This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
They call it relevance deprivation syndrome.
It's an affliction common to men of a certain age - men who once exercised power or influence but who have been sidelined by age, circumstance or both. Its symptoms include arguing when there is no point and saying anything to attract attention and the odd headline in the media. To say, "I'm still here."
Peter Dutton appears to be suffering an acute case of RDS, possibly the long form, after his party suffered its comprehensive drubbing at the last federal election.
He's sought relevance by buying into the debate over the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, demanding more detail and trying to hedge his party somewhere between outright rejection of the idea and grudging acceptance.
But that hedge has become a wedge.
Dutton knows young voters have turned away from the Liberal Party in droves and that outright opposition to the Voice - like that prematurely adopted by junior Coalition partner, the Nationals - will drive them even further away.
He also knows he needs to pander to his conservative base, which reflexively bridles at change. Remaining relevant to the base and at the same time drawing younger voters into the conservative fold is a juggling act that seems beyond Dutton's dexterity.
Adding his voice to the Voice debate arguably serves Anthony Albanese better than it does the opposition leader. It casts Dutton in the role of Dr No and the PM as holder of the high moral ground. It makes Dutton even less palatable to the new cohort of voters he'll need come 2025.
His attempt to paint the debate as some kind of city-country fracture - "I just think if people in capital cities who are on big pays don't want to provide detail to the Australian people, then I think the Australian public will start to shake their head," he said - bears the stink of desperation.
The details the Opposition Leader seeks will, as centre-right Voice advocate Noel Pearson says, be nutted out by the Parliament if the referendum succeeds. Albanese has made it clear the Voice will be consultative and will not have the power of veto over legislation.
The idea of the Voice referendum is pretty simple: recognition of First Nations Australians in the constitution and a consultative body to advise on legislation affecting Indigenous people. Really, just baby steps on the road to reconciliation.
But Dutton will continue to seek political advantage over an issue that really ought to have bipartisan support - unlikely now the Nationals have thrown it out of their cot. And in doing so he'll allow the Voice to dominate the political discourse, again to the government's advantage.
Anything that draws attention away from the cost of living, the national housing crisis, the skills shortage, the continuing COVID toll and the host of other challenges the government faces is a good thing in its reckoning.
In trying to claw back some relevance over the Voice, Dutton risks painting himself and his colleagues into a corner as even less relevant to voters than they were in May 2022.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Is Peter Dutton focusing too much on the Voice to Parliament and letting other issues go unchallenged? Is your voting intention likely to change if further details aren't forthcoming? What details do you want to see? Or are you happy to have details thrashed out in the Parliament if and when the referendum succeeds? Email us: email@example.com
SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoy The Echidna, forward it to a friend so they can sign up, too.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- A 60-year-old Croydon man will face the Melbourne Magistrates' Court charged with 46 offences over a school bus crash near Bacchus Marsh northwest of Melbourne last year. According to Victoria Police Media, Major Collision Investigation Unit detectives charged the truck driver, months after he allegedly collided with the rear of a Loreto College school bus travelling from Ballarat in Victoria's Central Highlands to Melbourne Airport on the Western Freeway.
- Nurses, paramedics and allied health professionals will soon be included in the delivery of primary care as Medicare faces the biggest overhaul in its 40-year history. Labor is preparing to open up Medicare to a wider range of medical professionals in a bid to save universal health care.
- Human remains have been discovered in a submerged car belonging to a Tasmanian man who went missing more than six years ago after a trip to get breakfast and a newspaper. Dale Nicholson, 61, was last seen leaving his home at New Norfolk, about 35km northwest of Hobart, on the morning of December 10, 2016.
THEY SAID IT: "Reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, as well as social and economic change. It requires symbolic as well as practical action." Malcolm Fraser
YOU SAID IT: Australia Day, prejudice and 2018 Local Hero and maths teacher Eddie Woo's struggle to identify as Australian, even though he was born and grew up here.
Brian says January 26 is actually Sydney Day: "Sydney can celebrate its foundation but the roots of European settlement in Australia go much deeper. I suggest that a better date would be the anniversary of the date of sailing of the last ship of the First Fleet from 'Old Blighty'. Or how about the date the Constitutional Convention agreed to petition the British Parliament to enact the appropriate legislation to create the Commonwealth of Australia? Or even the date when that act was passed?"
David agrees: "It commemorates the day when a bunch of colonial settlers landed somewhere near modern-day Sydney. Australia did not exist for another 113 years. A more appropriate and inclusive date to mark our nationhood would be the day the Voice to Parliament referendum is successfully put to the Australian people. Until we come to terms with our past, we cannot mark our nationhood without division and controversy."
Erik also faced bullies growing up in Australia: "It's not just appearance that draws the racist idiots. As a blond, blue-eyed Dutch migrant at school in the 1960s, I was called a wog - the surname was just too different. On another score, after almost 50 years of teaching maths, I can assure you it's fun. I hope I was able to convey that to the students I had over that time."
Neil says: "You capture my sentiments totally and I don't understand others who just seem to me to throw their anger as racist prejudice through politics, business and 'mates'. I've had two lifelong mates since starting school and only let them go the last decade. I can't change them or anyone else it seems. It must be anger. Your letter is brilliant. Thank you so much."
Teena makes this point: "The potential of Aboriginal people in this country is smothered by prejudice every day. Smothered by police, by courts, by discrimination in workplaces and education. On January 26 this country celebrates colonisation and the ongoing oppression of our people. Most people don't know that Lachlan Macquarie declared the first public holiday on January 26 in 1818 and just two years prior he ordered the slaughter of our people (including our Burragorang chief) in the Appin Massacre. Now the NSW Premier wants to further destroy my family's cultural sites by further flooding the Burragorang Valley with the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall, all to allow wealthy developers to build more homes on floodplains. This country is offended he wore a Nazi uniform (as it should be) but is not offended that he said he was putting people before plants over the dam wall raising. Traditional owners are not even considered people."
Daniel says: "Growing up a son of 'reffos' from World War II, Australia Day was more of a chance to play backyard cricket with my mates around the street, than to celebrate the birth of a decentralised English government entity. I never saw discrimination growing up, probably because I conformed to the White Australia Policy. But upon meeting and marrying a wonderful girl from Penang, I suddenly saw the ugly side of, thankfully, a minority of Aussies. 'Asians Out' slogans plastered around the city certainly did make me upset. Australia Day is still a great day, maybe more for watching than playing cricket these days. And still with that wonderful girl from Penang cheering for Aussies by my side."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.