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On the eve of Parliament, Anthony Albanese sounds warning on Voice

PM accuses critics of trying to start a 'culture war'

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has invoked the spectre of anti-democratic uprisings in America and Brazil and accused opponents of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament of peddling disinformation in an attempt to start a culture war.

The PM has brought forward a referendum on the establishment of an Indigenous consultative body to the Parliament for the second half of this year but critics, including Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, say the proposal lacks detail and could be used to usher in further changes.

On the eve of this year’s opening session of Parliament, Mr Albanese used a speech to the Chifley Research Centre think tank on Sunday to warn that critics of the proposal were pushing false information on social media, “drumming up outrage, trying to start a culture war”.

Heed the warning

The Prime Minister said attempted insurrections overseas, on January 6, 2021 in the American capital and last month in Brazil had been fuelled by people “fallen headlong into poisonous conspiracy theories […and] a worldview of grievance and suspicion and betrayal”.

“We can condemn those events, but we must also heed the warning they carry,” he said.

But Mr Albanese said he was confident that Australian voters would be guided by democracy’s better angels.

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Leaders signed a “statement of intent” on Friday declaring their support for the referendum. Photo: AAP

“There are always those who want to create confusion and provoke division, to try and stall progress,” he said.

“Moments of national decision, such as this referendum, are also an opportunity for our people to show their best qualities – their generosity, their sense of fairness, their optimism for the future.

“That’s why I’m optimistic for the success of the referendum – because I’ve always been optimistic about the character of the Australian people.”

The ‘no’ campaign to the voice, whose leaders include former Coalition MP Warren Mundine and current Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, launched last week with a proposal to instead acknowledge Indigenous Australians and migrants in the “preamble” to the Constitution.

Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia’s chief executive Mohammad Al-Khafaji rebuffed the proposal for migrant recognition as unsolicited and “divisive”.

A poll last week showed support for the referendum falling marginally to 47 per cent of voters, with more than 20 per cent remaining undecided.

At national cabinet on Friday leaders of all states and territories signed a “statement of intent” declaring their support for the referendum.

Since Federation, only eight of 44 referendums have been carried, most recently a series of questions put to voters in 1977 including the imposition of a new retirement age of 70 for judges.

Referendums must win the support of a ‘double majority’ of Australians – or more than half of voters nationally but also be carried in a majority of states.

Coalition split

The Liberal party room is yet to vote on its stance on the referendum, but Mr Dutton has been critical of the idea from the outset and said it would not address substantive problems of Indigenous disadvantage.

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says the Voice is a distraction for addressing urgent needs. Photo: AAP

“The Prime Minister’s refusal to answer straightforward questions on how his Voice proposal will work is untenable,” he said last week after meeting the referendum working group.

Mr Albanese said on Sunday that constitutional recognition of Indigenous people would lead to better practical outcomes.

The government says that a proposal for enacting the voice has already been covered in detail in a report by academics Tom Calma and Marcia Langton.

The government plans to have the final shape of the Voice determined by legislation to come before the Parliament but it says the body will not have the power to allocate funds or pass legislation.

In addition to the statement of intent signed by state premiers Dominic Perrottet (NSW) and Jeremy Rockliff (Tasmania), senior Coalition figures have declared their support for the referendum.

Two have joined the board of the ‘yes’ campaign, including the party’s long-time pollster Mark Textor, and former chief of staff to John Howard, Tony Nutt.

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