The New South Wales treasurer, Matt Kean, has urged his federal Liberal counterparts to support an Indigenous voice to parliament in the planned referendum, saying it is a chance to “unite” the country.

The federal opposition has yet to confirm whether it will support a yes vote in a referendum to enshrine the voice in the constitution, which is expected during the first term of Anthony Albanese’s government.

On Tuesday Kean, a leading moderate in the state Liberal party, urged the federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, to back the referendum.

“I think it’s an opportunity to unite our nation, I think it’s an opportunity to strengthen our democracy,” he said in an interview with the ABC.

“The Liberal party supporting a voice to parliament will ensure there is broad support for a voice to parliament, for our First Nations people to be consulted on matters of policy. That can only be a good thing for our democracy.”

Dutton has repeatedly said he would not make a call on supporting the referendum until the government offered more detail on the proposal, and on Tuesday Liberal senator Simon Birmingham acknowledged not everyone was in agreement.

“There are definitely different views across the party and many who simply want to try to make an informed decision based on the detail,” he said.

“I certainly don’t want to see a voice referendum fail.

“I think that would be undesirable for the country and the many people who hold the issue dear.”

The Coalition’s junior partner, the Nationals, have already ruled out supporting the voice, with the leader, David Littleproud, saying the party did not believe the referendum would “genuinely close the gap”.

He was later contradicted by Andrew Gee, one of his Nationals colleagues, who said he remained a supporter of the voice.

Kean said he disagreed with the Nationals’ stance.

“What I would say to the [the Nationals] is that in the Uluru statement from the heart there were a number of requests made from our First Nations people to the rest of the country [and] one of them is that they be consulted on matters of policy in the form of a voice,” he said

“This is a modest request from our First Nations people to the rest of the country, especially in light of the entrenched disadvantage that we have seen for our Indigenous Australians, especially in light of past atrocities and injustices.

“This is an important step forward so we can recognise the past but also move forward as one.”

Kean said the NSW government would be seeking “compensation” if the federal government pushed ahead with its plan for a cap on coal prices, again saying the state had not been provided with sufficient detail on the proposal.

Wednesday’s planned national cabinet meeting, where the issue would have been discussed, was cancelled after Albanese contracted Covid-19.

“We need to see the detail of the commonwealth’s plan to solve this national problem [including] the modelling about how we’ll keep prices down,” Kean said.

“We haven’t seen anything yet.”

He said that NSW energy consumers and taxpayers “need to be no worse off”.

“The NSW government already provides $300m in energy rebates every year and the commonwealth is yet to put a single dollar on the table [to deal with] energy costs,” he said.

“If they are going to handball this problem to us then we need an indemnity to the costs we may need to pay under free trade agreements or to keep energy companies afloat, and compensation for lost royalties which help fund our schools and hospitals.”


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

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