Albanese says yes campaign ‘factored in’ Dutton’s opposition to Indigenous voice to parliament

Anthony Albanese says the government has “factored in” the prospect of Peter Dutton’s Liberal party campaigning against the Indigenous voice, and it doesn’t mean the referendum will fail.

He has confirmed that the yes campaign will soon feature sports stars from the NRL, AFL and cricket – and he expects the business community and faith groups to add their support.

The old maxim that referendums needed bipartisan support for success may have changed, due to shifts in Australian politics and society, Albanese told Sky News on Sunday.

And he said the opposition leader had underestimated how many Liberal supporters would vote for the constitutional change.

“He’s made his decision. We factored that in and we will just work to ensure that it does succeed.”

The government and the yes campaign are still confident the voice referendum will be successful, despite the Liberal and National parties pledging to oppose the constitutional change. Dutton confirmed on Wednesday he would actively campaign against the referendum, as would Nationals including Jacinta Price, a leader of the no movement, and Barnaby Joyce.

Albanese has spoken several times about courting Coalition supporters to back the referendum. On Sunday, he said he expected many would support change.

“I think Peter Dutton has underestimated the number of Liberal and National party voters who will show generosity and goodwill and who will vote yes in this referendum,” Albanese said.

He accused Dutton of seeking to undermine and sow doubt about the referendum, rebuffing several questions about whether the government would offer any substantial changes to their voice proposal in a bid to win Coalition support.

“Peter Dutton’s already declared his position. David Littleproud declared the position of the National party last year. It is very hard for them to argue they’re participating in this committee process in good faith,” Albanese said.

Of 44 referendums proposed in Australia, just eight have passed. A referendum requires a national majority of voters to vote yes, and also a majority of voters in a majority of states, in order to change the constitution. None have passed without bipartisan support from both major parties, but Albanese claimed this record could be broken, pointing to more recent political history.

Quick Guide

What is the Indigenous voice to parliament and how would it work?


What has happened already?

The Albanese government has put forward the referendum question: “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?” 

The PM also suggested three sentences be added to the constitution:

  • There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

How would it work?

The voice would be able to make recommendations to the Australian parliament and government on matters relating to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The voice would be able to table formal advice in parliament and a parliamentary committee would consider that advice. But all elements would be non-justiciable, meaning that there could not be a court challenge and no law could be invalidated based on this consultation.

How would it be structured?

The Indigenous voice co-design report recommended the national voice have 24 members, encompassing two from each state, the Northern Territory, ACT and Torres Strait. A further five members would represent remote areas and an additional member would represent Torres Strait Islanders living on the mainland.

Members would serve four-year terms, with half the membership determined every two years.

For more detail, read our explainer here.

Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

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“I think that Australia’s political system has changed substantially. Just a couple of weeks ago, in the Aston byelection, history was created with something that hadn’t happened in over a hundred years: the government winning a seat off the opposition in a byelection. So we live in different times from when past referendums were held,” he said.

“But the time has come … I think that it is time to recognise First Nations people in our constitution.”

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The government has long foreshadowed the yes campaign would mount a major public advertising blitz featuring sporting and entertainment stars. Albanese said the campaign was approaching, with football codes, Cricket Australia and basketball organisations coming onboard.

“I know from speaking to a number of the NRL and AFL players, both past and present, that they will be active in putting their views in support of constitutional recognition … I would be surprised if you didn’t see a range of figures out there saying that it is time for recognition,” he said.

“We have here the business community, the faith groups, we have trade unions, we have sporting organisations, non-government organisations will all be out there campaigning for ‘yes’.”

Albanese will take a week of leave from this weekend. The defence minister, Richard Marles, and the foreign minister, Penny Wong, will be acting prime minister during his absence.

Nationals leader Littleproud, speaking on Channel Nine’s Today program, downplayed the impact of a major yes campaign featuring sports stars. Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of being on “the wrong side of history”, Littleproud responded “no I’m not”.

“My heart is genuinely in for constitutional recognition. It’s just the mechanism that the prime minister’s put in front of us,” he said.

Littleproud also scorned the prospect of sporting and corporate bodies campaigning for the referendum.

“Just to the corporates, if the moral compass of this country is going to be set by corporate Australia, then God help us,” he said.

Dutton’s voice claims explained: politics with Amy Remeikis – video