Former ABC Four Corners and 7.30 Report host Kerry O’Brien has accused the Voice to parliament ‘No’ campaign of “flooding the zone with shit” to overwhelm those seeking straight answers.
The veteran journalist was speaking at a forum at Revesby RSL Club on Monday night, when he compared ‘No’ campaign tactics to those used by US political strategist Steve Bannon, who advocated issuing more claims and accusations than could be affectively fact checked to disorient the media.
“The whole point of doing it was in anticipation that there would be confusion,” said O’Brien, one of the authors of The Voice to Parliament Handbook: All The Detail You Need.
“You go back to 2018 in the United States, where Steve Bannon – who was Donald Trump’s right-hand man while he was in the White House – actually blurted out in an interview that part of the strategy from his poisoned side of politics was what he plainly called ‘flooding the zone with shit’,” he said.
“I think we are seeing aspects of that in this campaign through those anonymous people who are spreading the hatred, and the division anonymously.”
About 500 people attended the event at the Whitlam theatre, which was hosted by Yes23 spokesperson Jade Appo-Ritchie, and also included O’Brien’s co-author, activist Thomas Mayo.
The Q&A took up as much time as the panel discussion with many still befuddled members of the public seeking answers to what the referendum is actually about.
While underlining one of the key problems – the Voice debate’s vague messaging – it also showed the huge interest people have in educating themselves ahead of the vote.
O’Brien said he and Mayo wrote the book because of the general confusion around what the Voice represented.
You would be surprised how many people in this country do not know what a referendum is.
“It was aimed at people who were starting from a base of not that great of amount of knowledge, in many instances, not that understanding of what a referendum is,” he said. “You would be surprised how many people in this country do not know what a referendum is.”
Answering one member of the audience about the aggressive response on social media to the use of You’re The Voice by John Farnham in the new Voice advertisement, O’Brien described social media as a “coward’s castle” populated by angry people who feel like society and the government had failed them.
Others in the audience were interested in the possibility of a successful ‘yes’ vote leading to reparations and asked Mayo if he still believed in the concept of ‘paying rent’, whereby white Australia pays the Indigenous community for occupying their lands.
“Those things were said some years ago as part of debates and discussions which was before there was a commitment to a Voice,” he said. “And so the ‘No’ campaign mischievously have used old footage to try and paint it as if this is something the Voice will do.”
He added, people should understand the Voice is an ‘advisory committee’ and nothing more, with no legal power.
“The priorities in our communities that they will be expecting their representation that they elect, will be health, education, employment, infrastructure,” he said. “Where you know you have clean water in a lot of communities, roads that don’t bust a tire every three months.”
“Those are the things that the Voice will concentrate on.”
Appo-Ritchie, a Bunda mother of three, said statistics showed Indigenous children were more likely to end up in prison than in university, which is why she supported the Voice.
“[It] can be a beautiful thing (raising Indigenous children), and it can be absolutely terrifying,” Appo-Ritchie told the meeting. “You’ll all have your [own] reasons for being here tonight.”
She said the public forum hoped to inform and empower undecided people.
Alan Ashton, former member for East Hills, said: “Elections are divisive. You pick a side and you move on, and hopefully, ‘Yes’ wins out, and they’ll accept the result.”
Main image by Siobhan Fryirs.