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Julian Leeser, Liberal spokesperson for The Voice, steps out of the opposition front bench to campaign for a yes vote


Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser has left the Shadow Cabinet, stating he was stepping down “on principle” so he could campaign for a yes vote in the referendum to include an Indigenous vote in the constitution.

Leeser’s shock action has dramatically undermined the decision of opposition leader Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party to oppose The Voice in the referendum later this year. Dutton has said he intends to actively campaign for the no cause.

Leeser’s stance will put pressure on other frontbenchers who oppose or question the liberals’ tough stance.

It will also force a rearrangement of the opposition’s front bench. Not only will Dutton need to find a new spokesperson for Indigenous Australians to join him in the no campaign, but also a new shadow advocate general, the other position Leeser has held.

“I believe the time has come for the vote,” Leeser told a news conference. “I believe Voice can help flip the switch on Indigenous education, health, housing, security and economic development.”

Leeser said he had tried to persuade his colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet and the Liberal Party, but had failed. He and Dutton agreed that he would think about his situation during Passover. They had been talking about his position for months.

Leeser remained critical of the Albanian government’s proposed wording for the referendum, saying he would try to push for changes in the coming weeks. A parliamentary inquiry is underway, although there is little chance of a significant change in the wording.

Leeser outlined his concerns in a speech to the National Press Club last week, including what changes he believed were necessary to make the constitutional amendment more legally secure and to increase the likelihood of a referendum.

Leeser, a constitutional conservative, has been a strong supporter of a Voice for many years and has been involved in the process for about a decade.

Leeser strongly reaffirmed his support for Dutton’s leadership, saying he stepped down “without resentment or bitterness” and remained “a loyal Liberal”.

“Peter did everything to keep me. I respect that and I respect him very much. But on the day before the shadow cabinet and banquet hall meeting last week, it was clear that I was in a different position than most of my colleagues.”

“My resignation today as a frontbencher is not about personality. It’s about trying to keep faith with the cords of faith and belonging that are part of who I am. Keeping faith with the First Peoples of this country, who want to have a stake in their own future, with a structural change in our constitution to help improve the quality of their lives.”

He said the Voice wasn’t about special privileges. “It’s about Indigenous Australians who are our brothers and sisters, and we left them in our shared national project.”

Leeser received strong support from liberal moderate backbencher Andrew Bragg. “I want the referendum to be successful and I think a yes vote is now more likely because of Julian’s conviction,” Bragg said in a statement.

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