Linda Burney’s National Press Club address has been described as “very poor,” with The Australian’s Greg Sheridan taking the Indigenous Australians Minister to task over a “ridiculous” claim about the No campaign.
Ms Burney addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday, giving an impassioned plea for Australians to vote Yes in the referendum later this year.
Sheridan said he was sure Ms Burney was motivated by a desire to improve conditions for Indigenous Australians, but that she gave a “very poor performance” during the landmark speech.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians attempted to define the Voice’s remit during the speech, asserting that she would ask the Voice to consider four priority areas of health, education, jobs, and housing.
Though Sheridan said that when pressed on how she could “limit the Voice to four key areas” or suggest “what their priorities will be” – given the wording of the proposal – Ms Burney “just refused to answer those questions.”
The Australian’s foreign editor then highlighted what he described as a key contradiction in Ms Burney’s message.
“She made two great statements: First statement is we on the Yes campaign are going to be positive, respectful, loving, kindly,” Sheridan said.
“And then the second statement is all the No campaigners are ‘Trump-like’ in their politics. They’re a post truth organization. They’re spreading falsehoods and lies, such as that having a racially chosen special body in the Constitution somehow rather contradicts the idea of one vote one value.”
Sheridan said the accusation was therefore “ridiculous”, equating it to a mindset that assumes if you disagree with someone you’re a “bad person” and should be labelled as a “racist and a Trumper”.
The Australian’s foreign editor said the claims may resonate in “Brunswick and Balmain” but would have “no resonance at all” in most of Australia.
“Imagine going out to Blacktown or Mount Druitt and saying ‘I want to tell you how terrible Jacinta Price and Warren Mundane and Peter [Dutton] are: they are Trumpers’. I mean, it’s just ridiculous,” Sheridan said.
“I mean, talk about a political class disappearing in its own cloud of mythology.”
Sheridan said the accusation was also “insulting” to people who, like him, are planning to vote No.
“I am going to vote no. I’m an opponent of the voice. I’ve studied it hard, I’ve talked to everybody about it. I’ve talked to a lot of Voice proponents,” he said.
“I believe, like Malcolm Turnbull judged in his first judgement and wrote in his memoirs, that it does breach the principle of a colourblind, racially neutral democracy of universal franchise.
“Does that make me a Trumper? That’s just ridiculous. Does that make me a racist? I mean, this is a grotesque level for the federal government to descend to.
Sheridan said the government claimed the No campaign would sow division but that the country was now more divided over race than at any point in the last 50 years.
“And that is purely because of this determination to put race at the heart of our Constitution, when every liberal instinct is to eliminate race from our civic arrangements,” he said.
Sheridan also called out Ms Burney for claiming that the number of institutions supporting the Voice was a better indication of public support than the polls.
“The fact that the business community, the union movement, the sporting codes, the faith groups, the civil society are supporting this, I believe, is the real measure of the level of support out there in the community,” Ms Burney said during her press club address.
“This is an attempt at kind of corporate democracy, where you get your key elites and interest group representatives to tell the public what they must think,” Sheridan responded.
“Now electorates, democratic electorates, have a long tradition of rebelling against that.”
Pointing to the parallels with the Brexit vote, Sheridan said attempting to bombard the public with pro-Voice messages from establishment figures and institutions was “very dangerous for the Yes campaign.” As is the attempts to thumb the scales of the debate.
“Here we have a matter where the government thinks one thing, the opposition thinks the reverse. The polls say that the society is divided 50-50,” he said.
“So you would expect that the no case and the yes case would be equally funded, and that they would get equal representation on the national broadcaster. You’re not getting anything like that.”
Sheridan said the bias from sections of the media was “intensely undemocratic.”
“There is an element of a kind of communist politics about this where everybody has to think the same thing, and if you disagree, if you are an ideological deviation, you’re not just someone who disagrees, you’re a bad person, you’re a liar, you’re a racist,” he said.
“And if the electorate is aware of this, they are quite likely to rebel and it would be a magnificent moment of Australian democracy.
“It wouldn’t be a tragedy for reconciliation or any of the other balderdash. It wouldn’t make us international pariahs.
“It would be a magnificent moment of democratic deliberation; if Australians voted No in spite of being instructed to vote Yes by their betters and their overlords.”
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