Western Australia’s most senior senator and leading indigenous rights activist has admitted the No campaign against the Voice had been “fairly effective”.
Widely regarded as the father of reconciliation, Pat Dodson, who has been unable to campaign for the Yes vote because of ill-health, also conceded the lack of detail on what a Voice to Parliament would look like had hampered the success of convincing Australians to agree to the referendum question.
“I think there is a fairly effective No campaign being run. I don’t believe that’s necessarily a campaign that’s … in our best interest but it’s their campaign,” Senator Dodson told The Australian.
“I think that it’s difficult, as everyone knows, to promote the Yes campaign in terms of the detail, what the proposition is, what the provision is, why this is important, how it’s going to benefit us.
“There are some questions that are about detail, which are really not the substance of what we’re talking about. The referendum is about a principle.
“We put principles in our Constitution, and then we leave it to the legislators to use those principles when they come to make laws.”
The Broome-based senator said the Voice “concentrates on the matters that affect Aboriginal people and that will go from health, housing, education, employment … to legacy issues that we know we still have to deal with and the perennial issues that we haven’t got on top of like deaths in custody, incarceration rates, kids being taken away and domestic violence.”
“We’re going to have to deal with some of those broader legacy issues that are going to the question of disadvantage and dispossession, and displacement of Aboriginal people, as well as the contemporary issues now,” the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart said.
Senator Dodson said despite polling showing the Voice Yes campaign had its work cut out for it, he had faith Australians would do the right thing by its First Nations citizens.
“I keep hearing ‘You have lost this, you may as well lay down and die’, you know, crawl into a hollow log and lick your wounds,” he said.
“I don’t believe that. I believe Australians are better than this. I believe Australians will look at this on the day and say ‘well this is a decent, honourable, good thing for us to do’.”
The 75-year-old has undergone six months of treatment for lymphatic cancer but was hopeful of hitting the campaign trail in the coming weeks.
“I’m still recovering but I am a long way from where I was, so I’m hopeful that in the next couple of weeks I’d be a lot fitter than I am and hopefully be able to become involved in the process prior to the 14th of October,” he told The Australian.
Dodson’s confidence in the Yes vote came as Anthony Albanese urged politicians to carry a message of “love and hope and reconciliation” back to their electorates in the lead-up to the October 14 referendum and ahead of mass walks promoting The Voice in 40 cities and towns, including Perth on Sunday.
As parliamentary debate over the Voice again became heated, the Prime Minister accused the Opposition of being angry and hostile, before calling forJ respectful contributions.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and his deputy, Sussan Ley, sought to tie Mr Albanese’s character to that of veteran Indigenous advocate Marcia Langton who has been in the spotlight this week for calling out racism among No campaigners. Mr Dutton said her comments over several years showed a motivation that was “certainly very bitter and vitriolic and it deserves further examination”.
“The Prime Minister can scoff all he wants, but he’s made a decision about the company he keeps and I think Australians are seeing a very different person than they thought he was in the election of May of last year,” he said.
Mr Dutton then demanded in Parliament that Mr Albanese “admit his incompetence in mishandling issues, hurting Australians and dividing our country”.
The Prime Minister replied that the question said a lot about the “negative ... angry” character of the Opposition.
“It’s hostile and seeks to divide — never seeks to bring people together,” he said.
The week in Parliament has been rowdy, bordering on nasty, and several Voice advocates have been relieved it is the final sitting before the referendum is held. Campaigners on both sides will now have clear air to make their arguments away from the hothouse of question time.
Mr Albanese started Thursday morning with AFL champion Michael Long, who was completing his second walk from Melbourne to Canberra to promote Indigenous issues.
“It’s up to us to carry his message of love and hope and reconciliation away from the Parliament and back to the people in our electorates,” the Prime Minister told MPs.
“Australians in general are generous people. They are fundamentally decent.
“I call for everyone, regardless of what way they vote in a democratic referendum ... I call upon everyone in this debate to be respectful.” The Coalition also pushed Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney on whether she stood by comments from three years ago about possible treaties.
“The Voice referendum is 14 October and I invite you to get on board,” Ms Burney said.
Australians have until the end of Monday to make sure their enrolment details are up to date.
The electoral commission on Thursday urged anyone travelling abroad to make sure they knew where the 107 overseas voting centres were or apply for a postal vote via the AEC website.