The many Voice campaigns

Ostensibly Voice campaigns are binary – support for yes or no.

But underneath the overall campaign are a multitude of subsets of campaign groups and tactics.

For a start we have the Dad’s Army campaign featuring John Howard, Tony Abbott, Alan Jones and assorted names which, when you hear them, make you realise you didn’t know they were still alive.

Then there is the sort of official No campaign lead by Peter Dutton which is more concerned with tactics and inflicting a defeat on the Government than any matter of principle or serious analysis of the issues. Some of his colleagues are embarrassed by that and say they won’t campaign for No, but a few will campaign for Yes and most of the reticent will probably vote Yes.

Among the Indigenous opponents are Warren Mundine who has shifted from various political alignments over the years and is now focussing on recognizing a “better way”. The slogan was originally used in an old Robert Redford film, The Candidate, and a very unsuccessful Victorian Labor Opposition campaign many decades ago. What resonance the latest iteration of the slogan will have on Mundine’s campaign is moot.

Lidia Thorpe is the most high-profile Indigenous No campaigner but the chances she will be around after she next stands for election are slim to say the least.

Then there is the news media campaign obsessed with conflict – real, imagined, created – which is symptomatic of the massive problems mainstream media are facing. How much relationship it has to the real world is difficult to see but we know the context and drivers of the approach.

As Rafael Behr says in his new book – Politics a survivors’ guide: how to stay engaged without getting enraged – journalists like him need to recognize their role in creating a toxic political culture and that access journalism, the bedrock of much political reporting, “skews the market for political news in ways that suit politicians who are adept at suppling the demand for rumour, scuttlebutt and salacious quotes anonymously sourced.”

The Financial Times columnist, Janan Ganesh, has recently written about the media’s self-obsession and narcissism as it loses its cultural power and its power as a gate keeper.

“In a sense journalism is going through the same fate as the serious novel. The fewer people are interested in it, the more insular and masturbatory it becomes,” he said.

This is allied with some remarkable lack of self and institutional awareness of reality perhaps exemplified by a Peter Van Onselen column (The Australian 24-25 June). It suggests the Yes campaign has to try get a little respect and stop hectoring opponents which, in the pages of a Murdoch publication, has to be both a prime example of Ganesh’s points and of gross hypocrisy. Yassmin Abdel-Magied and others can testify to the intense vicious attacks Murdoch media launch against anyone daring to disagree with the Murdoch media world view. Perhaps Van Onselen doesn’t read the paper to which he submits copy?

Then there are the commitments of all major sporting groups, the Business Council of Australia and the AICD. Dutton has chided business groups for their involvement in the campaign which is odd given the Liberals normally bend over backwards (or forward?) to do whatever they want – frequently at the expense of the environment and ordinary Australians’ living standards.

On the other hand, there is another campaign which is much more important and extensive than any of these – one which is largely ignored by the media. This is the massive national grassroots campaign currently being launched by community groups, young people, religious and multicultural groups.

It is just starting to get underway after much planning and is operating at a level the media normally ignores other than when they need a quick vox pop from some innocent passerby or are victims of road crashes.

This campaign is quite separate from the high-profile support from all major sporting organisations, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

In every electorate in Australia people are setting up Yes23 groups to organise door-knocking, community outreach and local grass-roots campaigning. Exactly the sort of campaigning which produced the surprise Teal results.

Mia Gardiner in the Australian Jewish News (1 June) detailed another massive campaign among religious and multicultural groups. The campaign is a growing nationwide alliance multicultural groups that has issued a joint resolution urging “all Australians to work together to ensure referendum success”. So far 110 ethnic and cultural community groups have committed to the campaign.

Gardiner cited the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, who said: “The referendum on constitutional recognition of a First Nations Voice raises questions which transcend political and cultural divides”.

He also said that this was why “so many multicultural and faith communities which usually align with different sides of the political spectrum have united to support the overwhelming majority of Indigenous Australians in backing the referendum.”

The scale of the campaign can be ascertained at the alliance’s website.

The current opinion polls may be suggesting the Voice campaign is in trouble even if there are wide disparities among polls. That is almost certainly a result of the impact of the campaign as it is reflected in the media and the fact that the really impactful campaign – the one that goes people to people, neighbour to neighbour, club to club, interest group to interest group, church to mosque, synagogue to Hindu temple – is just getting started.

A new Essential poll suggests something else – Peter Dutton’s Voice position may be making the Liberal Party’s problems with women and young people even worse. The poll showed that support for Yes was 10% higher among women and highest among voters aged 35 or younger. Whatever the referendum result that’s bad news for the Liberals at the next Federal election.

The blog is grateful to Gary Max for alerting it to the Gardiner article and his subsequent research assistance. Gary has also recently interviewed Liberal MP, Julian Leeser and Labor MP, Josh Burns about the Voice on his J-Air talk show. 

Correction: Sorry – the interview was just with Josh Burns who hopes to do something with Julian Leeser later.