Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has accused Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of amplifying misinformation on the Voice to parliament referendum, saying his remarks were “unworthy of the alternative prime minister of this nation”.
In his speech on the referendum bill earlier this week, Dutton said the Voice would “re-racialise” Australia and divide the country “in spirit and in law” and, invoking George Orwell, suggested it 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, and 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 has been running all week, with more than 85 MPs from across the parliament contributing and laying out their reasons for supporting or opposing the referendum. The bill will in effect authorise the referendum, which is due to be held between October and December.
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. Let’s be clear about this. There is of course a powerful, uplifting symbolism in recognising the first peoples of Australia in our Constitution.
“The fact that our national story stretches back 65,000 years is something our nation’s birth certificate should recognise and celebrate.”
Albanese noted that Friday marked the sixth anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, signed by more than 250 Indigenous leaders, which called for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution.
He called the statement a “patient, gracious, generous and optimistic invitation” to the people of Australia.
“Through this legislation, and this referendum, our government is giving the people of Australia the opportunity to take out that invitation, to grab that hand,” he said. “If not now, when?”
Albanese urged Australians to put themselves in the shoes of their Indigenous brothers and sisters and imagine they were on the other side of the gap that successive governments had failed to close, as he dismissed as “nonsense” suggestions by opponents that the Voice would wade into issues such as changing the date of Australia Day.
He finished by placing the Voice referendum along a continuum of the Aboriginal rights struggle, noting Australians would cast their vote in the coming months 60 years after the Yirrkala bark petitions, 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 Burunga 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.
“This is a chance for Australians from all faiths and backgrounds from all walks of life, to celebrate the best of our nation, to show the best of ourselves to vote yes for constitutional recognition, to vote yes for the form that it has been asked for, through a Voice to say yes to the invitation to work together to a better future.”
The government benches were full as the PM delivered his speech. There were only a handful of MPs from the Coalition watching from opposition benches, including Voice supporters Julian Leeser and Bridget Archer.
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