Voice advocate Mick Gooda pleads for compromise to save referendum

Gooda added that Voice campaigners could draw lessons from the events in Queensland last week, when almost every MP in the state voted for a historic treaty bill after a process in which Indigenous advocates did not secure their full set of demands.

“This is a negotiation,” he said, arguing the Voice would still be able to consult with departments and ministers if executive government, a key sticking point for constitutional conservatives, was not inserted into the Constitution.

“If we go for the pure point and lose it, that’s not going to achieve anything.”

Calma, one of the architects of the detailed Voice to parliament report and the Senior Australian of the Year, said Australians needed time to understand the details of the proposal and more information would be coming from the Yes campaign soon.

“It’s concerning that it [support] is not higher, but I think we will see over time that it will increase as more and more people get out there and have a discussion and people’s questions are addressed,” he said. Many Voice advocates are arguing privately that it was only one poll and results will improve as the campaign gains momentum.

Liberal MP Julian Leeser will move amendments to a government bill this month in a last-ditch attempt to remove the reference to executive government from the constitutional amendment.

“I am concerned about the trend … It’s not just one poll, it’s a trend over time,” he said. “The government needs to change the amendment in order to win the referendum.”

Sean Gordon, chair of Uphold and Recognise.

Sean Gordon, chair of Uphold and Recognise.Credit: Peter Stoop

Voice supporter Sean Gordon said the risk of losing the referendum was real and argued the parliamentary inquiry that examined the constitutional wording had failed to offer Albanese a politically viable way to broker a compromise over the wording.

“It’s up to the PM to determine. If it’s not winnable, he needs to make a decision about what is winnable for the Australian people,” said Gordon, who leads the conservative-leaning Indigenous recognition group called Uphold and Recognise.

But Yes alliance campaign director Dean Parkin pushed back against any attempt to change the wording of the constitutional alteration, saying it risked “dragging the debate back into legalese”.

“The more that Australians hear Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people talk about why this is important to them, the more they’ll see this is something that’s going to create practical change for Indigenous people,” he said.

Independent senator Lidia Thorpe, who has been a vocal opponent of the Voice, said the Voice campaign was clearly failing and the government, rather than the No campaign, was responsible.

“I believe it’s got very little to do with any influence of the No campaign and a lot to do with the very substance of the Voice and the actions of the government behind the referendum,” she said.

Labor strategist Kos Samaras argued the Voice campaign seemed to be targeting people who were already voting Yes, rather than undecided voters, and had to shift focus to the outer suburbs.


“When Resolve is giving Labor nearly 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote and you’re not getting that in the Yes vote then it is clear the situation is pretty grim,” he said.

“There is a group of people out there who don’t necessarily disagree with the Voice. If you sit down and took them through it, they wouldn’t disagree, but it’s not top of mind. They have other concerns in life.”

JWS research’s John Scales said the well-financed Yes campaign should not be underestimated but warned any further slippage in the Yes vote could make undecided voters feel less guilty about voting No.

“You bang away with something with enough money repeatedly and enough people will start to believe it usually,” he said, citing the advertising barrage planned by the Yes campaign.

“They would not want the numbers to get any worse. If it does … then it might create its own momentum. People don’t feel like the bad guy voting No if it is 50-50.”

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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