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Indigenous leader Marcia Langton has claimed death threats and abuse are being aimed at the key advocates for a Yes vote at the October 14 referendum, in an emotional call on voters to save lives by voting for change.
Langton said there was “nothing to fear” from the Indigenous Voice and warned voters against the “deceit” of No campaigners who claimed the outcome would divide the country on race.
Professor Marcia Langton addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday.Credit: James Brickwood
But she called on the government to prepare for the aftermath of the national ballot by setting out how it would ensure consultation with First Nations people, saying a No vote would be falsely seen as a “mandate to do nothing” that would entrench disadvantage and cost lives.
While she did not name individuals who had been subject to death threats, Langton expressed concern at the tone of the debate and warned of more damage if the Voice was rejected on October 14.
At one point in her address, with tears on her face, Langton named footballer Adam Goodes and broadcaster Stan Grant as examples of Indigenous people who were targeted by parts of the media.
“I think the debate will change so radically, if the No vote succeeds, that our advocacy will be seen as ineffectual, and so, therefore, how we participate in the public square will be very, very different,” she said.
“Because the levels of abuse against the Yes campaign, including death threats, and daily published insults and abuse, takes a toll.
“And I think our generation of leaders will hand over to younger leaders. And they too, then, will become targets like Adam Goodes, like Stan Grant, and the cycle will continue.
“And in this regard, I think the media has a responsibility to lift their game in reporting on these issues, and not participate in pile-ons on persons who are good and decent people.”
“I fear that a No vote will be interpreted, and falsely I should say, as a mandate for governments to do nothing and make our lives worse. I think that’s the greatest danger,” Langton told the National Press Club on Wednesday.
“I also fear that a No vote will be perceived, and again I say falsely, as a mandate for not establishing consultative bodies. Again, I say, that’s false – that would be a false interpretation of a No vote.”
Langton is a professor at the University of Melbourne and was appointed by the Morrison government in 2019 to lead the design process for the Voice, co-chaired by fellow professor Tom Calma and resulting in recommendations that cleared the way for this year’s vote.
“I do hope that the government sets out an agenda for reform that’s based on common sense, on the recommendations of many inquiries and royal commissions and on expert advice, before the rabble take over and turn a No vote into a mandate to cause us even further harm,” she said.
Asked if the government should do this before or after the October 14 vote, she said: “It must be as soon as possible. If the government is not inclined to set out the agenda before the vote, then they should do so immediately afterwards. And that means they should be prepared now to tell us what the future holds for us.”
The comments come after the latest Resolve Political Monitor showed 54 per cent support for No and 46 per cent for Yes, highlighting the prospect of defeat for Voice advocates.
Asked for her message to those who were leaning toward a No vote, Langton said the current approach often led to “tick a box” consultations that had delivered failure on closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.
“What Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people really want rarely makes its way through the bureaucratic haze,” she said.
“Often we find that what was said is not reflected in the outcome.”
Langton countered concerns that the Voice would be made permanent in the Constitution by saying it would be needed for the long-term and predicting, for example, that it would take at least 50 years, on current trends, for First Australians to reach parity with the population on life expectancy.
“There’s nothing to fear,” she said of the suggestion that parliament would be obliged to listen to the Voice.
“Would there be an obligation? I don’t know. That’s up to the parliament.”
Langton joined other Indigenous leaders in dismissing the proposal from Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for a second referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous people if this referendum fails, saying she was “not in the least” interested in this idea.
“There’s no point in a second referendum because it’s not what we want,” she said.
Langton described the Voice proposal at this referendum as the “one chance” to improve outcomes for Indigenous people because it would build trust and confidence in better policy at a time when Indigenous disadvantage has become worse on some measures.
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