Senator Lidia Thorpe has quit the Greens and will move to the crossbench as an independent to pursue a campaign for truth and treaty before a Voice to Parliament, as leader of what she called the “Blak sovereign movement”.
“It has become clear to me that I can’t do that from within the Greens. Now, I will be able to speak freely, on all issues, from a sovereign perspective, without being constrained by portfolios and agreed party positions,” Thorpe told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
“Greens MPs, members and supporters have told me they want to support the Voice. This is at odds with the community of activists who are saying treaty before Voice.”
The announcement came after a partyroom meeting on Monday, and will likely resolve long-running party fractures over the federal Greens position on the Voice to Parliament, after the party failed to reach a consensus at a retreat in Victoria last week
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Greens Leader Adam Bandt denied he had “pushed out” Thorpe over the disagreement.
“I’ve just made it clear that I tried very hard to get Senator Thorpe to stay,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I wanted her to stay, felt that there was a place for her in the party. She’s obviously come to a different view. I’m sad about that, but that’s what she’s decided.”
Thorpe’s departure will also reconcile the Greens party position on the Voice with its voter intentions, should the party announce its support for constitutional recognition in the coming days.
According to a Resolve Political Monitor poll commissioned by the Nine papers and released late January, the Voice’s biggest supporters are Greens voters, of whom 51% said they were a “definite Yes”.
Among Labor voters, 34% said they were committed to the Yes camp, while just 10% of Coalition voters said they’d follow suit.
Thorpe said her formal position on the Voice continues to hang in the balance, but that she will continue to negotiate with Labor on implementing the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home report.
The senator said she would continue to vote with the Greens on climate change.
At his press conference, Bandt thanked Thorpe for commitments to continue voting with the Greens on climate change, but couldn’t be drawn on whether she would vote with them on other issues.
Bandt said he offered to take the Voice portfolio off her hands in the event she wanted to vote at odds with the party, if it meant she would stay.
“She’s obviously decided to adopt a different course. I wish she had made a different decision, but I understand the reasons that she has given for that decision,” Bandt said.
Thorpe has been a vocal critic of Labor’s plan to take a Voice to Parliament to a referendum this year, instead calling for truth and treaty to come first, for fears a Voice could undermine First Nations sovereignty.
Some constitutional experts, along with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, have rejected the suggestion that a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament would undermine First Nations sovereignty.
Thorpe’s move to the crossbench could complicate legislative passage on a number of issues for the Albanese government, which will now need the support of the Greens in the Senate as well as two independents to push through its agenda.
Late last month, Thorpe refused to rule out her legislative options ahead of a referendum if it could expedite the government’s commitment to truth-telling and treaty, as she prepared to stand alongside Invasion Day rally organisers in opposing the government’s plans for a Voice.
She has since insisted to her former party colleagues that she alone meet with Indigenous communities to discuss the Voice, after she was given free rein by the partyroom last week to campaign against constitutional recognition should the party join the Yes camp this week.
The Greens will meet again on Monday evening before announcing a formal position on the Voice to Parliament this week.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Bandt had offered to take the First Nations portfolio if Thorpe would stay in the party. In fact he offered to take the Voice portfolio.