With the Voice to Parliament referendum in just over a week, and support slipping in every major poll, Central News analysed the key players and organisations operating within the ‘No’ campaign and their messaging, tactics and links.
Professor Jeremy Walker, senior lecturer in social and political sciences at the University of Technology Sydney, who has been researching the different organisations behind the ‘No’ vote, claimed there is evidence of a coordinated campaign across seemingly disparate groups that are against the Voice over fears it will lead to native title claims that would affect the fossil fuels industry.
“Since lead anti-Voice campaign organisation Advance Australia began its media offensive, the Yes vote has declined to 40 per cent [from over 60 per cent],” he said.
“Led by Advance, the No campaign is supported across Australia’s Centre for Independent Studies, the Institute of Public Affairs, and the Australian conference of the international far-right Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), organisations that Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine have been associated for years.”
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price
No one has stood out more prominently as the face of the ‘No’ campaign than Warlpiri woman and federal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. The first term federal politician, who has served as the main spokesperson of opposition to the Voice, has quickly become one of the most recognisable faces in Australian politics.
Price is the daughter of controversial Northern Territory political figure Bess Price, who became prominent for her support of the Northern Territory Intervention in 2011, despite widespread criticism of it.
Before entering federal politics at the 2022 election representing the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory, Price served as the Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs, and was a singer and television broadcaster on the children’s program Yamba’s Playtime.
Sitting with the National Party in federal parliament, Price was one of the first parliamentarians to formally oppose the Voice and has spoken consistently of her belief that a Voice to Parliament would divide Australians based on race, and enshrine division in the Constitution.
After the federal parliamentary Liberal Party came out in opposition to the Voice, and bound frontbenchers to this stance, then Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Julian Leeser resigned, making space for Price to step forward and claim the shadow ministry.
I will not be cowed by those who seek to divide the nation https://t.co/nijVPuXHUe
— Jacinta Nampijinpa (@JNampijinpa) September 2, 2023
Throughout the ‘No’ campaign Price has been a key figure in advertising and campaign material distributed by conservative organisations like Fair Australia, Advance Australia and Recognise a Better Way. She has also been a regular guest on news programs arguing against the referendum proposal.
Beyond a series of questionable statements about the legislative process in creating a Voice, the legal implications of the Voice’s operations, and the presence of race in the Constitution, Price recently claimed Indigenous Australians currently face no negative impacts of colonisation, a statement Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney described as ‘a betrayal’ and ‘offensive’.
Many of the claims Price has made about the Voice to Parliament have been found to be false, including the much repeated argument the Voice would seek the payment of reparations to Indigenous Australians from their non-Indigenous counterparts. The Voice would function only as an advisory body, with no legal powers.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine
The other key Indigenous figure of the ‘No’ campaign is Bundjalung man Nyunggai Warren Mundine. The former National President of the Labor Party, who later ran for the Liberal Party in the federal electorate of Gilmore during the 2019 election, losing the seat with a 16 per cent swing against him, has in recent weeks divided his conservative compatriots.
Mundine has publicly advocated for changing the date of Australia Day, the creation of treaties between the Commonwealth and Indigenous nations, and has stated that he would happily sit on the Voice to Parliament should the referendum be successful. Most ‘No’ campaigners reject changing the date.
Throughout the ‘No’ campaign, Mundine has been very vocal in his opposition of the Voice to Parliament, going so far as to describe the Uluru Statement from the Heart as a ‘declaration of war on Australia’
Pursuing a magic wand is a distraction that take us backwards. We need to focus on accountability, education, economic participation & social change. Read the 4th in my series with Dr Vicki Grieves Williams on the Uluru Statement manifesto. #notmyvoice https://t.co/R0mbci8bns
— Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO (@nyunggai) October 6, 2023
Mundine also faced criticism earlier in the campaign after he allegedly lied about the identity of a man claimed to be Indigenous activist Vincent Lingiari’s grandson, after using footage of him campaigning against the Voice.
Both Price and Mundine have at various stages in the ‘No’ campaign stated that they have experienced suicidal ideation due to their stances on the Voice, and the backlash that has ensued.
Leader of the federal opposition, Peter Dutton is a right-wing former Queensland policeman who has represented the outer Brisbane seat of Dickson since 2001.
Dutton’s career has been littered with faux pas, including: referring to refugees as illiterate; accidentally being caught on microphone making a joke about rising sea levels threatening Pacific Islanders; refusing to attend Kevin Rudd’s apology speech to the Stolen Generations; arguing that a homophobic song should be sung at the AFL grand final before the marriage equality postal survey; describing the children of the Biloela family as ‘anchor babies’; and saying that Victorians were afraid to leave the house because of ‘African gang violence’, all of which were criticised by both party colleagues and opposition politicians.
Despite this, in an increasingly conservative Coalition opposition, Dutton was able to take over from the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison as leader in the aftermath of the 2022 election wipeout. Since the election, Dutton’s popularity in polling has remained low, peaking at just 28 per cent in recent weeks according to the Resolve Political Monitor.
After the National Party came out in opposition to the Voice, Dutton and the Liberal Party hesitated for some time before ultimately opposing the measure and committing to actively campaigning against the referendum. Dutton has made a variety of claims against the Voice, including describing it as a “symptom of the madness of identity politics which has infected the 21st century”. He has regularly characterised the Voice as the ‘Canberra Voice’, ‘Elite Voice’ and ‘Labor’s Voice’.
Dutton, as leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party appointed Jacinta Nampijinpa Price as Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Dutton may be banking on the failure of the referendum to improve his political positioning. However his image is already tarnished in metropolitan seats, where he needs to make ground at the next election if his party wishes to take government.
DjabWurrung, Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe has been a federal senator representing Victoria since 2020. Selected as a replacement for former Greens senator Richard Di Natale, Thorpe went to the 2022 election as the first place contender on the Greens ticket, however after a series of scandals and policy disputes, left the party in early 2023 to sit as an independent.
Thorpe is a leader of the parliamentary progressive ‘No’ movement, where she argues that a Voice would not go far enough to support Indigenous Australians, and believes a treaty that recognises Indigenous sovereignty should be the first step. Her positioning on the Voice brought significant attention during the early months of 2023, coupled with growing notoriety over her alleged relationship with a member of a bikie gang, allegations of bullying, protesting during the Sydney Mardi Gras parade, and the emergence of a video of Thorpe arguing with a group of men outside a Melbourne strip-club.
Let the record show: No and no. Lydia Thorpe and Pauline Hanson will both vote no to constitutional recognition of 1788 indigenous dispossession via terra nullius with an accompanying advisory Voice to parliament and the executive. No too: Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. pic.twitter.com/qoCxdZLaoH
— Quentin Dempster (@QuentinDempster) June 19, 2023
In recent months Thorpe has appeared less and less in the media’s coverage of the Voice, with attention primarily paid to the conservative ‘No’ campaign. Thorpe did attempt to become involved in the writing of the ‘No’ pamphlet, however it does not appear her perspectives have been addressed in the final copy. In recent days, many members of the progressive ‘No’ movement and the Indigenous sovereignty movements have switched sides to support the referendum, arguing a failed vote would damage Indigenous affairs significantly.
Thorpe has announced she will not be standing for re-election when her term is up.
This week, Thorpe was tagged in a video of a self proclaimed neo-Nazi burning an Aboriginal flag while performing a Nazi salute. Thorpe alleged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Australian Federal police had not ensured her protection.
Formed as a right-wing campaign vessel in the wake of the marriage-equality postal survey, Advance has played a significant role in conservative movements in Australia over the past five years. Claiming to ‘restore the balance on Australian freedom, security and prosperity’, Advance has run campaigns against transgender athletes, net-zero emissions targets, Indigenous heritage laws, anti-misinformation bills, and The Greens (in general). On their website they claim to have achieved a number of vague goals, including the statement: “We stopped Daniel Andrews’ power grab, took on the ABC and stood up to the climate commies and their attempts to turn our children against us.”
Advance’s website shows three pillars of objectives titled ‘freedom’, ‘security’ and ‘prosperity’. Each pillar targets a variety of measures including ‘woke politicians and the inner city elites’, ‘Islamic terrorism’ and the Chinese Communist Party. It also features a large picture of Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price as its homepage, that links to Advance’s secondary campaign body called Fair Australia.
Advance also operates an organisation targeted at left-wing ‘No’ voters, called Not Enough. The organisation muddies the water by arguing that the Voice to Parliament is not progressive enough, and posts directly conflicting messaging to its sister body, Advance’s Fair Australia. Not Enough has published images on social media criticising Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for not supporting progressive policies like reparations, while Fair Australia argued that reparations would be a negative consequence of the Voice.
— FAIR AUSTRALIA (Powered by ADVANCE) (@FairAusADV) October 3, 2023
Fair Australia, the campaign arm of Advance, has a homepage that features quotes and pictures from six Indigenous spokespeople, including Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Nyunggai Warren Mundine. It also features a picture of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott beside the quote: “I think it’s wrong in principle to divide Australians by race”. Abbott, who was removed from the Prime Ministership in a 2015 leadership spill that saw Malcolm Turnbull takeover, consistently voted in favour of the Northern Territory Intervention while in Parliament, and said Indigenous communities made the ‘lifestyle choice’ to live in remote or regional areas, and therefore should not receive taxpayer support.
Fair Australia offers downloadable resources including signage and information booklets about Voice opposition, while also operating an online petition where voters can pledge to vote ‘No’. So far this petition has over 167,000 signatures.
Fair Australia also operates a ‘News’ page in which they publish articles opposing the voice, including items titled ‘Loopy Lidia [Thorpe] is right for once: Indigenous Voice vote is a ‘waste of money’’, ‘[Noel] Pearson goes full toddler over [Jacinta Nampijinpa] Price’s Voice concerns’, and ‘The top backers of Albo’ Indigenous Voice? Teal-voting woke elites…’.
Fair Australia operates a secondary campaign body, called Australians for Unity, which is authorised by Nyunggai Warren Mundine, and is registered as a charity, able to receive tax-deductible donations.
Matthew Sheahan is one of the quieter, but perhaps most important members of the ‘No’ campaign. Sheahan serves as the campaign director of Advance and Australians for Unity, and authorises material published by Fair Australia and Not Enough.
At Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2023 in Sydney, one of Sheahan’s only public appearances during the referendum campaign, he said he believed Advance had the infrastructure to reach more Australians than any centre-right political party, and said the ‘Yes’ campaign is seeking to “profit from the misery of our country’s most marginalised”.
— ForthRight Strategy (@ForthRightStrat) August 24, 2023
Recognise a Better Way
Recognise a Better Way positions itself as the softer side of the formalised ‘No’ campaign, arguing for a ‘positive alternative solution to Aboriginal recognition ambitions, and Aboriginal need’. Despite this positioning, the same cast of characters are involved in the organisation, with Nyunggai Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price listed as key supporters on their website.
The committee behind Recognise a Better Way also includes a variety of divisive figures with histories of questionable rhetoric.
Committee member Gary Johns, a former member of the House of Representatives and minister in the Keating Labor government, spoke earlier this year at CPAC 2023 arguing that if Indigenous Australians wished to have a Voice they should “learn English”.
No campaign spokesperson Gary Johns at CPAC tells Indigenous Australians "if you want a voice learn English". https://t.co/7trzuNL8pW
— jansant (@Jansant) August 20, 2023
Johns has historically argued Indigenous Australians should have to undertake blood tests to prove their claims if they wished to collect “race based benefits” or apply for jobs set aside for Indigenous Australians. These comments sparked bipartisan calls for Johns’ resignation from various campaigning bodies. He has recently been at odds with fellow ‘No’ campaigners Nyunggai Warren Mundine after Johns claimed a treaty process, which Mundine supports, would be “evil”. Johns also argued Indigenous leaders have overstated the experiences of colonialism to seek reparations.
Committee member Yodie Batzke, who unsuccessfully stood as a candidate for a Queensland senate seat representing the United Australia Party, came to prominence during the 2019 Federal Election after claiming to be an ‘adjunct lecturer’ at James Cook University working at their Centre for Tropical Urban and Regional Planning. James Cook University said both claims were false, and Batzke had never been employed by the university. Batzke also received media attention after posting an image online of a heavily pregnant woman with a noose around her belly, calling abortion rates “Australia’s great shame”. Batzke unsuccessfully ran for a seat at the 2020 Queensland State Election.
Committee member and Narungga woman Kerry White, ran at the 2022 Federal Election in the South Australian seat of Grey, representing One Nation. She received 6.2 per cent of the vote with a 2.4 per cent swing against her party from the last election.
In June, at an event at the Adelaide Convention Centre, White claimed the Uluru Statement from the Heart was “fraudulent” and said the Stolen Generation was a “mistruth”, arguing “mixed-race children” had been removed from their families “for their own safety”.
Aboriginal woman, Kerry White says NO to the Voice to Parliament : https://t.co/TJvwAMR8Xq
— Swivel Guts (@Swivel_Guts) September 30, 2023