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Don’t treat referendum as election battle: Pearson

PM's final plea in case for Indigenous Voice

Leading Yes campaigner Noel Pearson has implored Australians to drop political party loyalties and think of the nation’s future when they vote at Saturday’s Indigenous Voice referendum.

But his plea came as last-minute polls appeared to show the referendum was doomed, with millions of Australians having already voted and millions more poised to turn out on Saturday.

Polls from YouGov and Roy Morgan, released on Thursday, suggested the No vote would poll 56 and 54 per cent respectively.

On Friday, a JWS Research poll for the Australian Financial Review found an even bleaker outlook for the Yes campaign. It put the No vote at 57 per cent.

It also reinforced the generational divide seen in many earlier polls.

“Among those polled who have already voted, 71 per cent have voted No and 29 per cent have voted Yes. Those polled are predominantly older voters who, the poll also shows, are far more hostile towards the Voice than their younger counterparts,” columnist Phillip Coorey wrote in a story headlined “Yes vote needs a miracle”.

“Support among those aged between 18 and 34 years is 53 per cent, dropping to 29 per cent for those aged 55 and older.”

To be successful, the referendum must win not only a majority of voters across Australia but also in four of the six states – known as a “double majority”.

On Friday, Pearson urged disgruntled voters to “take the bat to [Prime Minister] Anthony Albanese” at the next federal election rather than “slamming the door on the Aboriginal children”.

The Yes and No campaigns were using Friday to make final pitches on the question of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the constitution, with Albanese attending events in South Australia, Tasmania and NSW.

Pearson couldn’t disguise the desperation in his voice on Friday morning, pleading with Australians to vote ‘yes’ with “the destiny of our children and grandchildren at stake here”.

“This is not a federal election – if you want to take the bat to Anthony Albanese, do it in two years’ time at the next federal poll,” he told Sky News.

“This is not about Liberal versus Labor, One Nation versus the Greens … this is about the future of our country [and] I urge Australian voters to suspend your tribal loyalties … and vote for the country.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton appeared to begin eulogising the proposal on Friday, declaring Albanese had “written a cheque he couldn’t cash”.

“The PM made a catastrophic mistake not providing the detail to Australians – he’s instinctively won their hearts because Australians do want better outcomes for Indigenous Australia, but he hasn’t won their minds,” Dutton told ABC Radio.

“I hope people will vote no … people roundly have rejected the proposal, and the PM wrote a cheque that he couldn’t cash.”

But Dutton wouldn’t address the question when asked if he would need to reconcile his own party after the referendum.

A string of Liberals has queued up to back Yes, despite the party’s formal ‘no’ position. They include former prime ministers, the country’s only current Liberal premier, and former Liberal premiers and Indigenous Australians spokespeople.

Some current MPs have also fought for the Yes campaign. They include Julian Leeser, who quit Dutton’s frontbench to campaign in favour, and Tasmanian backbencher Bridget Archer.

Another former senior Liberal – former Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt – said he was disappointed with Dutton’s personal involvement in the No campaign and that Dutton had never had a serious discussion with him about the Voice.

“The arguments that he’s putting forward are not factual, they’re contentious, in order to create fear and division,” Wyatt told ABC Radio.

“Some of the tactics are copied out of America, the fake news, the statements of ‘you’ll end up paying Aboriginal people’, ‘you’ll lose land’, ‘you won’t be allowed to do this’ … that was never the intent.”

Albanese reiterated on Friday that the Voice was not his idea, but rather a generous proposal from Indigenous people.

“This is not my campaign, this is a request from First Australians made in 2017 at Uluru after years of consultation with thousands of Australians, across hundreds of meetings across many years,” he told Nine’s Today show.

-with AAP

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