The teal independents who swept into Canberra last year through grassroots campaigning will have a friendly competition to see who can gain the highest “yes” vote in their electorate in the Voice to parliament referendum.
“A number of us have taken on the responsibility to have record high ‘yes’ votes to counter areas that have low votes. There’s a little bit of a competition going on among us,” Warringah MP Zali Steggall said.
“We really represent the sensible centre voice and we want to have a fact-based, educated debate.”
The re-activation of the “teal army” will complement a grassroots push by a Yes campaign body, Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition, that wants to combine an on-the-ground presence with a well-funded messaging campaign using advertising and prominent leaders.
Opponents of the Voice dominated Invasion Day marches across the country on Australia Day, as speakers such as Greens senator Lidia Thorpe told tens of thousands of supporters of Indigenous rights that they should vote no in the referendum, demanding treaty instead.
Asked about the rallies at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Voice is “not a radical proposition. So I’m not surprised that some radicals are opposed to it. Because this is a mainstream proposition.”
Steggall expressed strong frustration with the Albanese government’s referendum strategy and other teals said Labor’s communication may need to be improved, but all passionately support the proposed Indigenous advisory body and poured scorn on Coalition’s request for further detail, which they claimed was disingenuous.
Wentworth MP Allegra Spender is aiming to give every household a copy of the Uluru Statement of the Heart that laid out the case for the Voice.
“I want Wentworth to have the highest “yes” vote in the country,” said Spender, who met with volunteers on Friday to form the Wentworth for the Voice group.
Kooyong MP Monique Ryan’s volunteers will knock on doors to educate voters and answer questions on the Voice, while Indi MP Helen Haines has begun an outreach campaign by meeting with local elders, Goldstein MP Zoe Daniel has released a video on social media and Mackellar MP Sophie Scamps is set to host panel events to inform electors.
Steggall, Ryan and Haines, who does not consider herself a “teal”, said the government and other Yes proponents could do more to make the case for the Voice.
“The PM has put out there such significant historic question, an issue that will really define us, without the level of material and preparedness [required]. I am finding that incredibly frustrating,” Steggall said.
Haines said the government was still winning the debate but communication may need to be refined because, she said, some well-intentioned citizens were seeking more information.
Ryan said her parents were an example of well-intentioned voters who lacked knowledge. After a short conversation explaining key principles, which were already in the public domain, Ryan said she satisfied their demand for information. “Perhaps the naysayers have had the jump on the government but I believe the government can do better and will do better on it,” she said.
Daniel, a former journalist, argued the referendum could be derailed if proponents did not fill the information vacuum with a consistent flow of easy-to-understand facts about the Voice.
A source familiar with the plans developed by the Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition, speaking anonymously because details were still being finalised, said there would be a grassroots campaign at community halls and libraries, speakers at local community forums and direct voter contact.
This would be complemented by a more traditional top-down campaign involving advertising and disciplined messaging from its board members, which include AFL executive Tanya Hosch and academic Noel Pearson. Former press secretary to Kevin Rudd, Lachlan Harris and well-known Liberal-aligned pollster Mark Textor are also on the board.
“The old industry association type of approach with a bit of PR and an ad in a financial newspaper just doesn’t work in modern campaigning. We need to combine the best of focused, laser-like messaging with best practice campaigning at an intimate grassroots level,” the source said.
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