Nationals MP Andrew Gee quits party citing its opposition to Indigenous voice

The member for Calare, who will now sit as an independent, said he ‘fundamentally disagreed’ with party’s position

The Nationals MP Andrew Gee has quit the party to sit as an independent, citing a need to speak out in favour of the Indigenous voice and on the handling of natural disasters.

In a statement posted to social media on Friday, the member for the New South Wales seat of Calare said he is no longer “a true believer” because “the National party of today is very different to the one of my youth”.

Gee was the first National to break ranks when the junior Coalition partner decided in November it would oppose the referendum to enshrine an Indigenous voice to government and parliament in the constitution.

“I feel that I can best represent the constituents of Calare and our region by speaking out on issues, free from party constraints and expectations,” Gee said on Friday.

“The recent decision by the National party to oppose the Indigenous voice to parliament, and also witnessing the devastation our region has experienced over the past few weeks, has really brought home to me the importance of being able to stand up and be counted.

“I can’t reconcile the fact that every Australian will get a free vote on the vitally important issue of the voice, yet National party MPs are expected to fall into line behind a party position that I fundamentally disagree with, and vote accordingly in parliament.

“While I respect the views of my colleagues, this just isn’t right.”

Gee said he felt he didn’t have “unfettered freedom” to put his view on the voice, and didn’t foresee the federal Nationals’ policy changing on the issue.

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, said he was disappointed by the “unfortunate” decision and rejected the claim Gee could not speak his mind.

“While the federal Nationals remain united in our decision to oppose the voice to parliament, I have [said] that one of the great things about our party room is the ability to have different opinions and speak and vote freely on issues that matter to individual members,” Littleproud said in a statement.

Nationals colleague Darren Chester called on Gee to resign his seat and trigger a byelection so people in Calare could vote for a Nationals candidate if they wished to be represented by the party.

Speaking to ABC News on Friday afternoon, Chester said Gee’s intention to sit as an independent was “not the most honourable thing to do”.

The Albanese government is planning to push ahead with the voice referendum in 2023, despite opposition from the Nationals, spearheaded by Northern Territory senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.

The Liberal party, led by Peter Dutton, is yet to determine its position, with many arguing internally for a free vote.

Gee also cited his role responding to “disasters in the form of storms, floods and also a gas crisis that affected 20,000 residents, households and businesses” in his electorate which encompasses Bathurst, Orange and Mudgee west of Sydney.

“When I believe that our communities are not receiving the support they need at the speed at which they need it, I have to speak out,” he said. “I can do that most effectively free of the ties of a political party.

“Now more than ever the communities of our region need their MP in their corner advocating for that support, no matter the political stripe of the state or federal government.

“While I accept that in politics compromises have to be made, there comes a point where not speaking out freely can compromise the interests of those we represent.”

Gee joins a record House of Representatives crossbench with four Greens, now 11 independents and two minor party MPs, reducing the Coalition to 57 MPs in the 151 seat lower house.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said Gee’s resignation was an “extraordinary political development” and a decision he respected.

Albanese told reporters in Sydney the voice was “not a radical proposition” but rather “a gracious offer to recognise and give respect to Indigenous Australians”.

“I look forward to working with him and … with members of the Liberal party, members of [the] crossbench across the board who … see this as an opportunity to unite our nation.”

In his statement, Gee praised the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, as a “good man” but said his issues with the party “run deeper than the role of just one person”.

He said the decision had been “difficult” and announced his resignation from the NSW Nationals “with sadness”.

In November, the Indigenous affairs minister, Linda Burney, noted that Gee had been “very vocal” in support of the voice and that the Western Australian Nationals had also dissented from the federal position.

“So, I think there is some way to run in terms of this discussion,” she said.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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