Article by Joe Hildebrand for Sky News, 20 May 2023
Picture: Screengrab of Simon Frost, former Victorian Liberal party chief
The Yes campaign has everything going for it, but there’s a simple thing that could derail its quest to change Australia’s constitution.
The Yes campaign for First Nations recognition in the constitution and an Indigenous Voice is finally building up steam.
It has millions in donations, the backing of big corporations and sporting codes and has just engaged a gun former adviser to Josh Frydenberg.
Remember him? He was the future Liberal leader and Voice supporter who was killed off by the Teals so Peter Dutton could take over and oppose it. Great work guys!
Anyway, it’s fantastic to see so many people and organisations and dollars getting behind what is one of the most important movements in Australian political history.
Except that none of it matters. None of it matters unless ordinary people feel that stirring in their hearts that makes them think “Yes”, this is fair enough. Yes, this is not much to ask.
Yes, this is the least I can do.
And so what is being asked?
The No campaign has had a field day raising the spectre of this proposal being some Frankensteinian monster that will destroy us all. It’s like witnessing someone have an acid flashback.
But to be fair, this is because they got the jump on the Yes case. When the counterattack starts before the actual campaign has begun it’s pretty easy to score hits.
And I have a huge amount of sympathy, affection and respect for my friends Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, who have been so rottenly maligned by elements of the left that I can completely understand their scepticism of any proposal the left might happen to support.
But, as they say in the classics, wait — there’s more! Because the federal Liberal party’s position is also opposed by all the state Liberal divisions as well as the sole remaining Liberal government in the country in Tasmania.
Even the bloke who got the constitutional recognition ball rolling, Tony Abbott, once privately supported Indigenous quotas in parliament, according to Noel Pearson, who was aghast at such a radical notion and put forward the far more conservative proposal of a non- binding advisory body.
In short, the No case is a basket case. It is flopping around like the proverbial appendage in a bucket.
And so why is the Yes case seemingly losing support? According to the Nine newspapers’ Resolve poll the number of Australians pressed into voting yes or no has dropped from 58 to 53 per cent in the past month.
Little wonder some hardheads on the Yes side are starting to worry but in a way this is nothing surprising.
For one thing fear is a more powerful motivator than hope. Humans are hardwired to be more alert to danger than to benefit. If there are ten pathways to the river and one of them has a crocodile on it, you remember the one with the croc, not the nine without.
And this makes negative campaigning far more effective than positive campaigning — as every election strategist knows.
As one memorably said, the most surefire way to sell your brand of soup isn’t to say it tastes better than your competitor’s. It’s to say your competitor’s has rat poison in it.
And that’s what all these random fantastical arguments against the Voice are doing. They are making outlandish claims that have no basis in reality and then arguing against an invisible monster that doesn’t exist.
Indeed, even they can’t punch a hole in the Voice as it is actually proposed. They just raise the spectre of it somehow transforming into something completely different that has no basis in fact or law. It’s just wild to watch.
And so, again, let’s get back to what is actually being asked.
And all that is being asked is whether Australians would support an Indigenous advisory body that could offer suggestions and ideas to the government on how to make Indigenous lives better.
How, for example, to prevent Indigenous people dying a decade earlier than the rest of us, or not skipping school or ending up in jail or roaming the streets of Alice Springs.
The government would not have to take this advice — in fact it’s not even obliged to consider it. And the parliament has the whole, sole and black and white explicit power to change, rearrange, dissolve or reconstitute the Voice at any point as it sees fit — all explicitly spelled out in the proposed amendment.
In other words there is great potential for good and zero risk for bad.
That is all that is being asked and it is not much to ask and I believe Australians are generous and good hearted enough to answer Yes.