Politics Opinion

As Referendum approaches, 'No' campaign still running on empty

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The campaign against the Voice to Parliament lacks logic and reason but is heavy on inflammatory rhetoric and clickbait advertising, writes Belinda Jones.

THE DATE of the Referendum on the Voice To Parliament was announced this week by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. It will held on 14 October 2023 when the nation will head to polling places around the country to vote in the first Referendum this century.

This announcement was set against the backdrop of the furore that had erupted a few days earlier about whether ticks and crosses meant the same as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the ballot paper. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton attempted and failed a Trumpian tactic of seeding doubt in the very institutions conservatives are supposed to uphold. 

The Australian Electoral Commission responded with expected measure, eloquence and professionalism, citing the legislation that informs their decisions. 

Dutton returned fire with “there’s not enough detail”, a long-ago debunked excuse. The Leader of the Opposition appears to have forgotten that a referendum is a question on the principle of a matter and that details are determined by the Parliament if the referendum is successful. 

‘No’ campaign leader Warren Mundine held a press conference this week and claimed ‘without evidence’ that PM Albanese ‘has “attacked” opponents of the Voice, unleashing “horrible racial abuse”’ which had affected his mental health.  Mundine doubled down in a subsequent ABC interview when host Virginia Trioli said “Seriously, mate,” terms like “Chicken Little” and “doomsayer” are “not abuse, it’s just disagreeing with you”.

Mundine is no shrinking violet, nor is this his first rodeo in the public realm. He’s been in the public eye for years; his LinkedIn lists ‘76 experiences’ across many fields, including public, private and community sectors. Attending the Uluru Statement from the Heart dialogues as far back in 2017 is not mentioned, which is rather odd if Mundine wasn’t involved in it given his high-profile community leadership role then and now. The same can be said of Jacinta Nampijinpa Price — it is not clear what her role was in the process that created the Uluru Statement from the Heart or if there was any role at all.

Mundine proved he has an extensive vocabulary when he used much more colourful language calling a journalist a “c*%t” on Twitter back in August 2021, which prompted calls for him to stand down from his position on the SBS Board. A few months Mundine later announced he was stepping down early.

Mundine is also associated with CPAC Australia which recently came under fire for racist and inflammatory statements made by guests and speakers throughout its annual event. Mundine is the chairman of CPAC Australia, he spoke at and attended the recent CPAC Australia event, so there’s little evidence to support Mundine’s inability to differentiate between disagreement and abuse. 

Former Prime Minister John Howard also weighed in on this week’s events by advising voters to maintain the rage, which was rejected by Noel Pearson from the ‘Yes’ campaign who urged the ‘Yes’ side must “maintain the love”.

It is these fundamental flaws, the shifting stories, the over-exaggerations, half-truths, and encouragement to embrace being divided and enraged in the ‘No’ campaign’s arguments that substantially weaken its case time after time.

The details are there for Dutton if he wants them and Mundine knows that “Chicken Little” is not abuse. Ticks and crosses are a non-issue, the Referendum is not “rigged”. There is no rage to maintain in a civilised debate. All these media fodder, clickbait stories are of little worth or truth. The real issue here is why the ‘No’ campaign keeps employing these ridiculous arguments if its reasons for objecting to the Voice are so compelling.

Currently, the ‘No’ supporting politicians are outspending the ‘Yes’ supporting politicians on Facebook advertising by four to one.

If the ‘No’ campaign had solid, logical reasoning for its case, it wouldn’t have to run this spin, inflationary rhetoric and four times the ads for clickbait. 

And it certainly wouldn’t be encouraging its supporters that if they ‘don’t know, vote no’. Any contributor to any debate would encourage all parties to inform themselves. To do the opposite is to invite suspicion into the motivations that are the impetus to such a deliberate study in deception.

By contrast, the ‘Yes’ campaign remains consistent. A case well explained and a growing army of supporters on the ground, in business and community. 

The ‘Yes’ case is being clearly explained in interviews, information on reputable websites, podcasts, videos and community meetings around the county without the clickbait angles and utterly exhausting, inflationary rhetoric that the ‘No’ campaign relies upon daily. This point sets the two campaigns clearly apart and illustrates an admirable level of integrity in the ‘Yes’ campaign by the way it has adopted respectful communications.

As the 45-day campaign counts down to Referendum Day, it is widely speculated on social media and beyond that the rhetoric will become even more ridiculous and clickbaity as those who chose to divide attempt to drive those tensions. 

This Referendum goes beyond politics. As recent campaigning by politicians from opposite sides has demonstrated, it goes to who we are as a nation. It goes to our core common values and hopes for the future. It’s a reflection of who we are and who we want to be and we mustn’t let that fact get hijacked by clickbaiters. 

You can follow IA columnist Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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