Albanese expects sports stars to back Voice

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would be surprised if Australians didn’t see a range of sporting figures campaigning for an Indigenous Voice to parliament ahead of the referendum later this year.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday morning, he also foreshadowed the Commonwealth solicitor-general would come out in support of the constitutional-enshrined advisory body in the face of the Coalition’s persistent challenges to the government to release his advice.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he expects sports stars to back the Voice.

Alex Ellinghausen

Albanese said the Yes movement already had the support of businesses, the union movement and major sporting codes.

Asked if he expected big names from the sporting world to advocate for a Yes vote, Albanese replied, “I would be surprised if you didn’t see a range of figures out there saying that it is time for recognition.”

“I know from speaking to a number of NRL and AFL players, both past and present, that they will be active in putting their views in support of constitutional recognition.”

and reported in February that current and past Indigenous stars – such as the AFL’s Adam Goodes and former NRL player Johnathan Thurston, both of whom have expressed support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to parliament – were among the big names being discussed by the sporting codes as ambassadors.

Last year the government won the celebrity endorsement of American basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal, who appeared at a press conference to back the Voice.

The federal opposition has repeatedly accused Labor of withholding details on the Voice, including by refusing to release Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue’s advice on the proposed body, particularly after it did so regarding former prime minister Scott Morrison’s multiple ministries.

Nationals MP and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce told Sky in a later interview that Australians didn’t understand the extent of what they were being asked to vote for, “and that’s why you need the solicitor-general’s advice”.

“Mr Albanese has got to basically be honest and tell us what it is,” Joyce said.

Albanese said Joyce knew that governments don’t release the solicitor-general’s advice to the cabinet, “but the solicitor-general’s views are very clear for support for this change, that it’s legally sound”.

“And, through the process … he will, I’m sure take the opportunity through the attorney-general to make that position clear,” Albanese said.

The prime minister also changed his language on the chances of the referendum succeeding without bipartisan political support.

Following Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s declaration he would campaign against enshrining an Indigenous advisory body to parliament and the executive into the Constitution, Albanese acknowledged on Wednesday the Liberal Party’s stance put the referendum at risk of defeat.

However, on Sunday he said Australia’s political system had changed substantially since the last referendum.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, in the Aston byelection, history was created with something that hadn’t happened in over 100 years: the government winning a seat off the opposition in a byelection,” he said.

“So we live in different times from when past referendums have [been] held.”

One of the key criticisms from the opposition has been the proposed ability of the Voice to consult executive government on matters affecting Indigenous people. Asked whether he was prepared to give ground on that factor, Albanese indicated he wasn’t.

“They’ve already declared their position. It’s a bit like saying that you’re going to run on the field in a footy game, and just allow the other team – in this case the No team – to just run through, score tries without trying to tackle them and trying to defend the Yes position,” he said.

Albanese responded to a call from Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last week for more information by saying the government would firstly be running an information campaign about the nature of referendums, adding most Australians had never looked at the Constitution.

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