Most likely you have seen Yes23’s campaign’s Voice referendum TV ad many times by now. It’s slick in seeking to provoke an emotional reaction, but that is not its only attribute, for it is also misleading, disingenuous, misinformation and disinformation. Before we go any further, here’s the ad:
Misleading is defined as “giving the wrong idea or impression”; Disingenuous as “slightly dishonest, or not speaking the complete truth”, with Disinformation being “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.” As we shall see, the Yes23 television advertisement is all of the above. It opens with these words:
Australia’s Constitution is 122 years old and still doesn’t recognise indigenous Australians.
This statement is correct. After 122 years the Australian Constitution does not “recognise Aboriginal people.” However, in point of fact, it does not ‘recognise’ anyone, and that is deliberate. The purpose of the Constitution is, in essence, to set out the working relationships between the states and the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia. It was never intended to ‘recognise’ anyone. The Constitution only refers to “the people” of Australia, as it should, of whom all Aborigines, immigrants and people native-born in Australia are included.
WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established…
Australia’s Constitution does not ‘recognise’ or mention any group of people, just as it shouldn’t. It is intentionally blind to race and religion, and should never be allowed to mention any specific racial group as being more important than any other group, as this would immediately be hierarchical, divisive and, indeed, racist.
Clearly, the Yes23 campaign intends to create the impression there has been some mistake in that Aborigines have been inadvertently omitted or deliberately excluded from the Constitution. This is untrue, misleading and deceptive, aimed at making viewers think this alleged omission is a ‘mistake’ that needs to be be corrected. Note, too, that the male speaker’s voice is pitched in a complaining tone as if something is amiss. This adds to the ad’s emotional appeal. The Yes23 website says the same thing, but goes further and makes the misrepresentation worse:
Australia’s now 122-year-old constitution still doesn’t recognise our first Australians; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s time it did. By voting “Yes” you’ll ensure that they are finally recognised in our constitution in a simple and meaningful way: through a Voice to Parliament that will ensure they are heard on the issues that affect their communities.
This statement does not tell the whole story and omits key facts. For Aboriginal people to be recognised in the Constitution in a “simple and meaningful way through a Voice to Parliament …” is yet more deceitful and disingenuous propaganda. To attempt to convince the population that the proposed Voice would be “simple” is to deny the complexity of the proposal, its enormous financial cost and the massive political and social impact it will have on our democracy and way of life. Further, the Voice clearly would not be restricted only to issues “that affect their communities”. This, again, is a lie intended to mislead. The Yes23 campaign clearly hopes to garner Yes support by by denying voters the information they need to make a properly informed decision.
The ad’s next effort to mislead is the following statement from an Aboriginal woman:
‘We’ve been here for 65,000 years.’
In follow-on from the first misleading statement, the Aboriginal woman, also in a complaining tone of voice, implies that the length of time Aboriginal people have been in Australia makes this purported exclusion/omission even worse. The length of time Aborigines have been in Australia is a highly contested argument, but that is beside the point. What relevance has that habitation, however long, to changing the Constitution? The two are in no way connected, except by emotional appeal.
The advertisement then goes on to say:
This year, Australians have a chance to fix that…
… to fix what exactly? That Aborigines have been omitted from nor mentioned in the Constitution, or that Aborigines have allegedly inhabited Australia for 65,000 years? The segue is vague and unclear. What follows next is this:
…with a referendum to give Indigenous Australians a real say in their future.
This is horrendously misleading. The vast majority who identify as Aborigines are urban city dwellers who, just like everyone else, have identical opportunities to ‘have their say’, as does every other Australian. They are not disadvantaged in that way, not at all.
The misleading implication is that Indigenous Australians don’t “have a say” because they are not mentioned in the Constitution. In actual fact, apart from the eleven elected Aboriginal members of the federal parliament, Aborigines across Australia currently have a ‘real say in their future’ through a multitudinous plethora of representative Aboriginal organisations numbering in the hundreds. Indeed, Aboriginal Australians are organisationally the most thoroughly over-represented group in Australia. Further, what is a “real” say? Implicit in Yes23’s use of that word is the assertion that all those bodies are a pretense or simply not valid or real, that they are insufficient, don’t work or whatever. This is fraud in the service of a political deception.
Then there are the ad’s follow-up comments, the first by a man who appears to be Aboriginal and who says “Fair enough!” (as if the current situation is unfair) and a couple of white people agreeing with him saying “I’ll second that!”. Regard that as just a little bit of positive whitefella confirmation stuck in there for persuasive good measure.
Thus, to review, the ad creates a false and misleading impression that Aboriginal people were:
1/ Deliberately or accidentally omitted from the Constitution.
2/ That, on the basis of the length of time Aboriginal people have allegedly inhabited Australia, this was a mistake that must be corrected.
3/ That a change to the Constitution is required to provide Aboriginal people with a ‘real say’ in their lives which they are alleged not currently to enjoy.
All of these statements and implications are patently untrue.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese clearly stated that what he termed ‘misleading’ information would not be tolerated in the referendum process and perhaps even made illegal. We can assume he was referring only to the ‘No’ campaigners, because this ad is a prime example of the intention to deceive.
Let’s be under no illusion; advertisements such as the Yes23 campaign’s example — no doubt there will be many more in coming months — are nothing more than a stalking horse towards the path of “simple and meaningful” Aboriginal sovereignty over all of Australia via the ‘Voice’, ‘truth-telling’, ‘treaty’ and ‘reparations’, all things that the likes of Yes23 doesn’t want Australians to know about.
Some readers might be inclined to lodge complaints about the ad. If so they can be presented via the following link to
Australian Electoral Commission.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The AEC has written to say taking complaints about the Yes23 ad, advising that any such communication will be ‘a waste of your readers’ time’. In a second, follow-up note responding to a request for clarification, the advice was as follows:
While your original article suggests contacting the AEC to complain about these ads, I want to be clear that just like at a federal election, the AEC has no role in regulating the accuracy of statements made by campaigners. If you’re familiar with the obscure niche of case law around the Commonwealth Electoral Act (from with the Referendum act borrows a lot of language) then I probably don’t need to tell you that the only exception to this is an extremely narrow role in regulating statements that mislead or deceive about the physical act of casting a vote – this narrow role has been clarified by a large volume of case law. At a referendum, just like at a federal election, this role only begins once a writ is issued for the actual electoral event. I don’t know when that will be but it’ll need to be after the Parliament deals with the Constitutional alteration bill, which according to reports I read in the media will be approximately mid-June.
To sum up the above and give you a short statement to provide to your readers:
The AEC has contacted me to inform me that they legally do not play a role in regulating truth in political advertising. Their advice is to check the source of political advertising to ensure that you know who is communicating with you, which will allow you to make an informed decision about your vote at the referendum when it is held later this year.