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Dutton's indifference to Indigenous Australia deadly for approval rating

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

He didn't go to Garma. He walked out of the Apology. With his approval rating already in the toilet, Peter Dutton foolishly continues to spawn discontent over an Indigenous Voice To Parliament, writes Belinda Jones.

FEDERAL OPPOSITION Leader Peter Dutton is being either deliberately divisive or simply doesn’t have the intelligence to occupy the position he holds as Leader of the Opposition.

Dutton has begun the political year with his focus firmly on sowing the seeds of discontent on the issue of an Indigenous Voice To Parliament. Despite a plethora of “detail” that, clearly, Dutton hasn’t read nor understood, he is still insisting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is being “very tricky” or is “treating us like mugs”.

Neither accusation is true as there’s plenty of detail available — Dutton just can’t or doesn’t want to understand it. No one is treating him like a "mug", but he certainly is acting like one.

Dutton has been afforded every opportunity to learn about this issue. In the previous Parliament, former Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt took details of a Voice To Parliament to Cabinet twice. Dutton ignored him.

Leading academics, Indigenous elders, working groups and communities have extensively collaborated over years. Dutton has ignored them.

An invitation to the Garma Festival was extended to Dutton last year. He chose not to go.

Dutton infamously walked out of the Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 and only realised he had “made a mistake” in 2022 when Scott Morrison was defeated, and he ascended to leadership. 

Few accepted this revelation from Dutton as genuine remorse – given the timing – and it was logged as political rhetoric. Dutton’s behaviour since issuing this mea culpa in May 2022 has been inconsistent with the verbal sentiments he volunteered at that time. 

In the eight months since then, Dutton has said and done nothing to improve his standing among Indigenous Australians.  

The Liberal Party is still yet to articulate its official position on a Voice To Parliament, unlike its junior Coalition partner, The Nationals, who are committed to opposing the Government’s Voice To Parliament. 

The Nationals were first out of the gate on this issue, leader David Littleproud refusing to allow a conscience vote. His hard-line stance was rewarded with Voice supporter Andrew Gee, MP for Calare, defecting to the crossbench.

Say what you like about Littleproud, he may have been premature in his decision last November on this issue, but at least he had the gumption to take a position, unlike Dutton. Littleproud and the Nationals can now go out into the electorate and argue their position on the matter.

Two months on from Littleproud’s announcement of the Nationals’ position and the Liberals are in no such position to make a firm commitment — not even within cooee of it.

Despite the passage of time and this issue being in the public arena for many years, there is no policy on a Voice To Parliament from the Liberals, no fixed position and no argument to prosecute. Nothing. Dutton is deliberately creating and facing a divided party room unable to reach a consensus.

The Coalition is not ideologically opposed to First Nations having a Voice in certain matters, in fact, in Frydenberg’s last Budget the Coalition committed over $31 million to establish a regional voice. That in itself acknowledges the need for a Voice, but Dutton won’t elaborate on his position, including his objection to Constitutional change, preferring legislative change. 

Further to this point, Dutton cannot explain why the Coalition’s preferred legislative method was not adopted during its nine years in office.

As Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney rightly pointed out:

“The Opposition was in Government for nine years. If they were so keen on legislation, then the question has to be asked — why didn't they do it while they had the opportunity?”

Dutton has not shown the Australian public he has the courage to fix his party position on the Voice and argue his point, preferring immature name-calling and asking inane questions that have been answered long ago, which only serves to illustrate his complete ignorance on the issue and incompetence as a leader.

Dutton’s deliberate dilly-dallying, immature discourse and calculated culture wars may resound in conservative echo chambers, but it’s having little impact outside of them. And is certainly not improving Mr 17 per cent’s approval ratings.

To make matters worse, the passing of Senator Jim Molan has instigated another factional battle within Liberal ranks. The bloke isn’t even buried yet and the Liberals are squabbling over his seat, with some media suggesting former PM Tony Abbott as a likely contender.

Should that come to pass, Dutton would have two ghosts of PMs past in his party room sucking up any clear air he afforded both of them during their time as leader.

This lucrative and powerful Senate position will be gifted to a Liberal who will not face an election for the position and whose term will expire on 30 June 2028 — nice gig if you can get it. So, every failed, high-profile Liberal ousted by his or her electorate will be coveting Molan’s Senate seat. The battle will be ugly. 

Other names being bandied about in the public arena for the Senate position include former MP for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg and former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Another possible contender – a long shot – is Jim Molan's daughter, Erin Molan, who confirmed in 2021 that she had political ambitions “down the track”.

If history is any guide, merit is unlikely to be a factor in the Liberal’s choice of replacement for the Senate seat.

Dutton’s choice for Molan’s successor will have a huge impact on his success or failure as a leader and the much-needed stability of the Liberal Party. Former PMs generally don’t sit quietly and passively in the party room. Often, they cause division, take up all the oxygen and eventually leave or attempt a coup. 

Abbott’s ego will not play second fiddle to Dutton’s – or Morrison’s for that matter – and Dutton is too immature in his leadership to know how to manage both Morrison and Abbott simultaneously. Interesting times ahead.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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