Albanese to walk away from Voice if referendum flops

Despite the dismal polls, PM Albanese remains upbeat after casting his ballot.

Despite the dismal polls, PM Albanese remains upbeat after casting his ballot. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will walk away from the Indigenous Voice to Parliament if the Australian people reject the October 14 referendum.

The Voice has been central to Albanese’s prime ministership since he made establishing it the opening pledge of an election-night victory speech last May.

But the PM said on Sunday that if voters declined a proposal to entrench the advisory body in the nation’s Constitution, he would not establish one through legislation.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s position is to pass legislation creating local and regional Voices.

“If Australians vote No, I don’t believe that it would be appropriate to then go and say, oh, well, you’ve had your say, but we’re going to legislate anyway,” Albanese told the ABC.

“What we will do is respect the outcome of the referendum.”

Asked if he would walk away from the concept of the Indigenous Voice entirely if the referendum returned a No vote, Albanese said: “Correct.”

Albanese takes action on Voice debate

Fall in support

A Newspoll published on Sunday found support for the Voice had fallen to 34 per cent, down from peaks in the mid-60s early in the year.

The PM claimed recently that the referendum campaign, even if it fails, will have brought Indigenous policy to the forefront of public debate.

“That process in itself is something that I believe is positive; the fact that we’re talking about Indigenous disadvantage not on the fringes but on the front pages of newspapers,” he said.

A former chief justice of the High Court, Robert French, and others have recently lamented the polarising nature of the national conversation.

Calls from prominent figures in the ascendant No campaign this weekend for a policy reversal in remote communities were condemned by Indigenous leaders.

Two former Liberal prime ministers, Tony Abbott and John Howard, declared the Northern Territory a “failed state”, saying health and education services had not improved since the 2007 intervention.

‘Is this a joke?’

Professor Megan Davis, a co-chair of the Uluru Dialogue, slammed the intervention from the former prime ministers, published on the front page of The Australian, as a rewriting of history.

“Is this a joke?” she wrote. “The intervention was an unmitigated failure. How embarrassing for this paper. This inept policy analysis is precisely why a voice is needed.”

Howard’s 2007 intervention in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory included policy measures such as income management, compulsory health checks and alcohol restrictions. It drew condemnation from human rights organisations.

A No campaign group, Recognise a Better Way, also said on Sunday it would continue operating after the referendum as an organisation dedicated to publishing research on remote communities. 

Warren Mundine, a co-founder, argues against the Voice by claiming the most significant disparity in Australia is between Indigenous people in regional areas and those who live in cities.

Since the start of pre-polling on Monday, more than 2.2 million Australians have cast their votes in the referendum, the electoral commission said – more than at the equivalent point in last year’s federal election campaign.

Another 92,000 people have used mobile polling stations to vote, with 19,000 of those votes coming from remote areas.

Albanese said he was optimistic about the result on Saturday.

“The debate here is whether Australia will enlarge ourselves, whether we’re a country that looks for hope and optimism and for the future, or whether we’re shrinking in on ourselves,” he said.

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