Both the Yes and No vote campaigns have submitted their official cases to the Australian Electoral Commission, drawing up the battle lines for the upcoming referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Each side has been given 2,000 words to lay out their arguments which will then be used by the AEC to print and send pamphlets to every Australian household explaining what they’re voting for.
The Yes campaign is urging “unity, hope and to make a positive difference” while the No campaign is hinging on the “risk” factor, telling Aussies “if you don’t know, vote no.”
Neither case has been independently verified and will be sent out without fact-checking, despite calls for auditing of the information. However, each case has been authorised by a majority of MPs who voted for or against the proposed change to the Constitution.
The printing and delivery are estimated to cost $10 million and each pamphlet will arrive no later than 2 weeks before the referendum.
There is currently no date set for the referendum, although the Prime Minister has said that a date will be chosen sometime between October and December.
Already there has been controversy since the official cases have been made. Professor Greg Craven, a constitutional expert and a Yes supporter, has said he is “absolutely furious” about being quoted in the No campaign’s pamphlet.
Craven had previously questioned the draft amendment, saying it was “fatally flawed” and would lead to “regular judicial interventions.” He has since walked back these comments, saying the Voice isn’t “merely a good idea – it’s the decent thing.”
He had requested that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton remove his comments from the No campaign leaflet, but they have been included anyway.
Independent Indigenous Senator Lidia Thorpe has also attacked both Yes and No vote campaigns, criticising them for their lack of detail.
“This whole Voice business is nothing but a smoke screen to cover up the continued process of the violent colonisation of this country,” Thorpe said of the Yes campaign.
“The No campaign have clearly taken advantage of the pamphlet not being fact-checked and done more to embolden racists than they have to argue against the Voice,” she said of the opposing side.
Thorpe will be releasing her own Blak Sovereign Movement’s assessment of both sides.
The cases for each side have been submitted at a bad time for the Yes campaign, which appears to have its support draining away. A YouGov survey conducted on behalf of The Australian shows that just 41% of the country plan on voting Yes. 48% will be voting No, while 11% are still undecided.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said that the Yes campaign needs to be “stronger” and must overcome the “relentless negativity” of the Opposition.
The Indigenous Voice to Parliament
The upcoming referendum will ask the Australian public:
“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
“Do you approve of this proposed alteration?”
If the Yes vote wins a majority, the Australian Constitution will be updated to create a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The Voice can make representations to Parliament and Government on issues relating to Indigenous people.
It’s not a legislative body, in that it can’t make laws, and its advice is drawn from a hierarchy of Indigenous community representatives at the local, state, and national level.
Here’s what the Yes and No vote campaigns have to say.
The Yes Vote
The Yes campaign is all about ‘making a positive difference’. Their pamphlet claims that the idea for the Voice came directly from Indigenous people and would enable them to lead better lives.
“Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution and paying
respect to 65,000 years of culture and tradition,” the pamphlet reads.
“Listening to advice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about matters that
affect their lives, so governments make better decisions.
“Making practical progress in Indigenous health, education, employment and housing, so
people have a better life”.
The Yes Campaign says that Indigenous people have a shorter life expectancy than non-indigenous, that they suffer worse rates of disease and infant mortality, that they have a suicide rate twice that of non-Indigenous people, and that there are fewer educational and training opportunities.
All of these, and more, will be addressed by the Voice as it will better enable governments to listen to Indigenous people about the issues affecting them.
“The Voice is a vehicle to deliver real improvements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” the Yes campaign says.
They cite the creation of community-led Indigenous health centres, schools, and Indigenous rangers as examples of how “listening works” to improve outcomes for Indigenous people.
The campaign appeals to unity, drawing on the positive impacts of the 1967 referendum that allowed Indigenous people to be counted in census data. It also says that the Voice will make government more effective in funding solutions that are actually requested by Indigenous people.
“Let’s vote Yes for recognition, listening and better results,” he Yes campaign writes.
“Let’s vote Yes to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live better lives with more opportunities for their children.
“In a spirit of unity, let’s vote Yes together.”
The No Vote
Risk and uncertainty are the name of the game in the No campaign. The words “risky,” “unknown,” “divisive,” and “permanent” are written in bold on the first page of their case.
The scope of the Voice is a major concern for the No campaign. They are also concerned that this would be a first step to abolishing Australia Day, changing the flag, and “other institutions and symbols important to Australians.” Fears about “activists” and the eventual paying of reparations to Indigenous people would soon be coming down the track if the Voice was established.
“This Voice model isn’t just to the Parliament, it goes much further – to all areas of ‘Executive Government’. That includes all government departments, agencies and other bodies (like the Reserve Bank),” the No campaign writes.
They also baulk at the bureaucracy of it all, saying that it won’t be effective and will delay government decision-making.
“There are currently hundreds of Indigenous representative bodies at all levels of government, along with the National Indigenous Australians Agency, which has 1,400 staff,” they write.
“Right now, many voices are crying out for help in tackling devastating social problems in some remote communities. What’s needed is action”.
What the No campaign is eager to press is that a vote for them wouldn’t be a vote rooted in prejudice. In fact, it’s a vote for yes that would be.
“We all want to help Indigenous Australians in disadvantaged communities, to close the gap and achieve reconciliation,” they write.
Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians and Warlpiri woman, is quoted in the pamphlet as saying that “This Voice will not unite us, it will divide us by race”.
The No campaign sets out the argument that Indigenous people would be getting special treatment under the Constitution if the Voice went ahead and that this is against key democratic principles.
Ultimately, they claim that there are “better ways forward” when it comes to helping Indigenous people and that a “less risky” change might be more acceptable. They don’t outline what those current changes would look like, however.
“This is a very important decision. Unfortunately, the legitimate questions and concerns of many Australians have been dismissed.
“Fortunately, this referendum won’t be decided by politicians, corporations or celebrities. It will be decided by every Australian. It affects every Australian.
“If you don’t know, vote no”.