liberal Party. When it came to the shadow cabinet yesterday, we had a very, very good, thoughtful discussion on the approach that we should take, and it was agreed the best thing we could do is take a united approach, given that this is the most significant change to the Constitution in over 100 years and that the Prime Minister isn't being level with the Australian people about what's involved, the scope, the legal quagmire that could result from it. None of that is being made clear. There is no constitutional convention. The normal path you try and get bipartisan support for these things just hasn't been taken.

JACOBS: All right, Dan Tehan, thanks for joining us at midday.

Media contact | Cate Mercer-Grant 0408 564 232