Politics Opinion

If the Voice Referendum fails, it will be Pyrrhic victory for Dutton

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If the polls are correct, Liberal Leader Peter Dutton will achieve a Pyrrhic victory following his six-month campaign to wreck Saturday's Voice Referendum, having not only divided the country but also his own party.

A combination of polls suggests Dutton's “No” policy has left behind about a quarter of L-NP supporters who still support the Referendum on altering the Constitution to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Former Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein has said:

“The Federal Liberal Party appears to have learned very little since its election loss.”

He was referring to the 2022 Federal Election when Teal Independents championing action to deal with climate change defeated six sitting Liberal MPs in a dramatic rebuke to the hard Right's refusal to accept scientific evidence, typified by former PM Tony Abbott's description of the science as “absolute crap”.      

Mr Gutwein said the Tasmanian Liberals had held government successfully for almost a decade by “governing from the centre”.

It is telling that the only current Liberal Premier, Tasmania's moderate Jeremy Rockliff, is urging Liberal voters to join him in supporting the “Yes” case, saying:

“Listening to our Indigenous Australians on the best way forward for our nation and for Indigenous Australians to live their best life.”

Just as telling is Dutton's support for renegade Liberal moderate MP Bridget Archer despite calls from some members that she should be dumped before the next election for supporting the “Yes” case.

Dutton appears to have recognised that in supporting the Voice, Archer is representing the views of Liberal “Yes” voters in her highly marginal seat of Bass, saying:

“...Bridget Archer is an important part of our team. So, she works hard and she represents her community.”

Archer is one of 23 Coalition MPs nursing seats with margins of less than 5%, with four of them at less than 1%.

The call to unite Australians behind the “Yes” case is backed by voices from the political Left and Right, and the establishment, with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners summing up this stance by urging:

“Please everyone, let us unite and not divide our communities.”

But Dutton has repeatedly claimed the Referendum is divisive, aided and abetted by Sky News.   

The website peterdutton.com carries a transcript of Dutton telling Ray Hadley on 2GB and 4BC on 14 September:

“It will be divisive, it will divide Australians.”

He used virtually the same phrasing on 9 October:

“It’s divisive, it’s dividing Australians...”

It's certainly dividing current and former Liberal leaders.

Gutwein is one of the phalanx of current and former moderate Liberal leaders who have spoken in favour of the Voice, challenging Dutton and his hard-Right stance.

Gutwein said:

“What I see from the Federal Liberal Party at the moment is that they seem determined to keep the country apart.”

Former Federal Liberal leader John Hewson talks of ‘Peter Dutton’s politicking and dishonesty in his exalted, self-declared position as leader of the “No” campaign’.

Jeremy Rockcliff urges a need for unity:

“Well, I have a message for all Australians on the Voice, and this is about moving forward together as a nation with unity and purpose.”

NSW Liberal Leader Mark Speakman says:

“There are no guarantees but, other things being equal, working in closer partnership with Indigenous Australians – and elevating it by embedding it in the Constitution – offers a better chance of ‘Closing the Gap’.”

A.C.T. Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee will vote “Yes”, joining with the Liberals for Yes campaign, headed by former Liberal A.C.T. Chief Minister Kate Carnell.

Former PM Malcolm Turnbull says:

“I am satisfied that on balance as a nation, we are better advised to approve the proposal than reject it.”

Colin Barnett, Western Australian Premier from 2008 to 2017, is another supporter.

So if these Liberal luminaries are convinced Dutton's hard-Right wrecking is the wrong call, will more moderate Liberal voters take note of the Teal effect and switch to alternative candidates at the next election?

There will be at least 23 Liberal MPs who should be very worried, along with the Opposition Leader himself on a margin of only 1.7%.

Steve Bishop is a journalist and author. You can read more from Steve at stevebishop.net.

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