Michael Pascoe: Shame! Dutton’s cynical ’No’ campaign has scarred our nation’s soul

Fifty years ago, the Whitlam Labor Government lowered the voting age to 18, granting me my first visit to a polling booth the next year.

There have been quite a few visits since then, all with a sense of privilege and a feeling of community whatever the outcome.

I’ve viewed those polling booth visits as our second national day, after ANZAC Day, when Australians all have somewhat rejoiced in seeking the least worst option for our nation, overwhelmingly in good spirit. Roughly half of those heavily invested in the outcome end up disappointed, but the day’s process is one of hope and mostly goodwill.

Compulsory preferential voting means elections are won around the centre, keeping us from straying to extremes, mistakes generally recognised before too much harm is done, our independent Australian Electoral Commission a treasure.

We are the land of the Democracy Sausage! Sentient Americans are jealously in awe.

But all that changes on Saturday morning. Goodwill has been banished from today’s voting before it starts.

Irreparably ugly politics have spread fear and confusion, summonsing demons that won’t be exorcised for at least a generation.

No trick too low

The Voice referendum is a clear choice between a positive and a negative nation, between a little generosity of spirit in trying to correct a wrong and a sour meanness that claims the dreadful status quo is just fine – just fine for most Australians and too bad about the indigenous Australians left behind.

That the majority of Australians have fallen for the No campaign’s lies and cynical fear-mongering is deeply disheartening.

We were given an invitation in the quite beautiful Uluru Statement to claim and share Australia’s indigenous heritage, to salve the wounds of a couple of hundred years of colonialism, to walk back from attempted genocide, to try another path to closing the gap when the status quo has demonstrably failed. We’ve spat on that invitation.

Former Liberal Party staffer and one of our very best political commentators, Niki Savva, nailed several aspects of the tragedy in a scorching column in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, including:

“This is a defining moment for Australia. Almost every other country on earth has reached an accommodation with its original inhabitants. We should at least be honest enough to admit that if we don’t, this debate will have simply exposed what lurks just beneath the surface. Blaming Albanese for that is bizarre. Ultimately, responsibility for the result and everything which delivers it resides with us.

“The central issue, as it was on the republic, is not what the world thinks of us, as important as that is. It is what we think of each other.”

No trick has been too low for the No campaign as it followed the LNP trend of adopting Trump-style disinformation, misinformation and outright lies.

Ms Savva, like just about every other political observer, called out Peter Dutton’s attack on the integrity of the Australian Electoral Commission as inexcusable.

“It opened the door wide for conspiracy theorists to harass and abuse the commission and its staff.”


Anthony Albanese is hoping Australians will rise to the occasion by voting ‘yes’. Photo: AAP

And beyond the actual referendum result, the campaign leaves Australian politics deeply scarred by “the shameless descent into Trumpian politics, distorting reality, ridiculing common sense and amplifying grievance,” as Paul Bongiorno put it.

“It is the embrace of post-truth tactics that threaten to stunt the adoption of creative policies and new ideas that can progress the country as it confronts the existential challenge of climate change, the achieving of a fairer society and enhancing of social cohesion,” he wrote.

“The troubling prospect is that the success of these tactics will set the template for electoral success going forward.”

Opposition Leader Dutton’s prepared boast about his political style – “I’ve chosen to play tackle, not touch, when I came into this business” – is no longer fit for purpose. It’s not a matter of him tackling hard, he’s the thug player leading with an elbow to the throat, prepared to eye gouge and stomp.

‘A cancer in our democracy’

Buoyed by what he will claim as success in defeating the Voice, Mr Dutton’s hard-right LNP is set to slide further down the Trumpian rabbit hole, in turn meaning the Coalition would not represent a matter of different political opinion and alternative policies but a cancer in our democracy, damaging the country’s ability to realise its potential.

The failure of the Voice most obviously hurts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Only a little less obviously, it damages us all.

I’ll be at the door waiting for the 8am opening of the local polling place – there’s a plane that has to be caught. For the first time in my life, voting will be an utterly joyless exercise.

The only hope at this stage is that the result will not be a landslide for No, that enough of us will vote for change, for constitutional recognition and an indigenous Voice to show it’s “not all Australians”.

After that? We fall back on Max Planck’s observation paraphrased as “science advances one funeral at a time” and apply it to society.

That makes it a long time to wait. It’s already a couple of centuries too late.

And we never know how many more visits to polling booths we have allotted to us.


Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.