By political reporter Jane Norman, ABC
A group of high-profile Indigenous Australians has banded together with a former deputy prime minister to co-ordinate the No campaign in this year’s Voice referendum, running on the slogan “Recognise a Better Way”.
It comes as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton accepts an invitation to attend this week’s Referendum Working Group meeting for a briefing on the proposal to enshrine an Indigenous Voice in the constitution.
Mr Dutton — who will attend via video-link from Sydney where he will be attending Cardinal George Pell’s funeral — has been demanding more detail from the Albanese government on the Voice before the Liberal Party settles on a formal position.
While Mr Dutton is torn between members of his party who want to back the Voice and those who are vehemently opposed, the grassroots campaigns are starting to take shape.
The Yes group, led by “Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition”, will formally launch its campaign with a “week of action” in late February.
Calling itself the “No Case Committee”, the first formal No group has emerged with members including firebrand Northern Territory senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, former ALP president turned Liberal candidate Warren Mundine, former federal Labor MP Gary Johns and former deputy prime minister John Anderson.
The six-member committee will broadly support symbolic gesture of recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution while opposing the Voice, arguing it is divisive and will do nothing to improve the lives of First Nations people.
“Bureaucracies have been built in the past and they have all failed miserably,” Mr Mundine said.
“We need to be getting down into Alice Springs and all of the other communities and working there, not working in Canberra.”
In a sign the group could be eyeing migrant communities, Mr Mundine said he believed constitutional recognition should be broadened to include “the migrants and refugees” who had “contributed to this country”.
This is despite the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) firmly backing a “First Nations Voice” in the constitution.
When that position was put to him, Mr Mundine said: “I think all Australians should be recognised for their contribution to this country.”
Mr Anderson, who chaired a Recognition review panel in 2014, said the No Case Committee would be “mounting the case for No, from an Aboriginal perspective” and he did not expect any “formal linkage” with right-wing groups such as Advance Australia which were also campaigning against the Voice.
“We are supporting four significant Aboriginal figures who do not believe this is right,” he said, referring to Senator Price, Mr Mundine, Bob Liddle and Ian Conway.
Mr Anderson said he had “reluctantly” formed the same view and was becoming increasingly concerned by attempts to “shame people who dare to ask questions”.
“I genuinely believe these ill-defined proposals are not a good idea,” he said.
“I believe they’ll tend towards division and resentment.”
The federal government has confirmed no public funding will be provided to either side of the campaign ahead of the referendum, which is set to be held in the second half of this year.
Warren Mundine has long been a sensible voice in the Aboriginal industry and he should be congratulated for helping to stop this divisive race policy of the ALP and Greens.