The minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, has hit back at comments from Peter Dutton and accused the opposition leader of “playing politics” with the Indigenous voice to parliament referendum and dividing Australians.
Dutton said on Saturday the cause of reconciliation could be set back if the referendum on an Indigenous voice failed but accused the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, of starving Australians of detail.
Dutton told the Australian newspaper a “no” vote would be better for the nation.
“The first outcome [of a failed referendum] is that our country has been saved from a significant disruption to our form of government and our democracy,” Dutton said.
“Does it set back reconciliation? I think there is a chance that it sets back reconciliation because there are a lot of people who have had their hopes built up by the prime minister.
“He’ll have to face up to the consequences if it fails.”
Standing at Uluru, flanked by members of the government’s referendum engagement group, on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, Burney accused Dutton of being divisive with the issue.
“This referendum will be determined by the Australian people, not politicians, and I have great faith in the Australian people,” Burney said.
“Next week, in the House of Representatives, there will be a vote on the constitutional alteration bill to allow us to have the referendum later this year. And if Peter Dutton was fair dinkum about supporting reconciliation, if he was fair dinkum about uniting and not dividing, then Mr Dutton would vote in favour of the bill next week.
“And Mr Dutton would vote yes, in the referendum later this year. This is not something that is negotiable.”
Burney was speaking at Uluru on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, which marks the start of National Reconciliation Week.
Alongside her were many members of the working group on enshrining an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to parliament in the constitution. Mamu man from Innisfail Nathan Appo said it was time for younger generations to take the load from elders who had done the “heavy lifting”.
“Linda and my other elders behind me, they’ve done a lot of heavy lifting,” he said.
“At the 1967 referendum, [elders] got us over the line, they did all the fighting, and as a young person I say our time, it’s our time, to come together, gather our allies and show some support.
“Have conversations at home, have conversations in your workplace, your sporting groups. It’s up to the Australian community to get this over line. Our community had been doing all the heavy lifting for years.
“We’re on the cusp of creating history for our people.
“And I can’t understand how people can’t be emotionally driven to be a part of it. So my message to our young people out there, this is our time to step up. It’s our time to show true reconciliation, and be on board with the vote. Because it’s going to change lives. It’s going to empower our people for change in the future.”