This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult weeks in the life of the Albanian government.
The referendum result has left a void of answers about the way forward, at least for now, when it comes to Indigenous policy. The Prime Minister, for his part, is trying to demonstrate that this is not a turning point for his government in general and that he remains in control of a busy agenda.
Then there is uncertainty and apprehension about where the spiraling crisis in the Middle East will go next and the need to delicately balance strong support for Israel with repeated reminders that international law must be respected as the situation in Gaza deteriorates.
The consequences of voting no on The Voice were never going to be easy. The Coalition, enjoying the closest thing to a political “victory” it has enjoyed for years, intends to make this time as difficult as possible for the government.
Despite criticizing Labor for its obsession with The Voice when it should have focused more on the cost of living, the opposition is now very interested in prolonging the conversation.
Looking for a plan B
Question Time so far this week has focused on the fate of the remaining elements of the Uluru Heart Declaration: the treaty and the truth.
To be clear, this is not driven by a deep conservative desire to see these elements implemented. The strategy here is to highlight the uncertainty and clumsiness of the government after the referendum defeat.
The Prime Minister’s previous commitments to respect the Uluru Declaration “in its entirety” are now suspended, following the rejection of the Voice. Anthony Albanese is not rushing to react to this resounding defeat. He is awaiting advice from indigenous leaders, who are currently observing a week of silence.
This is a useful pause for the government, given that it has no Plan B at the moment, let alone a clear process for formulating a Plan B.
Sooner or later, however, he will at least have to find a way forward. How will he consult with Indigenous Australians about the way forward? Who will he consult? Will it be just members of the referendum working group or a mix of different views?
The opposition, for its part, has not been clear on its own plans, given the massive rejection of the Voice.
Peter Dutton’s pre-referendum promise of a second attempt to amend the constitution to include “symbolic recognition” has now given way to the view that “the Australian public has probably been over the referendum process since some time”.
Anyone who voted no, believing that there would soon be another opportunity to recognize First Nations people in the constitution, was quickly disavowed of that notion.
This gave Albanese the opportunity to accuse Dutton of “doing more flip-flops than a flip-flop factory,” just as Dutton accused Albanese of flip-flopping on truth and treaty. Politics as usual.
An escalating conflict
Meanwhile, much more cautious language is being used regarding the Middle East. Particularly given ASIO’s warnings about the risks of “spontaneous violence” as this crisis unfolds and the need to choose words carefully.
This is exactly what the Prime Minister is doing. He expressed support for Israel after the “heinous attacks” by the “terrorist group” Hamas, but also called for “respect for international law.”
Albanese reiterated the call after yesterday’s tragic explosion at a Gaza hospital that killed hundreds, while taking care not to assign blame to either party. Both accuse each other of responsibility.
The Greens are already pressuring the government to condemn what the party calls Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. This pressure will only increase as the number of civilian casualties rises.
What is important for Albanese is that there is little pressure within the Labor Party to go this far, even from those seen as more pro-Palestinian.
The Prime Minister will also be reluctant to change his language beyond that of the US president, ahead of his official visit to the US next week. It is a visit that now takes on heightened importance as events in the Middle East reshape global security prospects.
No one knows exactly where the conflict will be by the time Albanese arrives in Washington.
And it’s also unclear exactly who the prime minister will meet with beyond President Joe Biden and members of the administration, given the chaos in Congress over selecting a House speaker to replace the one who was rejected two weeks ago.
Just another bit of uncertainty to add to the mix.
David Speers is the national politician and host of Insiders, broadcast on ABC TV Sundays at 9am or on iview.