Members of the Referendum Council have claimed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was “deceitful” in privately encouraging them to explore establishing an Indigenous advisory body. In Question Time yesterday, Turnbull said he told the Council in November 2016 that “I thought the prospects of such an amendment to the constitution being successful were absolutely zero”. However, Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson said Turnbull encouraged the Council to “undertake a disingenuous process of pretending to consult with the public” on a proposal he had no intention of approving. In a letter co-signed with opposition leader Bill Shorten and sent in December 2016, Turnbull recommended to the Council that “all models should be equally tested with the community”. Council co-chair Mark Leibler warned against compromise proposals to the constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament, saying ($) Indigenous people would “not countenance the substitution of what was a unanimous outpouring at Uluru”.
Queensland Nationals MP Ken O’Dowd has called for deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce to resign, prompting division in the Nationals party room. Fellow Queensland MP David Littleproud has dared Joyce’s critics to “put up or shut up”, while Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said Joyce “has the full support of the National Party”. Compounding Joyce’s terrible week, the ABC unearthed discrepancies between his official biography and Australian Defence Force records of his service in the Royal Queensland Regiment of the Army Reserve.
Former attorney-general Philip Ruddock’s review of religious freedom laws has been criticised by pro-marriage equality campaigners for intending to hold closed meetings, proceedings of which will be beyond the reach of Freedom of Information requests. In a joint proposal to the review, several churches have proposed limiting anti-discrimination laws to allow church-run institutions greater powers to hire and fire staff based on religious belief, as well as the creation of a “national religious freedom commissioner”. The Equality Campaign, meanwhile, will urge the review to recommend that religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws be abolished.
In Guatemala, Oxfam International chair Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight has been arrested by authorities, along with former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom and much of his former cabinet. Knight, Colom’s finance minister, was detained as part of a corruption investigation into the former government’s payment of $35 million to companies running Guatemala City’s bus system. Knight’s arrest is the latest in a series of scandals to rock Oxfam recently, with the charity still reeling from revelations some of its aid workers in Haiti used charity funds to pay sex workers after the 2010 earthquake.