When Barnaby Joyce first dubbed a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous voice a "third chamber" of Parliament, it became a rallying cry for people opposed to the proposition.
Malcolm Turnbull - and later Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton - all adopted the "third chamber" moniker and argued Australians would not truck another legislative body at the federal level. It was a brutal lesson in the power of labels and rhetoric to destroy an idea.
Mr Joyce now admits he had never been able to justify the claim. "If someone had asked me how it was a third chamber, I wouldn't have had an answer to that question," he says.
The former deputy prime minister admitted on Thursday he had made a mistake, just as he was wrong to oppose the banking royal commission. He said he made the claim because the matter was "foggy" and "no one knew exactly what the details were".
Mr Joyce says he learnt otherwise over a long period of time by reading, watching NITV and talking with Aboriginal leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine. He was slowly convinced there was no evidence of a third chamber.
"There was no epiphany," he says. "It's like the bloody night parrot [the elusive native bird]. It's not a matter of proving it's there, it's proving it's not there. I got myself into that trap with the third chamber."
The significance of Mr Joyce's admission (on the same day he supported an increase to the Newstart payment for jobseekers) has been noted by colleagues, with a shocked Liberal MP asking: "He is becoming a one-member party. But why?"
His mea culpa appeared just hours before former High Court chief justice Murray Gleeson delivered a landmark speech making the legal and ethical case for a voice to be enshrined in the Australian constitution.
Mr Gleeson said the founding document could contain some "minimum requirements" for an Indigenous voice, with its structure, composition and functions set out by Parliament.
Mr Pearson described Mr Gleeson's speech as "a really singular moment in this campaign". Liberal MP Julian Leeser, who chaired a committee into Indigenous recognition last year, said the intervention from the former High Court chief was "rare" and "very significant".
Under Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians, the government will explore options for legislating a voice to Parliament. However, it will not seek to include the body in the nation's founding document.
Mr Joyce's Nationals colleagues also remain divided on whether a voice to Parliament would constitute a third chamber, arguing more detail was required.
"I just want a viable feasible option but forward. At the moment all we've got is a concept. We're dancing in the dark here," said Nationals MP Damian Drum on Friday.
"I've never supported a third chamber. I don't think mainstream Australia supports a third chamber. And the sooner a third chamber is taken off the agenda the quicker we are going to reach true reconciliation."
Nationals MP David Gillespie said "a voice doesn't mean it's a legislative chamber, that is a different issue". But he added: "The best way for Indigenous Australians to get a voice in Parliament is to get more Indigenous people to run for Parliament".
Mr Mundine, who spoke to Mr Joyce about the issue on Thursday prior to his mea culpa, said many MPs still needed to be convinced of the merits of a voice to Parliament.
"People need to be shown ... how this operates and how the governance happens," he said.
"There are some very strong views. Just saying it's not a third chamber is not an answer. You have actually got to show the meat on the bones that it isn't."
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack did not respond to a requst for comment.
- SMH/The Age