Anthony Albanese says the Voice referendum campaign will be relatively short and has declared the yes advocates need to be stronger in putting the argument for the change.
The Prime Minister’s latest intervention comes as the yes and no cases for the pamphlet that will go to voters will be released by the Australian Electoral Commission on Tuesday, and the latest Newspoll showed support for the Voice continuing to erode.
The yes and no cases have been prepared by advocates on each side.
The formal yes case paints the Voice as an opportunity to improve the conditions of Indigenous people, while the no case puts strong emphasis on risks.
The yes case declares the proposed change to the constitution is about recognition, listening and results. “Vote Yes for unity, hope and to make a positive difference”, it says.
The no case declares the change legally risky, with unknown consequences, and divisive. “If you don’t know, vote no.”
Albanese indicated a campaign of five to six weeks would be appropriate. “You might have a bit longer than the usual [required] 33 days”, he told Sky. “I don’t think that Australians appreciate very long campaigns”. So he will not announce the referendum date at the Garma festival early next month, and on Monday stuck to his standard line that the vote will be in the final quarter of the year. The speculation has been the referendum is likely to be mid-October.
The pamphlet’s yes case says listening to Indigenous Australians “will mean better results – and better value for money”.
“No-one thinks the Voice will instantly solve everything – but we will finally have the right approach in place,” it says.
“Voting no means nothing will change. It means accepting we can’t do better,” it says. Voters should not risk “more of the same” – worse life expectancy, and worse results in education, employment and health.
“Vote yes to help close the gap.”
Voting yes means “becoming reconciled with our past and moving to a better future”. “Other countries with similar histories, like Canada and New Zealand, formally recognised their own First Peoples decades ago.”
While the yes case showcased the unifying opportunity the change presented, the no case highlighted the potential for division.
“Enshrining a Voice in the Constitution for only one group of Australians means permanently dividing our country,” the no case says.
“It creates different classes of citizenship through an unknown body that has the full force of the Constitution behind it. Many Indigenous Australians do not support this.”
The Voice opens the way for legal appeals and delays, presenting “a risk of dysfunctional government”, and “it opens the door for activists”, the no case says. “Some Voice supporters are upfront in saying this Voice will be a first step to reparations and compensation and other radical changes.”
The no case says recognition of Indigenous Australians “can be achieved without tying it to a risky, unknown and permanent Voice”.
This week’s Newspoll contained further bad news for the government. It had the no vote on 48%, compared to 41% for yes, with 11% “don’t knows”. Last month a Newspoll had support for the no side on 47%, yes on 43%, and 10% in the “don’t know” category.
The latest poll found the yes case doing particularly badly among women (38%) and those in the regions (31%).
Albanese is putting his faith in people becoming more inclined to vote yes when they focus once the campaigning intensifies.
“Most Australians, of course, will focus when the referendum is actually being held. It’s a while to go yet. What we know is that there’s been a considerable no campaign already that is out there just trying to sow doubt,” he said.
“The yes campaign needs to be stronger in putting the case, because we know that referendums in Australia have been difficult to pass – only eight out of 48. But this is a clear and simple proposition for recognition and then listening in order to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.”
Liberal MP Julian Leeser, who quit the opposition frontbench to campaign for the yes case, on Monday defended leading yes figures from attacks from no campaigners.
He said Thomas Mayo was “being made a trope for the ‘angry Aboriginal man’ who wants to tear down the country.
"The spliced videos of the no case using Thomas Mayo’s words are meant to get you angry, and get you voting against a person, even though this person is not on the ballot paper,” Leeser said.
No campaign strategists have used footage of Mayo previously threatening that politicians would be punished if they ignored an Indigenous advisory body.
Leeser defended Minister for Indigenous Australia Linda Burney from those attacking her as “privileged”.
“We are seeing deeply personal characterisations made about her that would not be made about federal ministers such as Jason Clare, Chris Bowen, or Richard Marles.
"I can’t remember the last time they were called privileged and challenged for somehow rising above their station in life.
"The reality is that Linda has not had a privileged life,” Leeser said, speaking in Wagga Wagga.
On the contrary Burney, born to a single mother and raised by an aunty and uncle in country NSW, “is a reminder of the challenges and difficulties many Indigenous Australians have to overcome every day. And she is a reminder of what can be achieved too,” he said.