The No Campaign has claimed Prime Minister Anthony is “effectively ignoring” Indigenous leaders and their voices, as the six-week referendum campaign kicks off.
Mr Albanese fired the starter’s gun on the Voice to parliament referendum campaign on Wednesday, confirming his worst kept secret — the vote will be held on October 14.
The Prime Minister arrived to a thunderous applause at the Playford Civic Centre in the working-class Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth on Wednesday morning.
“For many years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have advocated for constitutional recognition through a Voice. Our government, along with every single state and territory government, has committed to it. Legal experts have endorsed it,” Mr Albanese said.
“People on all sides of the parliament have backed it. Faith groups and sporting codes and local councils and businesses and unions have embraced it. An army of volunteers from every part of this great nation are throwing all of their energy behind it.
“Now, my fellow Australians, you can vote for it. Today I announce that referendum day will be 14 October.”
But Northern Territory Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, who is a strong No Campaign advocate, stated Mr Albanese is already “effectively ignoring” many Indigenous leaders and their voices, including her own.
“The Prime Minister is suggesting this is the only way forward to support our most marginalised Indigenous Australians,” Ms Price said.
“At no point did he make reference to Indigenous Australians, who he claims this proposal is supposed to support going forward,“ she said at a press conference.
“He made reference to corporates, to community groups, to faith groups but he didn’t make reference to the people that I represent in my constituency, some of the most marginalised Australians.”
Ms Price said the Voice to parliament was effectively an “elite proposal” designed to divide the country.
“It is evident to me this elite proposal is about division in our country. It is that old rule of divide and conquer that I can’t stand for,” she said.
“It is wrong to suggest we have not had a voice. Voices like mine, elected parliamentarians, like my good friend Warren Mundine speaking up, we are telling this Prime Minister our voices are relevant.
“The voices of those Indigenous people in this country that we represent who do not support this, who did not participate in the Uluru dialogues have spoken up. The prime minister is effectively ignoring us.”
“To suggest we have not had a voice is completely and utterly misleading.”
Joining Ms Price in Hobart on Wednesday, Warren Mundine, leader of the anti-Voice group called Recognise a Better Way, said the prime minister appeared to believe the Voice was a “magic wand”.
Mr Mundine condemned Mr Albanese and how the Yes Campaign had been run.
“Everyone knows the pressure that was put on me, to send me almost to suicidal positions, and this is what this Prime Minister has done,” he said.
“This prime minister from day one attacked people who had a different opinion to him, called them names and that opened up the floor for the whole division to start, with all the horrible racial abuse, with all the horrible bigotry that’s been going on out there, and it’s all Albo.”
Mr Mundine did not give specific examples of these allegations against the prime minister.
But he said he’s determined to stop the Voice from being enshrined into the constitution.
“I will swear on my mother and father’s grave that I will fight this and I will be out there every day championing the wonderful country that we’ve got, which is not a racist group of people,” he said.
“We’re not the racist country that these elite corporate people and football codes... say we are, and we have a wonderful country.”
“This thing is about division and dividing this country, and the racial abuse that we’ve been hearing over the last few months.”
Date confirmation sets up six-week campaign
The Prime Minister’s address to some 400 supporters in South Australia on Wednesday marks the last major announcement he will make before voting day, and the final chance to reset the Yes campaign strategy.
Wednesday’s declaration at the Yes23 launch will give the Yes campaign six weeks to turn the tide for Indigenous constitutional recognition, as opinion polls suggest support has been flagging.
South Australia is expected to be a key battleground and recent opinion polls have earmarked the state, along with Tasmania, for a tight race.
A survey of 605 South Australians by think tank The Australia Institute suggested the Yes vote now had the upper hand in the state, 43 per cent to 39 per cent.
One in five South Australians (18 per cent) remain undecided, according to the polling.
Meanwhile, separate polling from the Institute of Public Affairs suggested Tasmania is leaning towards a no vote.
The survey of 1,156 Tasmanians found 53 per cent were inclined to vote ‘no’, with just 42 per cent in support. Five per cent said they were undecided.
For the referendum to succeed, the Yes campaign needs to win four states and the national result to achieve a double majority.
The Voice to Parliament is Australia’s first referendum since 1999, when people were asked to consider if the nation should become a republic.
The last successful referendum occurred in 1977.
PM appeals to Australians to back the Voice
Screams of “yes” rung out as the Prime Minister read out the wording of the referendum in an impassioned appeal for Australians to back the advisory body on Wednesday.
Mr Albanese said the proposal was clear and straightforward.
“Let’s be very clear about the alternative. Because voting ‘no’ leads nowhere. It means nothing changes,” Mr Albanese said.
“Voting no closes the door on this opportunity to move forward (and) I say today, don’t close the door on constitutional recognition, don’t close the door on listening to communities to get better results.
“Don’t close the door on an idea that came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves.”
At the end of his speech, as he called on Australians to vote yes, the crowd rose to its feet and clapped furiously.
“With your energy and enthusiasm, this referendum can be won. And when Yes wins, all Australians will win,” he told the rally.
“So in a spirit of generosity and optimism, vote yes. In recognition of 65,000 years of history, vote yes. With hope for a better future, vote yes.”
Mr Albanese’s final words were almost drowned out by the applause of his supporters.
The Playford Civic Centre was packed to the brim with supporters wearing T-shirts with slogans calling for a Voice.
‘History is Calling,’ one read.
South Australian activist Tanya Hosch spoke with emotion about the recent amputation of her lower right leg and how her medical experience could have been improved by the Voice.
“A little over two weeks ago, I had my lower right leg amputated and so having left hospital only yesterday, I'm standing here on one leg today,” the AFL executive said.
“I have type two diabetes and I contracted a related disease that I have battled for three years and across six surgeries, trying to avoid the loss of my limb.
“I'm not without privilege and access to services, but still the service design let me down.
“I know that if we already had a permanent Voice in place, there would be people around that table that understand my story, my experience and what could make things better and different for me and for people like me.”
She spoke about the importance of Closing The Gap and said First Nations people were falling behind in areas such as life expectancy, child development, reducing suicide rates and young people in work or education and training.
“When we are not making progress, what are we left with?” she said.
Key Voice figure Professor Megan Davis received a rock star welcome as she made her way to the podium. The Uluru Statement from the Heart architect said Indigenous people should not have to become politicians to be heard.
“Our First Nations men and women in the dialogues who live in communities, they choose to stay on country and devote their lives to the service of their people, of their culture, of their communities.
“They should not have to move to Canberra to have a say in the laws and policies made about their lives.
“They should not have to be personal friends with bureaucrats or politicians or have ministers on speed dial-in order to influence the way their communities are funded and the way resources are allocated.”
She said more than 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people supported the Voice to parliament.
South Australian Premier Malinauskas said the Voice would add to his state’s long history of progressive reform, from suffrage to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
“To put it simply, South Australians care about one another, and that is true of the nation,” he said.
When he spoke about the history of Indigenous disadvantage, a cry of “shame” rang out in the room.
Supporters share why they’re backing the Voice
Rosalind Coleman, a Kaurna woman who lives in nearby Smithfield, told NCA NewsWire at the campaign event she had been a supporter of a Voice to parliament from “day one”.
“It’s our God-given right to be recognised in the Constitution,” she said.
“This is our country and we should be enshrined in the Constitution.”
Ms Coleman said she thought the country was divided because regular Australians didn’t know the detail of the proposal.
Melanie Carter, a lawyer from Largs Bay, said Indigenous Australians had been patient and it was time for the country to record a vote in support of First Australians.
“In the Constitution will mean we will always have a Voice,” she said.
“It can’t just be written away.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, who was also in attendance, said union leadership supported the Voice because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members had asked for it.
She said a strong voice to parliament would lead to better decisions for everyone.
“We’re going to be calling on South Australians to once again lead the country. To push the country forward to a new chapter.”
Afghan refugee Asma Safi said she was voting yes for “equality”. Ms Safi’s family fled the Taliban. Her mother was a member of the Afghan parliament and her father was a school principal.
“I came here because we want equality,” she said.
“They told us Australia was a peaceful country and that is why I am here today, to have equality between two groups.”
She said the Taliban stopped girls like her from going to school.
Ms Safi arrived in Australia nine years ago and now she is studying nursing at the University of South Australia.
She said she loved the freedom she has in Australia.
“I was not able to have freedom in my country,” she said.
Political foes join forces in day of action
The launch coincided with a day of action from the Yes campaign, with supporters from both sides of the political aisle joining forces to hand out flyers and doorknock.
Donned in a Yes23 T-shirt, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and wife Lucy joined Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to hand out flyers in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
Mr Turnbull did not support an Indigenous Voice during his time in the top job but told reporters on Wednesday morning that a lot had changed in the past six years.
“My government did not support the proposal when it was presented in 2017. There were two reasons for that. First, we didn't think it would be successful in a referendum, but I think that was six years ago, a lot has changed since then. It’s definitely winnable,” he said.
“The second thing was we struggled with the idea of having an office in the constitution, the qualifications of which were anything other than Australian citizens.
“But the Indigenous community have backed this issue in for six years and they have argued, and said, this is what we want for recognition.”
Meanwhile in Melbourne, Greens leader Adam Bandt and NDIS Minister Bill Shorten joined forces to hand out flyers to commuters Newmarket station.
The Prime Minister said Australians would continue to see former and current political foes come together throughout the campaign.
“This isn't a party political issue where people will see themselves as Labor voters or Liberal voters,” he said on Tuesday.
“You’ll continue to see a range of people out there campaigning, putting their views forward. But at the end of the day, what this is about is every single individual Australian.
“You and I have the same vote, one vote each.”