One of the anti-Voice campaign leaders, Labor-turned-Liberal figure Warren Mundine, praised Dutton’s decision, claiming it gave the No campaign a better chance of success.
“She’s now the shadow minister. That shows the Liberal Party under Dutton is definitely a ‘No’ Liberal Party,” he said, adding that he believed the referendum was on track to fail.
“What a vision: two Aboriginal women [Price and Kerrynne Liddle] are going into the cabinet, both strong No supporters.“
The ambitious 41-year-old is a fierce critic of what she calls the elite Indigenous establishment; a group she asserts will be financially and politically rewarded by the creation of the Voice advisory body.
Her labeling of the Voice as a bureaucratic, top-down body drew praise from fellow Indigenous senator Lidia Thorpe in January, before Thorpe left the Greens to kickstart her own campaign against the Voice, arguing it was not radical enough.
“Both of us in our collective experience have seen numerous advisory bodies try and fix things and fail. She has also seen the handpicked spokespeople for our people, who she doesn’t agree with, and nor do I,” Thorpe told this masthead at that time.
But mainstream Indigenous leaders flatly reject her arguments, pointing to overwhelming support for the Voice in Indigenous communities, which is supported by public polling.
Voice architect Noel Pearson has no time for her, and their disagreement has been abrasive and personal. Last year he claimed Price was being used by right-wing think tanks to “punch down on other black fellas”.
Price condemned the remarks as “ugly”. “We didn’t need a crystal ball to know that if you do not agree with the Voice to parliament, you will be called names,” she responded.
Thomas Mayor, a unionist and Yes campaign leader, doubts that Price legitimately listens to Aboriginal people on the ground.
“I can’t imagine we would speak with her,” he said of the mainstream Indigenous advocacy community who support the Voice.
Mayor said voters were more interested in the referendum proposal and its practical implications than Price and Dutton’s political manoeuvres.
Liddle, a Liberal senator from Alice Springs, has worked alongside Price since they were both elected in May. She was also promoted on Tuesday, and is now the Coalition’s spokesperson for child protection and family violence.
Liddle said Price had been focussed on the welfare of Aboriginal people for much of her career.
“[Price has] the commitment, enthusiasm, willingness to interrogate the issues, the willingness to push back when she feels people aren’t paying appropriate attention,” Liddle said.
Former Liberal operative Tony Barry said Dutton was taking a risk in promoting Price, though it might pay off.
“In this case the reward is that Senator Price is a very articulate and powerful advocate with lived experience who can punch holes through the details of the proposal,” the director at Redbridge political consultancy said.
“The risk is she overreaches by playing to the Sky After Dark crowd instead of focusing on message discipline, repetition and reach.”
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.