The Yes23 referendum campaign thought that their goal of enshrining an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Australian Constitution would be easy. They saw the polls last year showing a yes vote was in the high 50s that it was a done deal.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney want the voice to be theirs and Labor’s legacy. Albanese’s refusal to provide Opposition Leader Peter Dutton with more detail about how the voice would be elected and operate was designed to both alienate the Liberal Party from supporting the voice and also because detail would invite more scrutiny on the voice.
When Peter Dutton announced that the Federal Liberal Opposition would formally oppose and campaign against the voice it was said this would sink Dutton’s leadership and consign the Liberals to a generation of Opposition. The fact that Julian Leeser resigned as Shadow Attorney-General to campaign for a yes vote allowed the media to claim the Liberals were divided.
The Indigenous activist heavy hitters also whacked Peter Dutton with Marcia Langton claiming his no campaign relies on “deceit and misrepresentations” and Noel Pearson calling it a “Judas betrayal”
But now polling for the voice has it receiving less than 50% nationally if you include still undecided voters. If the trend in these polls continues to referendum day and more undecided voters break for the no vote, the voice will be defeated. Only 8 referendums out of 44 constitutional referendums have been successful since Australia’s Federation in 1901. Australians are historically constitutionally conservative and have to be convinced that a change to the constitution is both needed and urgent.
The yes campaign is being sold as constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australia in the form of the voice. But this is intellectually dishonest and disingenuous. The proposed constitutional amendment allows the voice to make representations to both parliament and the executive. We have no idea how the High Court will interpret the voice if it becomes part of the Constitution. The process of government could be slowed until the voice has its say, or it could lead to projects being cancelled despite yes advocates claiming it is only an advisory body and doesn’t have veto power.
The Yes23 campaign is yet to spend its $10 million AUD war chest which they believe could turn the polls around. On National Sorry Day last Friday, they trumpeted that over 20 sporting codes are supporting the Yes campaign. Yes advocates have engaged in another round of race blackmail during National Reconciliation Week. This is not a grassroots campaign but is being directed by the Albanese Government and the top end of town.
The no campaign by contrast is grassroots led by Indengious leaders on the ground in rural and remote communities. While Warren Mundine and Senatoer Jacinta Price may be the central no spokespeople they have engaged with numerous Indigenous stakeholder groups and know that the symbolic Canberra-centered voice will not make a practical difference to Indigenous welfare.
So what does a desperate yes campaign have left? Well, it always had the race card up its sleeve it can play at any time. Marcia Langton has said if Australia votes no “then the racists will feel emboldened”. Former Morrison Indengious Affairs Ken Wyatt claimed the Liberals opposing the voice would add to the global perception it is a “racist party”.
In Senate Estimates last week Mike Burgess the Director-General of ASIO claimed the voice campaign could trigger “spontaneous” instances of violence because conflicting views may see protests and counter-protests on the streets.
Last week when Albanese Government introduced the voice referendum legislation to the House of Representatives with various MPs making second reading speeches for and against. Nationals MP Pat Conaghan said in his speech that the conflation of Constitution recognition with the voice “ is a cause for concern for many”. In response, NSW Supreme Court Judge Ian Harrison sent Conaghan an email calling his argument “disgusting” claiming “You obviously do not understand or appreciate the depths of paternalism and racism that oozed from your words”.
The stepping away Stan Grant from the media because of alleged racist abuse has been linked to the voice debate. Dan Bourchier the ABC’s official voice referendum correspondent said that Stan Grant’s announcement coincides with an increase in online hate in the lead-up to the referendum campaign. Bourchier said on ABC Insiders last Sunday “We are already facing an existential threat with race in this country”.
The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria wrote an open letter to Facebook’s parent company Meta accusing them of allowing highly offensive racial slurs as part of its community guidelines. The Assembly’s head of communications Amy Rust linked this to the no-referendum side “There’s no doubt the increase we’re copping at the moment is linked to the constant political debate about the Voice to Parliament and the kind of dog whistling that we get from the conservative side of politics has a flow-on effect”.
Over on Twitter, a Queensland University of Technology analysis found the most active Twitter accounts opposing the Indigenous Voice to Parliament aren’t using their real names and are out tweeting the no side 61% to 35% in the debate. While the analysis found little evidence bots were being used in the voice campaign it claimed tweets supporting the No side have twice the amount of offensive language.
Voice advocates have also claimed a no vote would damage Australia’s international reputation with Wesfarmers Chairman Michael Chaney saying on a podcast that international shareholders were looking at the voice debate with “great interest” and would question if Australia really was a “fair place” if Australians voted no.
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan has claimed “the Voice is not about race” and if does become about race it would give confidence to some people “to embark on a journey which they ought not to”. But in the same interview with the ABC he said: “It’s about participation, it’s about equity, it’s about elevating the position of First Nations’ people”.
On Monday Anthony Albanese while delivering the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration labelled no campaigners “Chicken Littles” vowing that “Australians won’t fall for appeals to fear and the ‘No’ campaign’s ever more ludicrous invitations to jump at our own shadows. That’s because Australians have a healthy scepticism of doomsayers”.
However the next morning following backlash to his “Chicken Littles” remarks ” he told Radio 5AA in Adelaide that no voters are entitled to their views and aren’t racist.
Anthony Albanese and his Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney have told Australians to vote yes and ‘be on the right side of history’. The subtext is definitely don’t be on the side where you’ll either be branded “racist” or blamed in the future for contributing to Indigenous disadvantage. This is a form of blackmail against Australian voters, vote yes or you’ll forever be judged as being on the side of racists against this inevitable reform.