Indigenous activist Noel Pearson has described Peter Dutton as “the undertaker” for attempting to “kill and bury” the government’s proposed Voice to Parliament.
The Liberal leader announced yesterday that he would campaign with the ‘No’ case at this year’s referendum.
Dutton said the Voice risked forever changing Australia’s system of government without delivering any benefit to Indigenous people.
He said the Liberals would support a Voice that was legislated, rather than one that was enshrined in the constitution.
He said the Liberals would support constitutional recognition of Indigenous people so long as it was not tied to a Voice.
As well as labelling Dutton the undertaker, Pearson called him a “Judas”, accusing him of betraying Indigenous people in the lead-up to Easter.
“I couldn’t sleep last night. I was troubled by dreams and the spectre of the Dutton Liberal party’s Judas betrayal of our country," he told ABC Radio National.
“I see the leader of the Liberal party Mr Dutton as an undertaker preparing the grave to bury Uluru. It is a very sad day for Australia.”
Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes accused Pearson of being “divisive”.
“If you ask how this is actually going to create a better environment for Indigenous Australians not just be some sort of woke virtue signal that then opens up government to being challenged in the High Court, then somehow you are a racist or you are a bigot, or in Noel Pearson’s words an undertaker. These are the kinds of words that are going to divide Australia,” she told Sky News.
But Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians Marandirri McCarthy defended Pearson’s outburst, saying he must be “devastated”.
Dutton announced his party’s position – that the Voice was “not in the best interests of the country” - shortly after MPs met in Canberra for almost two hours on Wednesday to discuss the referendum.
“I have spent literally months, like many Australians, trying to understand what it is the Prime Minister is proposing,” he said.
“They have deliberately decided not to give advice. The wording put forward in its form is inconsistent with the advice of the... solicitor-general.”
He said Liberal MPs had agreed to an alternative position similar to the one they took to the election, which involved legislating to establish local and regional advisory bodies while limiting constitutional change to the recognition of Indigenous people.