Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney has labelled the rhetoric of No campaigners in the Voice referendum as “unbelievably racist” and stated that she felt personally targeted in the last fortnight.
Ms Burney’s comments were recorded on a hot mic while she was campaigning with NSW Premier Chris Minns in Sydney on Friday morning alongside other Yes campaigners.
“We’ve just finished two weeks of gruelling parliament … to me it’s just unbelievably racist and bullying. The way they have treated me is appalling,” she told Mr Minns as cameras were rolling.
A spokesman for Ms Burney said the minister was talking about the abuse she had been subjected to on social media as well contacts that had been made with her office and was not a reference to the way she had been treated in parliament.
In a statement Ms Burney said in recent months her office, social media and email accounts have been inundated with racist abuse.
She said that while “Racism takes its toll” she would never allow it to weaken or diminish her resolve to see Australia embrace constitutional recognition through a Voice.
“My message to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are experiencing racism is this: hold your head high, be proud of your identity and who you are,” she said.
Ms Burney also took aim at her opposition counterpart, opposition Indigenous affairs spokesperson and leading No campaigner senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, after she stated that Australia’s colonisation had a positive impact on Indigenous people in an address to the National Press Club on Thursday.
“No, there is no ongoing negative impacts of colonisation,” Senator Price told an audience at the Press Club.
“If we keep telling Aboriginal people that they are victims, we are effectively removing their agency and giving them the expectation that someone else is responsible for their lives.
“That is the worst possible thing you can do to any human being, to tell them that they are a victim without agency. And that is what I refuse to do.”
Senator Price’s comments subsequently drew the ire of the government and the Yes campaign.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Ms Burney said “There are many people I’ve spoken to last night, this morning, that are very distressed and quite frankly, pretty disgusted. But I am going to focus on the goal here and that is a successful referendum.”
“It’s a real betrayal to the many families that have experienced things like Stolen Generations.
“The idea that colonisation in any country … doesn’t have long and far-reaching effects is simply wrong.”
Senator Price also cast doubt on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s promise of a second referendum if the Voice failed in questions following her address.
Voters will head to the polls on October 14 to decide on whether to recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution through an enshrined Voice to Parliament.
The Yes camp, and the government, have argued the Voice is needed to close the gaps in Indigenous disadvantage.
But the opposition appears divided on what alternative it would support should the Voice referendum fail.
Previously, Mr Dutton has stated his support for local and regional voices to advise government, rather than a national Voice, but only if they were legislated and not baked into the Constitution.
He has previously said he wants a second referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition should the Voice to Parliament fail.
However, Senator Price and Nationals leader David Littleproud have failed to back the call.
When asked about his promise on Friday, Mr Dutton claimed “nobody wants a second referendum”.
“What we've said is that we want reconciliation. I don’t believe people if they vote no on October 14 are voting against helping Indigenous Australians,” he told the Today show.
“I don't believe they’re voting against recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution. But they are voting against a Voice.
“So our argument is let's have a unifying moment instead of a dividing moment. The question should just be recognition.”
Nationals leader in the Senate, Bridget McKenzie, however said Mr Dutton had been “very clear” that “we’re going to a referendum on recognition”.
“We’re going to focus on defeating the Voice, for me from my end, and hopefully winning the next election if we get that great privilege … they’re exactly the questions we’ll be considering,” she told 2GB.