Albanese has pledged a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. He may face strong headwinds in Dutton

The voices of those so long silenced in our democracy may well speak very loudly during this term of parliament.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart will help define the Albanian government and the future of the Peter Dutton-led opposition.

It will tell us much about our democracy.

The Uluru Statement’s time has come. Anthony Albanese’s first commitment in his victory speech on election night was to pledge a referendum to enshrine a voice for First Nations people in the Constitution.

It lands at the crossroads of political upheaval shaking democracies worldwide and now here, in Australia. The federal election has broken open our politics. Does it make a referendum harder — not easier — to win?

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New Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s victory speech in full

It is already an uphill climb. A “yes” campaign must win a double majority: a majority of voters and a majority of states.

Only eight out of 44 referendums have been carried. For the last successful yes vote, we have to go back to the 1970s.

Historically, without bipartisanship a referendum is dead. And when it comes to a First Nations voice we know where the Liberal-National coalition sits: it has already rejected it twice, under the Turnbull and Morrison governments.

Albanian is sailing into fierce political headwinds. When asked during the election campaign whether he would take the voice to the referendum, Scott Morrison replied: “Why would I?”

So, why would Peter Dutton?

Peter Dutton looks on as Scott Morrison speaks.
Scott Morrison questioned why he’d take a Voice to Parliament to a referendum. So why would Peter Dutton?(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Dutton may ask: What would Howard do?

At first glance, history does not bode well for supporters of the Uluru Statement. In 2007, Peter Dutton boycotted then prime minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations.

He later said he regretted that decision, that he did not appreciate what it meant to Indigenous people. Would he have a similar change of heart to supporting the voice?

The voice referendum will tell us what sort of leader Peter Dutton will be. Will he be tempted to wager a political culture war?

In a party room largely stripped of moderates, Dutton could play to his conservative base and see this as an opportunity to inflict political damage on Anthony Albanese.

This may be about more than recognizing Indigenous people in the Constitution; it could be how Dutton sees his pathway to power.

He says his mentor and model is John Howard. As Dutton faces a Liberal Party identity crisis today, he would be reminded that Howard faced a similar existential challenge in the 1980s.

Then, a split between “wets and dries” (moderates and conservatives) banished the Coalition from power for more than a decade.


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