In the week when one of the key players in the campaign for the Voice was recognised as an Australian hero, the path to this year’s referendum took a very bad turn.
Professor Tom Calma, a man who has campaigned almost all of his life for the betterment of Australia’s Indigenous community, was rightly named the Senior Australian of the Year as part of the Australia Day honours list. It’s hard to find someone more deserving.
In his acceptance speech and countless interviews after, Professor Calma was humble and measured. But he also pointed out he hoped to be able to use his award to sell the case for Yes at the Voice referendum.
Well, that was enough for some.
‘How dare he politicise the Australia Day Awards?’ they said. What a load of tosh. He won the award because of the work he has been doing on a variety of important Indigenous issues, so of course he would use this award to further causes, no matter what they were.
After all, would we expect Taryn Brumfitt, the Australian of the Year, not to continue campaigning for more support for those who are being body shamed?
It also seemed Professor Calma has spooked those in the media who have now decided to go all out to try and have the Voice consigned to the dustbin of history. One particular news outlet devoted an obscene amount of column space on the weekend to arguments about why people should vote No.
Many of the arguments were spurious at best, a whole line of straw men designed to further muddy the waters and to make Tom Calma’s task even harder. Those who believed these changes would sail through with little resistance must now be dreading the months ahead.
It appears obvious now that rather than unite the nation, the Voice campaign is not going to be good for our country. If the sort of arguments being trotted out on both sides of the debate are anything to go by, we will end up strongly divided. The more desperate each side gets, the more radical the arguments will become.
And now Warren Mundine, the former ALP national president who quit the party and later ran for the Liberal Party, has added further confusion to the debate by announcing his campaign for a No vote will call for constitutional recognition of both Indigenous people and migrants.
This will add more tension to the campaigns and has the potential to further split Australian communities.
It bears remembering, the proposal behind the Voice is to establish a committee of Indigenous leaders who will be able to provide advice to elected lawmakers on issues affecting their communities.
Provide advice only. They won’t be able to make laws; they won’t be able to block laws. Their powers will be very limited.
What started off as potentially a low-key affair enjoying bipartisan support is falling away very quickly. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is being urged to move fast to take control, but it’s beginning to look like this horse has bolted.