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Prime Minister hits back at John Howard, warning Indigenous Voice could be ‘coercive’ and divisive

Anthony Albanese has hit back at John Howard over the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament after the former prime minister warned it could be “coercive” and divisive, saying he will not look to past governments as a model for how to advance reconciliation.

The Albanese Government has committed to a referendum in its first term and to eventually implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, with a potential national vote to be held on May 27 — the 56th anniversary of the landmark 1967 referendum on Indigenous recognition.

The Prime Minister has now taken the campaign to the Torres Strait to consult with elders, government officials and community leaders, telling critics the Voice would not alter any of Parliament’s powers.

At the same time, Mr Howard has been on a media blitz to promote his new book A Sense of Balance and repeatedly raised doubts about the new body, telling the National Press Club on Thursday he did not have a “completely settled view” on the plan.

Former prime minister John Howard addresses the media at a press conference during a visit to Brookfield Gardens in Brisbane, Thursday, April 28, 2022. (AAP Image/Russell Freeman) NO ARCHIVING
Camera IconFormer prime minister John Howard says the proposed Voice to Parliament could be “coercive” and divisive. Credit: RUSSELL FREEMAN/AAPIMAGE

Echoing others on both sides of the debate, Mr Howard called for “horrors of horrors, more information” about “anything that I think has the potential for division, has the potential for establishing a body that is seen as exercising coercive influence on the government”.

He’d earlier told Sky News that “anything that raises the possibility of division and giving special status is not going to work”, even with bipartisan support.

“With respect to John Howard, I don’t think that, overwhelmingly, I would regard his government as a model for how to advance reconciliation in this country,” Mr Albanese said in response.

“What we need to do is to actually listen to people. I don’t want this to be a top-down thing.

“I’d say to Mr Howard, look at the details, look at the comments that have been made by constitutional lawyers, former members of the High Court, who make it very clear that the Voice is simply an advisory body.”

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