14 February 2023

Chief Minister accused of pushing 'personal crusade' for highest Yes vote on Voice to Parliament

| Claire Fenwicke
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Parliament House

A referendum for a constitutional Voice to Parliament is expected in the second half of 2023. Photo: James Coleman.

The Chief Minister has been accused of ignoring local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and using the creation of a community information campaign on the Voice to Parliament to push his own agenda for the ACT to deliver the highest ‘Yes’ vote in the country.

Andrew Barr introduced the motion on Wednesday (8 February) – which he foreshadowed in his Ministerial Statement at the start of the sitting week – that the ACT Government would develop a community awareness campaign about the upcoming referendum on a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament (the Voice).

He said this built on all state and territory leaders unanimously supporting the Voice at last Friday’s National Cabinet. He disagreed that he had moved this motion without consulting local Indigenous peoples.

Mr Barr argued there had actually been “six years of consultation” on this matter.

“Minister Stephen-Smith, in every meeting with the elected body … has talked about the Voice, so literally hundreds of meetings and engagement,” Mr Barr said.

“I don’t think there is any doubt on this matter, and in fact, what the Opposition leader was seeking to do was to say that six years of engagement, hundreds and hundreds of meetings, including Canberra-specific engagement … all of that was entirely disregarded.”

Mr Barr acknowledged while not every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person supported the Voice, he said “the overwhelming majority” of people do.

He explained the community awareness campaign would outline how a referendum works, how and when people can cast their vote, and support the Yes position.

“We are very clear in advocating for a Yes vote,” Mr Barr said.

“We will not be providing resources for the No case.”

Mr Barr said he hopes the ACT will deliver the highest Yes result in the country on the referendum.

He outlined that no additional public money would be used for the public awareness campaign; instead, the government’s existing social media and other communication channels would be utilised.

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Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee moved an amendment, which was defeated, to have the government consult with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community specifically on this issue and for it to recognise there were many diverse views regarding the Voice.

She said it was disappointing that the government hadn’t consulted its own elected body before moving the motion.

“How incredibly sad it would be for the ACT, that prides itself on having our own voice, to bypass our own elected body on an issue as important as this debate?” Ms Lee said.

“What has become clear is that there is a range of views amongst Canberra’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about the Voice, from those who are firmly in favour of it to those who are firmly against it to those who are still considering this important question.

“For this Chief Minister to bully or demonise people who are genuinely saying ‘I want to actually have a good long think about it’ is really concerning.”

Ms Lee took issue with Mr Barr’s argument that consultation had already occurred throughout the years.

“What he failed to acknowledge, and what he failed to address, is that since this has become an issue for a referendum … none of that has been discussed with the local communities,” she said.

“The top priority for the Chief Minister seems to be ‘I want to achieve the highest Yes vote in the ACT’.

“The referendum is not about one particular leader of a government achieving the highest vote. This is not a competition … but to place it in the realm of, ‘you know what, this is going to be my personal crusade to ensure that we get the highest Yes vote’, it really does speak volumes for where the Chief Minister’s priorities are.”

The Canberra Liberals have not confirmed their position on the Voice to Parliament.

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Brindabella MLA Mark Parton, who has Noongar ancestry, accused Mr Barr of crossing a line by publicly stating his strong support for a Yes vote.

“How dare you tell me how to think about this issue. That’s the problem I have with this,” he said.

“I, in my heart, don’t believe it’s for elected members to tell people how to vote.

“This debate is far too important to be used by the Chief Minister as a political wedge.”

The Commonwealth has not yet passed legislation to allow for a referendum on the matter, nor has a firm date been set for a vote; however, it’s expected to take place in the second half of the year.

It’s understood the Federal Government has decided it will distribute information about the Yes and No debates ahead of the referendum.

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The aboriginal tent embassy outside old parliament says to vote No.

How about a voice on pollie entitlements

Considering voting No just out of spite now.

James-T-Kirk4:17 pm 09 Feb 23

Federal issue, not State. We should not be spending one penny on advertising.

Trevor Willis3:07 pm 09 Feb 23

What a load of rubbish.
Barr says “We will not be providing resources for the No case.”. I suppose that is his form of democracy, where it is “You we’ll vote for what I tell you !”
All Australians are guaranteed a voice in parliament when they vote in federal elections. That is the FIRST VOICE.
The aboriginals, who are less than 3% of the population, actually want a
SECOND VOICE which will apply to only them and bugger the other 97 % of the population.
That will end up creating an APARTHEID situation and it will be a disaster for all of us. It would not fare well for the aborigines as they are way outnumbered, and sensible people will realise that it is not what we want for our future generations.

Just highlights again the arrogance of Andrew Barr in using the government and taxpayer funds to engage in his own personal crusades.

Truly disgusting that he’s so intellectually lazy that he won’t even countenance debate on something so critical as a change to our constitution. A change that is entrenching racism into our governance framework.

Barr conflates a successful referendum as only one outcome.
As pushishment he’ll cancel the tram if we all vote no.

Trevor Willis3:55 pm 09 Feb 23

No way will he ever cancel the tram. Yet another complete waste of money.
All Australian citizens black and white and colours in between have ONE VOICE with their right to vote for their representatives in Federal elections.
This will actually give the aborigines a SECOND VOICE that applies only to them. APARTHEID is the next step
I urge people to vote NO for our future generations.

HiddenDragon7:49 pm 08 Feb 23

There’s no particular reason to think that the ACT vote on a “voice” to the federal parliament will be markedly different to the vote in favour of marriage equality – they are both progressive issues which, for the majority of voters, are more a matter of conscience and values than direct self-interest.

That being the case, the ACT may produce another yes vote which is 5% – 10% below the inner metropolitan areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane –


– hardly something to get too excited about, even for people who obsess about such things, particularly as a strong yes vote in the ACT would only become relevant to the fate of the referendum if the national vote is very finely balanced.

More relevant for the ACT would be genuine progress on the more intractable aspects of Closing the Gap, most particularly Area 10 in all its dimensions –


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