The Voice

Yes, Indeed, the Intention is to Deceive

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.


20 thoughts on “Yes, Indeed, the Intention is to Deceive

  • brandee says:

    Much indebted are we for this timely forensic analysis DB.
    Noticeable in a pocket edition of Australia’s Constitution was the commencement ‘Whereas the people —” just as you have quoted. The Yes 23 deception needs to be exposed in newspapers but my submissions have not as yet received the approval of any Letters Editor so will amend and repeat. Others please join in.
    How poorly Australia has been served by leaders from the Liberal Moderates. None of these issues have been given any public clarity and former PM Scott Morrison, nominated by the ousted Turnbull, declined to engage in the culture war. A metaphor comes to mind of an army on the battlefield led by a non-combatant chanting ‘jobs and growth’.

    • DougD says:

      brandee – your metaphor is inaccurate. It would be better to refer to an army led by a non-combatant chanting “Don’t enter the battlefield. Just concentrate on jobs and growth.”

  • rosross says:

    Great article. The informed know all this but they are a minority.

    As you say, the advertisement on television for the Yes campaign saying Aborigines were not included in the Constitution IS A LIE. Everyone was and is included in the Constitution as Australians because the Constitution represents every Australian equally. This is why no one group is singled out for mention because that would be unconstitutional.

    Aborigines were British citizens, subjects, within a short time of the arrival in 1788. When we all became Australian citizens in 1949 and stopped being British subjects, so did everyone with Aboriginal ancestry.


  • rosross says:

    I have lodged a complaint that the ad misrepresents. We need to get more to do this.

    • NarelleG says:

      It is encouraging that members of the Facts Matter group are submitting objections via the AEC – some confusion as to which category.
      My complaint refers to:
      Choose category

      Public Interest Disclosure

  • Michael says:

    The entire ‘Yes’ case and approach is characterised by an intention to deceive.

    The the leaders of the recognition movement, people like Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Megan Davis and others, have vision of recognition that, if clearly and fully articulated, would be totally abhorrent to the wider Australian community. Hence the poetic, sentimental language of the Statement from the Heart, the lack of detail on how the voice would operate, the denigration of doubters and opponents. The case for their Voice is necessarily vague, emotional, and shame based. The case against, however, is clear, reasoned, and principled.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    David Barton,
    Your text closely matches the words that I said (loudly) to my dear wife as I watched that TV commercial. It was our 59th wedding anniversary, so I did not continue, to avoid spoiling her day.
    This needs to rapidly go futher than I can take it in my retirement. There needs to be an immediate legal challenge based on “False”. Sooner the better. Then, there needs to be punishment or public accountability for the offenders.
    If that ad indicated the standard of “advice” that is intended to “help” people understanding each other through Constitutional amendment, we shall soon be in a sorry state – one that we brought upon ourselves by not reacting quickly and strongly. Geoff S

  • cbattle1 says:

    This issue, “The Voice”, is conflated inseparably with other political agendas, such as “Treaty”, “reparations”, and recognition by the Australian War Memorial of the long war waged by the First Nation peoples in defending their sovereignty from British invasion and colonial dispossession, massacre, extermination, etc. The “Voice” is merely the vanguard of a political movement that ultimately leads to the break-up of Australia!
    “We’ve been here 65 thousand years!” Traditional Aboriginal culture did not have a calendar or chronology of dates and events of the past; it was a concept that was completely irrelevant to their culture.

    • NarelleG says:


      PLEASE the contemporary descendants of those aborigines here in 1788 were NOT the ‘first and definitely not ‘nations’ and not ‘peoples’- why have you been taken in?

      [ long war waged by the First Nation peoples]

  • Ross Veale says:

    Let’s face it, every human being on the planet has ancestry going back 65,000 years or more. It’s what’s happening today that is important because the past cannot be changed, regardless of how many statues are torn down.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    The level of deception will be far worse during the final month, when there is too short a time span for objections and formal complaints to be serviced.

  • geoff_brown1 says:

    I can remember when the teaching was that Aboriginal Australians had been here 20,000 years…

  • ianl says:

    David Barton’s article here is accurate in its’ analysis, but not quite.

    The real point to the “65,000 years of habitation” by the Aborigines *isn’t* that they have been here that length of time and so deserve some special recognition, but rather that they have been here for 65,000 years and then whitey came along and grabbed it from them. Reparations, specifically.

    I expect no-one to assume I have empathy or not on that point. I’m simply exposing the real issue opened by that particular line in the Yes23 campaign advertisement.

    • rosross says:

      The official timeframe is 40,000 years for humans in Australia which is the same for the Americas.

      However, since we have no idea if any of the peoples living here in 1788 were descended from the first humans to arrive it is a bit of a moot point. Many or all may well have come in later waves of migration and colonisation, i.e. Southern Indians arriving about 4,000 years ago.

      And since Aboriginal peoples also invaded and colonised and took the land of others, why are only Europeans accountable?

    • pmprociv says:

      ianl: you clearly haven’t been reading Professor Uncle Bruce Pascoe, who reassures us that they’ve been here 120,000 years, reaching this continent 60,000 years before the primitive Africans even considered leaving theirs. Truly a very advanced civilisation.

  • rosross says:

    The response yo my complaint to AEC.

    Dear Roslyn

    Thank you for your email.

    The AEC’s role is to run the referendum in line with legislation, not to discuss the arguments for or against the proposed change. The AEC has no role in regulating the content of advertising. The AEC’s involvement in advertising is limited to authorisations so that people know who is communicating the information and to ensure advertising doesn’t mislead people as to how to cast a formal vote.

    As there are currently no truth in political advertising laws, the AEC has continued our Stop and Consider campaign to voters. During the referendum you may come across information that isn’t supported by evidence, is missing context or is even deliberately misleading. We are asking voters to consider whether the information is accurate and truthful.

    The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act makes provision for the AEC to distribute a pamphlet containing the of arguments for and against proposed alterations to the Constitution. The ‘Yes’ case is required to be authorised by a majority of those Members of the Parliament who voted in favour of the proposed law and the ‘No’ case by a majority of those Members of the Parliament who voted against it. The yes/no case arguments will be distributed to every household in Australia after a referendum date has been announced. Further information about this is available on our website at The 2023 referendum – Australian Electoral Commission (

    Thank you for contacting the AEC,

    Sally | Public Enquiries Officer

    Australian Electoral Commission

    Canberra ACT

    Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2023 5:06 PM
    To: Complaints Management
    Subject: [COMPLAINT Not listed] Ross, Roslyn () *WWW* [SEC=OFFICIAL]

    CAUTION: This email originated from outside of the Australian Federal Government. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognise the sender and know the content is safe.

    Form submitted: 17/05/2023 05:05 PM


    Not listed

    Primary Details
    Given name(s):





    Electoral division:


    Complaint Details
    There is an advertisement on television for the Yes campaign saying Aborigines were not included in the Constitution.

    THIS IS A LIE. Everyone was and is included in the Constitution as Australians because the Constitution represents every Australian equally. This is why no one group is singled out for mention because that would be unconstitutional.

    Aborigines were British citizens, subjects, within a short time of the arrival in 1788. When we all became Australian citizens in 1949 and stopped being British subjects, so did everyone with Aboriginal ancestry.

    This claim is misrepresentation of what the constitution is and is meant to be.

    Expected Outcome
    The advertisement should be changed so it does not misrepresent.

    • rosross says:

      I replied,

      Dear Sally,

      Thank you for your response.

      However, since you state, The AEC’s involvement in advertising is limited to authorisations so that people know who is communicating the information and to ensure advertising doesn’t mislead people as to how to cast a formal vote,

      then it is fair for me to make the point that the advertisement I cited is misleading people on how to cast their vote. While I am sure you mean this in a technical sense the most important technical sense is whether people vote Yes or No, and dishonest advertising which emotionally bullies people into voting Yes is misleading people as to how to cast a formal vote.

      Roslyn Ross

  • john.singer says:

    Between Sir Henry Parkes oration at Tenterfield in 1889 and the meeting of the Constitution Committee aboard the Licinda in 1891 were the arrangements and invitation processes.

    What is seldom revealed, apparently by activists. is that the Commonwealth was intended to be a federation of all the British Colonies in the vicinity. That included Fiji and New Zealand.

    By Easter 1891 Fiji had declined so the original draft constitution embraced New Zealand and the clauses relating Aborigines also named Maories for the same reason (the Colonies would not relinquish control).New Zealand later withdrew and Western Australia was omitted from the preamble because they did not hold the requisite referendum before the draft legislation was completed,

    As all Aboriginal and Torres Island people were British Subjects and citizens of their Colony of residemnce at midnight on 31 December 1900 and those Torres Strait Islander people residing on-island were British Subjects and citizens of the Colony of Queensland: they and all the other British Citizens resident in the Colonies became, one minute later – THE FIRST AUSTRALIANS.

  • NarelleG says:

    @David Barton – I have heard it said it is Ernie Dingo’s voice over in the ad that said – ‘aborigines weren’t ‘recon-ised’.

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