Kevin Airs, Daily Mail, September 12, 2023
Prominent Aboriginal leader and Yes campaigner Marcia Langton has accused the No campaign of being based on ‘base racism’ or ‘sheer stupidity’ – but later denied that her comments were aimed at No voters in particular.
Professor Langton made the remarks at a forum in Bunbury, Western Australia, and said Australians need to apply more scrutiny to claims by the No campaign.
‘Every time the No cases raise their arguments, if you start pulling it apart you get down to base racism – I’m sorry to say that’s where it lands – or sheer stupidity,’ Prof Langton said.
‘If you look at any reputable fact-checker, every one of them says the No case is substantially false. They are lying to you.’
‘I’ve asked the No voters, what would you propose is a better option? What are we to do? Go on, as we are, with no change?
‘I’ve not heard any of them come up with a solution that would work themselves.’
The event was reported by the local Bunbury Herald newspaper to have been held on the campus of Edith Cowan University, but the institution denied organising it.
Prof Langton appeared alongside local Labor state MP Don Punch who is said to have hosted the open forum on The Voice referendum.
She added that former High Court judges had said the referendum question was ‘safe, sound, robust and also practical’.
In a swipe at leading No campaigner senator Jacinta Price, she added: ‘The old judges are telling you this but Jacinta says otherwise.
‘It’s up to you as to whom you take your advice from.’
Prof Langton later insisted she was not calling No voters racist or stupid, but just that the arguments being used in the No campaign were.
‘I’m saying the claims being made by the No case are based in racism and stupidity – and appeal to racism and stupidity,’ Prof Langton told the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.
‘And they are appealing to Australians to frighten them into adopting highly racist and stupid beliefs.’
She added: ‘They’re frightening you with a claim that is blatantly not true and is based in racism and stupidity.
‘The media reporting is a very deliberate tactic to make me look like a racist when I’m not. I am not a racist, and I don’t believe that the majority of Australians are racist.
‘I do believe that the No campaigners are using racist tactics.’
Her comments come after the office of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stressed the need for a ‘respectful debate’ on the Voice referendum to Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday.
The PM has been a longstanding supporter of Prof Langton.
In 1986, as a 23-year-old Young Labor activist, he signed off on a letter with her and Indigenous leader Pat Dodson demanding reparations for the ‘invasion’ of Australia.
In Question Time on Tuesday, he told MPs the No campaign was pushing a ‘deliberate strategy of promoting fear over fact’.
He added: ‘They are telling their campaigners to promote fear rather than hope. Promote division rather than unity.
‘Promote ignoring rather than listening. Promote exclusion rather than recognition.’
But senator Price, shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, slammed Prof Langton’s outburst which she said would be ‘highly offensive’ to the half of the population now backing the No campaign.
She told The Australian it was an ‘insight into the mindset and agenda of the Aboriginal activists pushing the divisive Voice.’
Senator Price added: ‘Whichever way the referendum goes, the result looks like it will be extremely close.
‘Any suggestion No voters who are unpersuaded by their proposed Voice are siding with racism or stupidity is highly offensive to at least half the country.’
Prof Langton’s language is at odds with the official line from the PM’s office which has been demanding a ‘respectful’ debate after Indigenous Australians said they faced a tsunami of racist vitriol since the referendum was promised.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney repeated the call for respect in Question Time on Tuesday after she was challenged by deputy Opposition leader Sussan Lay to condemn Prof Langton’s comments.
‘I want to say this very clearly,’ she said. ‘I call on everyone involved in this referendum to act respectfully and with care for their fellow Australians.
‘We are a great country. We are enhanced by listening to a diversity of views and opinions.
‘Fundamentally the Voice is all about the act of listening. Listening to some of the most disadvantaged Australians, First Nations people, listening to remote communities so we can help close the gap and improve lives.
‘Because we know that listening leads to better results. Of course there is no room for racism of any kind in this country. We are a diverse country.
‘This is one of our greatest strengths. Whether your family arrived here 60,000 years ago, six years ago, we’re all part of this country’s story.’
She added: ‘I encourage all Australians to vote Yes on October 14 because it is time to listen, it is time for recognition.’
Opposition leader Peter Dutton tried to suspend standing orders during Question Time to debate the government’s handling of the referendum after the latest revelations.
He said the PM’s actions were ‘dividing the country in an unprecedented and reckless way’, and that he ‘arrogantly’ believed the nation would vote for the Voice without knowing the full details.
His motion demanded Parliament express ‘its grave concern at this Prime Minister’s comprehensive mishandling of the Voice referendum’, and he slammed the ‘contempt that this government shows for millions of Australians’.
The move was supported by Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley, who described Labor’s position as a ‘window into the psyche of the Yes campaign and a window into the psyche of a modern Labor Party’.
‘They refuse to accept that everyday Australians do not like what they see when it comes to the Voice.’
Attorney-general Mark Dreyfus dismissed the Opposition attack and branded Mr Dutton ‘the leader of a misinformation and disinformation campaign’.
‘He knows it,’ he said. ‘He has misled the people of Australia repeatedly throughout this campaign. And he should be ashamed of himself.’
On the ABC on Tuesday, Yes campaigner Noel Pearson joined the calls for a more considered debate to win over voters swaying either way on the vote.
‘There’s a great swag of Australians who still are undecided or soft in their No or soft in their Yes,’ Mr Pearson said.
‘I’m finding that as long as we treat their questions and concerns with respect, and we attend the outstanding questions they have in their minds, I find that people are willing to listen to the answers.
‘People are willing to contemplate changing their position once they have a greater understanding, a clear understanding of what we’re doing with this referendum.
‘So it’s ours to win.’
But he admitted the vote would be ‘a test of our democracy, because the real, big question is, can hope and belief and optimism triumph over fear and anger?
‘You know, that’s a real question for us in this social media age, in the modern democratic age.
‘Can a campaign of positivity for the future prevail against a headwind, an absolute raging storm of fear and anger?’