The federal Nationals have hardened their opposition to an Indigenous voice to parliament, after Anthony Albanese confirmed the body would reflect a report created under the former Coalition government.
The party’s leader, David Littleproud, said there is “no position” where the Nationals’ decision would change now, after coming out against the voice last month.
Some in the Nationals have claimed a lack of detail about the constitutional change had partly driven their opposition, but Littleproud said information since provided by the government had “re-enforced” the party’s decision to oppose it.
He said the Nationals were opposed to the broad principle of the voice, instead imploring the government to create local solutions for rural and remote communities, rather than create a new representative body.
“The representative model has been tried and failed. The existing bureaucracy should be going out to those communities,” Littleproud said.
“There’s a vast scale of geography and a differences of need in communities. It can’t be done with representatives, it needs government to take this by scruff of the neck, and get the departments out there.”
Littleproud’s cementing of the Nationals’ opposition came after another state branch of the party split from its federal colleagues.
Ben Franklin, a New South Wales Nationals MP and Aboriginal affairs minister, on Thursday said the state’s Coalition supported the voice, in principle. This followed a similar move by the party’s Western Australian branch.
“We support in principle enshrining an Aboriginal voice in the Australian constitution,” Franklin said on Thursday.
“We know that it’s critical for Aboriginal voices to be considered at the heart of government and that’s why we’ve expressed our in-principle support.”
While the NSW and Western Australian branches have publicly snubbed the position of their federal colleagues, the Victorian Nationals have backed the decision to oppose.
There is also division inside the federal party itself with Andrew Gee pledging to support the voice, while Sam Birrell reserved his position and stopped short of endorsing his colleagues’ opposition.
“The federal Nationals’ position on the voice is determined by our party room and we celebrate and respect the Nationals’ diversity of views on many issues – that’s healthy for our democracy,” Littleproud said after being asked about Franklin’s comments.
“This matter is incredibly sensitive and requires respect and a calm conversation.”
Albanese said last week that the government’s proposal would reflect the 2021 Co-Design Process Report, written by Prof Marcia Langton and Prof Tom Calma.
That report was twice presented to the former Coalition government’s cabinet by then-Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt. It laid out detailed options for the voice, including membership and interaction with government.
Littleproud said the confirmation of co-design report’s proposal had “re-enforced the Federal Nationals’ party room decision”. He instead called for more local solutions.
“Canberra should be going to them … sitting around their town halls and campfires,” Littleproud said.
“We must be agile enough to tailor specific solutions for specific communities.”
Littleproud said he believed that the voice model set out in the report would work for people living in urban cities, but claimed it would not work for those in regional, rural or remote areas.
The co-design report suggests there be two members from each state and territory, along with for the Torres Strait Islands and a third member “for remote representation” in NSW, the NT, Queensland, WA and South Australia.
Counter to suggestions from former party leader Michael McCormack that the Nationals could reconsider its opposition , Littleproud said the decision was final.
He said there was no “malice” in their opposition, and praised Albanese and the Indigenous Australians minister, Linda Burney, for being “open and honest” with their proposals.
“The broad architecture is where our issues are, and the broad detail is locked in,” Littleproud said.
“There’s no position where the Nats would change their minds.”
Wyatt called the Nationals’ decision “disappointing”, accusing them of “laziness” in not considering reports on the voice created under the former government.