Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has appealed to Australians to walk in the shoes of their Indigenous brothers and sisters as they weigh up how to vote in the Voice referendum as he accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of amplifying misinformation in his bid to sink the proposal.
Speaking on the referendum bill in the House of Representatives, Albanese sought to dismantle the arguments of the Coalition and the No campaign while aiming to deliver a high-level pitch to Australians to be on the “right side of history”.
He denounced Dutton’s efforts to frame the Voice debate through the prism of racial division as “unworthy of the alternative prime minister of this nation” and called instead for non-Indigenous Australians to imagine they were on the other side of the gap that successive governments had failed to close.
“Imagine your brothers and sisters are likely to die a decade younger than the general population. Imagine your daughter is more at risk during childbirth, and your grandchild more at risk of infant mortality. Imagine your son’s statistically more likely to go to jail than to go to university,” Albanese said.
“In 2023, imagine that people in your community are twice as likely to commit suicide as anywhere else. Imagine the rate of disease and disadvantage among your friends and neighbours is far higher than elsewhere.”
He used his speech to counter the Liberal leader’s remarks earlier in the week that the Voice would “re-racialise” Australia, divide the country “in spirit and in law” and, invoking George Orwell, would make Indigenous Australians more equal than non-Indigenous Australians.
“It is disappointing but not surprising that the loudest campaigners for the No vote have already been reduced to relying upon things that are plainly untrue,” Albanese said.
“It’s also very telling, that in his desperation, the leader of the opposition is now seeking to amplify this misinformation and all of its catastrophising and contradictions. Those exhausted cliches of Orwell and identity politics, the ongoing conceit that there is apparently no inequality in Australia now.”
Debate on the bill will continue in the lower house next week, with more than 100 MPs from across the parliament expected to lay out their reasons for supporting or opposing the referendum, before it proceeds to the Senate in June. It will pass with cross-party support after the Coalition confirmed it would not stand in the way of Australians having their say at a referendum.
The bill’s passage will clear the way for the national vote to be held between October and December.
During his speech, Albanese referenced Dutton’s decision in 2008 to boycott the apology to the stolen generations delivered by then-prime minister Kevin Rudd to argue there was hypocrisy in his current opposition to the Voice.
“This is the same leader of the opposition who says that he boycotted the national apology because he thought it was just symbolism and wouldn’t make a practical difference,” Albanese said.
“Now he’s leading a campaign against constitutional recognition through a Voice, saying that he only wants symbolism, not something that will make a practical difference.”
He placed the Voice referendum on a continuum of the Aboriginal rights struggle, noting Australians would cast their vote in the coming months 60 years after the Yirrkala bark petition, 56 years after the 1967 referendum, 48 years after Gough Whitlam poured red soil into Vincent Lingiari’s hands to symbolise the handing back of land, 32 years after the Barunga statement calling for a treaty was hung in Parliament House, 31 years after the High Court delivered the historic Mabo decision, and 15 years since the apology to the stolen generations.
“All of those were opposed at the time. All of those we were told would lead to bad outcomes. All of those are celebrated now. We hold them up as milestones of national progress,” Albanese said.
After a week of emotionally-charged debate in the parliament, and concerns within the Yes camp about polling showing a downward trend in support for a Yes vote, Indigenous leaders will gather at Uluru on Friday to renew their call for Australians to join them in supporting the Voice.
Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was signed by more than 250 Indigenous delegates and called for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution.
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