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Opposition’s U-turn is disgraceful political opportunism


Credit: Matt Golding

Walsh, who is also the opposition’s Aboriginal affairs spokesman, stood in parliament and declared that the Coalition was committed to working with the community on a treaty, claiming he wanted to dispel the myth that only Labor supported that path.

“Do not believe anyone who is peddling the myth that you have to work with the Labor Party to get these outcomes,” he said. “You can work with our side of politics as well.”

What a difference 17 months can make. Walsh is now arguing “things have changed”, pointing to the collapse of the Bunurong Land Council and to claims about unnecessary delays to building projects. On Monday, he also questioned the legitimacy of the entire concept.

“What is treaty? That’s the great unknown that people don’t know, and how can you have a treaty with yourself because we are all Australians,” Walsh told ABC radio.

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Having left it to his deputy to make the announcement, Opposition Leader John Pesutto then tied himself in knots attempting to justify the about-face, suggesting he had become concerned about the divisive nature of the debate leading up to last year’s referendum on the Indigenous Voice to parliament.

“I don’t want Victorians to have to go through that again,” he said.

Pesutto’s argument is that Indigenous disadvantage would be better addressed through practical measures, including investments in health, education and the justice system.

He points out that in the last year alone, Indigenous incarceration rates in Victoria increased by 5.5 per cent, while one-third of Indigenous young people do not finish year 12.

Despite his hand-wringing about the need to tackle disadvantage, Pesutto has refused to provide any details about how he intends to improve this, including any additional spending required. He looks to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

Amid the flimflamming, Pesutto and Walsh have clearly made a political calculation that the best move now is to crab-walk away from a treaty, using a series of flimsy and tortured justifications. In doing so, the opposition has embraced political opportunism in a disgraceful breach of faith.

The two party leaders, Pesutto and Walsh, have meanwhile failed a test of their leadership.

Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.



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