Greens leader Adam Bandt has implored members to stick with them in the wake of Lidia Thorpe’s resignation, revealing their First Nations advisory group’s counsel is that the party “cannot say no” to the voice to parliament despite Thorpe’s own objections.
The federal Greens’ decision to campaign for the voice comes after they secured guarantees on funding for the truth and treaty elements of the Uluru statement. But one elected Greens member has already quit the party in the wake of Thorpe’s departure, claiming Bandt had adopted a “contradictory policy position” and undermined their former colleague.
The party will hold an extraordinary national council meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the fallout.
“I know that the results with Senator Thorpe leaving the party to sit on the crossbench will make a lot of people across Victoria sad,” Bandt said. “I’m also feeling sad. Our position remains our position. Our job now is to deal with the cards as they have fallen.”
Thorpe’s sudden resignation was followed hours later by the Greens formally resolving to support the voice, a position she – as the party’s First Nations spokesperson – had resisted for months.
Bandt and the deputy leader, Mehreen Faruqi, wrote to party members on Monday night after Thorpe’s departure to explain their decision on the voice. In the email, obtained by Guardian Australia, they said the decision came after consulting their First Nations advisory group, known as the Blak Greens.
“The Blak Greens convenors advised us that there are a diversity of perspectives within the party and in the broader community but at the end of the day we cannot say no to a voice to parliament,” Bandt and Faruqi wrote.
They also noted the specific advice given by the government’s expert legal group, previously reported by Guardian Australia, that Indigenous sovereignty would not be affected by the voice. Bandt and Faruqi said they still believed a treaty should come first and that they would not “let the government off the hook” on the other parts of the Uluru statement.
There is concern among some in the party that Thorpe’s decision to quit in order to lead a Blak Sovereignty movement may see further defections of some activist members loyal to her.
James Conlan, a Greens councillor on Victoria’s Merri-Bek council, quit the party and posted a 23-tweet thread criticising his former colleagues over their dealings regarding Thorpe and the voice.
“The Greens’ unambiguous policy position, which prioritises Treaty before Voice, may be inconvenient in the current political context. But this is the policy of the party,” he tweeted.
Conlan claimed “the party establishment have ostracised, isolated and publicly undermined” Thorpe over her advocacy for treaty and truth before voice. He claimed the Greens federal party room’s position was contradictory in backing voice before treaty.
Bandt said the Greens has secured further funding for truth and treaty from the Labor government, in addition to funding for those provisions in the October budget. Neither Bandt, nor the Indigenous Australians minister, Linda Burney, have released details of those guarantees.
West Australian senator Dorinda Cox, a Yamatji-Noongar woman, is expected to replace Thorpe as First Nations spokesperson. She believes the Greens had received enough information to officially back the voice, and welcomed government commitments on truth and treaty.
“We do need voice and that’s why we’re backing it, we need to secure that in a way we can move forward … in order to make sure we get a treaty,” Cox said.
Cox also said she backed funding for an official pamphlet outlining the yes and no cases for the referendum, raising concerns about “amplification of incorrect information”. The Coalition and other groups on both sides of the referendum have called on the government to reverse its decision to scrap funding for the pamphlet.
In her first interview since quitting, Thorpe told the ABC she hadn’t been invited to meet the government’s internal referendum groups, while opposition leader Peter Dutton had.
“Let’s bring the groups together. It will be a conversation that we need to have. We don’t want to fight each other out in the public, we want to unite but we have to ensure that we get some wins along the way,” Thorpe said.
She called for the government to put explicit provisions around sovereignty in the constitution and the referendum legislation.
Members of the Blak Greens and several state conveners will attend Tuesday’s special meeting, though there won’t be a Victorian state council representative given its constitution recently abolished the convener position.
A senior Australian Greens source expected there would be “lots of feelings” aired at the meeting but dismissed the possibility of a grassroots revolt following Thorpe’s defection.
“Undeniably a lot of people are sad, some are hurt, some are frustrated but the vast majority of us saw in the last couple weeks that this was going to be the inevitable conclusion,” they said.
A Victorian Greens member also dismissed talk of a possible rift.
“The Victorian party is filled with lots of people from different ideological groupings; it’s much more radical than other states. The vast majority of the Victorian Greens want to support the voice but among some smaller groupings, this is not the case and most members respect and understand that,” they said.
“I wouldn’t characterise what’s going on as some huge, massive, festering wound in the party. I don’t think we will be seeing mass resignations.”
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