The deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, will accuse the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, of using the voice referendum as a “platform for an early election” and a “re-election vanity project” in a speech in Perth on Friday.
After the formal launch of the yes campaign in Adelaide on Thursday night, Ley will declare the prime minister is “laying traps” and “willing the Coalition to oppose” the landmark constitutional change rather than seeking a constructive bipartisan stance.
“Anthony Albanese would rather see the Liberal party say no and this referendum fail, than the Liberal party say yes and this referendum succeed – and that’s at the heart of everything driving his agenda on this issue,” Ley will say.
Ley’s attack follows both Albanese and the opposition leadership using the opportunity of a non-parliamentary week to court voters in Western Australia, where a strong swing towards Labor in the federal election last May was the bedrock of Albanese’s election victory.
A heightening of combative rhetoric from the opposition on the voice, on potential changes to superannuation concessions and on Labor’s national reconstruction fund coincides with the major parties preparing to face-off in a byelection in the seat of Aston in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne on 1 April.
Ley will deliver the speech to Liberals in the WA electorate of Curtin – a seat the party lost last year to teal independent Kate Chaney. The deputy Liberal leader contending Albanese is tilling the ground for an early election with his positioning on the voice reflects what a number of Liberals and Nationals are saying privately.
While Albanese believes the country suffers from conflict fatigue, Ley will argue on Friday the most effective strategy for the Coalition to regain office federally is to “set up clearer distinctions between the values we hold and the ones Labor holds – what our priorities are versus what their priorities are.”
But Ley will also argue the Liberal party can’t afford to write off seats it lost to the teal independents last May, so the opposition needs to remain a broad church appealing to “a range of communities and demographics”.
Addressing the collapse in support for Liberals among professional women last May, Ley will say the party “won’t be relying on weasel words to demonstrate to the women of Australia that we are listening and learning – we’ll rely on a set of policies that clearly shows our commitment to making their lives better”.
Ahead of Ley declaring on Friday that Albanese wanted the voice referendum to succeed “but only on his terms”, the prime minister told reporters in Adelaide on Thursday he was seeking bipartisanship for the referendum campaign.
The prime minister said he had accepted a request from the Liberal party to ensure voters were given an official pamphlet to help inform their votes later this year. Negotiations between the major parties continue on the pamphlet, which the government planned to scrap but maintained after a request from the Liberals.
“I think that I’ve made my position very, very clear,” Albanese said. “I want to secure maximum support for this.”
The prime minister said Australians would look at the positioning over the summer by Peter Dutton and people would “draw their own conclusions.”
While the major parties traded blows, Greens First Nations spokesperson, Dorinda Cox, spent the past two days in Toormina [Coffs Harbour], as part of the Senate inquiry into missing and murdered First Nations women and children first on-country hearings.
Cox said the testimony of grieving families and how they were treated when their loved one went missing or was murdered highlighted the need for systemic change.
“What has stayed with me, and affected me most, is the evidence of a mother who was questioned over whether her daughter really belonged to her because of her blond hair and fairer complexion,” she said.
“This is racism, and it’s something that all Australians need to reckon with.”
Cox said while the Senate inquiry could make strong recommendations for change, the referendum provided further opportunity.
“This can be a unifying moment for all Australians and I want justice and safety for First Nations women and children to be a part of that national conversation.”