A spate of vandalism targeting Voice to Parliament supporters in a Sydney suburb has been condemned by residents and local politicians.
Central News found at least six homes around Glebe Point Road, the inner-city suburb of Glebe’s main thoroughfare, had their ‘Yes’ campaign posters defaced with purple spray paint.
Some home owners claimed there had been repeated acts of vandalism, with at least one having to replace damaged posters three times.
One resident of Toxteth Road, who did not want to be named and asked to be referred to as J, said her ‘Yes’ poster had been spray painted over twice in the past six weeks.
“It’s a bit distasteful,” she said. “When I first put up the poster, I thought ‘I hope this has an effect’, because probably everyone around here will be voting Yes.
“When it was defaced I was kind of shocked that there are people who know, and people who are watching, and willing to [vandalise], people who are not going to vote yes.”
In recent months J has been actively campaigning for the ‘Yes’ vote, which has included taking part in ‘txting parties’ organised by progressive activist group GetUp!, where ‘Yes’ supporters text message voters in swing states like South Australia and Western Australia to encourage support for the referendum.
She said Indigenous Australians had been patient waiting for constitutional recognition, and she believes now is the time for change.
“They’ve been doing this for years, and they’ve been so respectful,” she added. “It’s important to me to honour the fact that we’ve only been here for 200 years.
“These people have been here for 65,000 years, surely the least we can do is listen to them.
“We’ve got these Closing the Gap targets, and they’re showing clear inequality, so why aren’t we going to listen to what [Indigenous people] think might fix things. It’s a fairly simple thing to ask.”
There’s so much misinformation and disinformation and yuckiness, and ‘if you don’t know, vote no’, it’s so pathetic.
In conversations with voters while campaigning, J claimed to have experienced aggressive behaviour from ‘No’ voters, and heard many instances of misinformation and disinformation.
“They were saying really inappropriate things like ‘what constitution are they going to change anyway? Is it the British constitution or the fake one?’” she said.
The ‘two constitutions’ claim is made by people that refer to themselves as ‘sovereign citizens’, individuals who believe that without their personal consent they are not subject to law. They claim there are two constitutions, the original one produced in 1901, and a second ‘corporate’ constitution that came into being when Australia was registered with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, for the purpose of selling bonds.
Another couple, Suzanne and Ross, residents of Avenue Road whose sign was also defaced, are unhappy with the tone of the national debate on the Voice.
“It’s so negative, and its so ghastly, there’s so much misinformation and disinformation and yuckiness, and ‘if you don’t know, vote no’, it’s so pathetic,” Suzanne said.
The catchphrase “if you don’t know, vote no” has become a staple of ‘No’ campaigning in recent months, but also received backlash for its implication voters should remain uninformed and hand their vote over to the ‘No’ campaign.
The Voice is legally risky, with unknown consequences. It would be divisive and permanent. Don't know? Vote no! pic.twitter.com/gle5TgwwSg
— Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash (@SenatorCash) September 30, 2023
Suzanne and Ross, who entrusted a friend to paint over their sign after it was defaced, said they support the proposition because they believe it may benefit Indigenous Australians, and won’t harm anyone else.
“You can wake up [after a successful referendum] and nothing will have changed for you. What’s an advisory committee? There’s a million of them in town and no one listens to them, but Albanese can’t say that,” Ross said. “If people don’t want to listen to the advice, you don’t have to listen to it. That’s the message that needs to go through. There’s no harm to it.”
Local Greens MP for Balmain Kobi Shetty, who has been actively campaigning for the ‘Yes’ vote, said: “Right now this referendum is our best opportunity to make progress on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and it is just so disappointing to see these disrespectful tactics being used to try and divide our community.
“People should not be made to feel targeted, or have their homes interfered with, for being public in their support for a First Nations to Voice to Parliament.”
A resident of Avenue Road, who also asked not to be named, said: “There’s nothing to be lost, and there’s everything to gain. It’s no big deal, just vote ‘yes’. There’s everything to gain for Australia and Australians.”
The woman, who has lived in her home since the 1967 referendum which saw Indigenous Australians counted in the constitution, and gave the government the ability to make laws regarding Indigenous Australians, said her poster was defaced less than 48 hours after she attached it to her front gate.
She noted despite the string of vandalism, ‘Yes’ seems to be gaining traction in her community.
“There’s a lot of support around here… most of the people whom I’ve spoken to are very supportive,” she added. “Since my poster has been defaced, about four different people have put up posters on the street and they don’t seem to have been touched.”
While the 1967 and 2023 referendums shared similarities, she felt the debate was very different: “I can’t remember opposition [in 1967], I think it was like ‘about jolly time’ or in those days ‘about bloody time’.
“There didn’t seem such a big deal, and I think that’s how Albanese might have thought it would be. It’s obvious to him, as it is to me, that this should be a change in our constitution, to acknowledge the First Nations.
Theoretically, 58 per cent of people are ‘No’ voters, but none of them are putting up a poster.
“I would say that because Dutton has led such a strong negative [campaign], and we have had some people like Mundine, Aboriginal people speaking against it, like Jacinta Price. It’s been made more complicated by all of that, and it has brought out some very negative rhetoric I feel.”
Chris, an Avenue Road resident and self proclaimed “bolted on ‘Yes voter from day one”, believes ‘No’ voters are hiding “in the shadows”.
“Theoretically, 58 per cent of people are ‘No’ voters, but none of them are putting up a poster,” he said.
Chris has had his ‘Yes’ poster defaced three times. He even created a stencil to easily repaint over it if it was defaced again.
After the first time his poster was defaced, Chris decided to keep it up as a “badge of honour” to show he could not be swayed.
A statement from NSW Police said: “Officers from Leichhardt Police Area Command routinely conduct high-visibility patrols as part of ongoing efforts to target anti-social behaviour.”
NSW Police encourages anyone who is a victim of crime to report incidents to police and urge anyone with information about criminal activity to contact Glebe Police Station or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Main picture Nick Newling.