Lidia Thorpe joined anti-voice Coalition senators to push for inquiry into Indigenous bodies

Exclusive: the Greens senator blames an ‘administrative error’ for the move in November before being forced to withdraw by Adam Bandt

The Greens senator Lidia Thorpe put her name to the establishment of an inquiry into Indigenous bodies pushed by some of the Coalition’s most strident opponents of the voice, before being forced to withdraw by the Greens leader, Adam Bandt.

Thorpe has blamed an “administrative error” for the move in November, when she briefly teamed up with the Nationals’ Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Liberal James McGrath, among others, to ask the Senate for a year-long inquiry, which would run throughout the voice referendum debate.

Guardian Australia understands that Thorpe was consulted on the terms of reference of the inquiry, which aims to investigate the administration of land councils and other Indigenous bodies. She signed on before gaining Greens party room approval.

But Thorpe’s name was withdrawn from the motion, triggered by an intervention by Bandt due to concern from fellow parliamentarians that it would damage the Greens during the referendum.

Thorpe has not ruled out supporting the motion, currently slated for a vote when parliament returns on 6 February. It proposes an inquiry to report by November.

The Greens are struggling to reconcile the fact that most of its MPs, senators and voters back the Indigenous voice, while Thorpe – the party’s First Nations spokesperson – is opposed unless it is combined with recognition of Indigenous sovereignty.

On Wednesday Thorpe announced she had given notice she may exercise her right to vote against the voice regardless of the party’s collective decision, to be decided in early February.

If the Greens agree to support the voice, which a Resolve Poll this week found was backed by 72% of Greens voters, some in the party question whether Thorpe can continue as First Nations spokesperson.

The party’s acting leader, Mehreen Faruqi, backed Thorpe.

A spokesperson for Faruqi said the portfolio “deals with many more matters than the government’s agenda of the day, and Senator Thorpe remains the Greens’ First Nations spokesperson”.

According to the journals of the Senate, on 29 November the chair of the finance and public administration references committee, Richard Colbeck, gave notice of a motion to set up an inquiry, co-sponsored by Thorpe, Price, McGrath and the South Australian Liberal Kerrynne Liddle.

The inquiry would target “the role, governance and accountability of key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative organisations, including land councils and native title bodies such as prescribed body corporates”.

That would include consideration of “administrative, operational and governance arrangements to ensure accountability, risk mitigation, and transparency” and “the quality and effectiveness of consultation and engagement with Traditional Owners to ascertain their views”. On 30 November, the motion was delayed and Thorpe’s name removed.

Price has been one of the most prominent critics of the voice since entering the Senate after the 2022 election, spearheading the Nationals’ opposition to the body.

In 2019 Price and McGrath appeared in an Institute of Public Affairs video claiming the voice would divide Australians by race. McGrath argued the voice would not “fix” issues such as suicide, infant mortality and unemployment, and Price said the “fad” of constitutional recognition could reduce focus on those causes.

The Albanese government has said that consulting the voice on policies, legislation and programs affecting Indigenous people will improve outcomes.

The Coalition has used a crime crisis in Alice Springs to argue that not enough is being done under the status quo, accusing the prime minister of ignoring existing Indigenous voices.

Asked why she had signed up to the motion, Thorpe said that unspecified “administrative errors were made” but defended the thrust of some of its aims.

“Within my communities, I’m on the record calling for transparency and accountability for any resources or funds going to our people, because it’s not reaching them,” she said.

Thorpe said that “any inquiry must uphold the principles of free, prior and informed consent as defined in the UN declaration on the right of Indigenous people”.

“Consultation is not consent,” she said, arguing that Invasion Day rallies around Australia amounted to “an absolute assertion of our sovereign resistance”.

Asked if Bandt had forced Thorpe to withdraw from the motion, a spokesperson for Faruqi responded that “party room discussions are confidential”.

“The Greens’ constitution gives MPs and senators the right to vote differently to their colleagues, and Senator Thorpe has discharged her duty by informing party room that she will not support [the voice] legislation unless she is satisfied that First Nations sovereignty is not ceded.”


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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