When a proper history of the Voice campaign is written, one of its main themes ought to be the way in which the ‘Yes’ side ended up doing most of the work of its opponents. Now, I mean no disrespect to Warren Mundine, Jacinta Price or Fair Australia, as they have all made a vigorous and cogent case for voting ‘No’. I suspect, though, they also enjoy being able to take the occasional day off by simply letting Voice advocates embarrass and discredit themselves.
For example, I like to think that Anthony Albanese foredoomed his preferred outcome on day dot.
Voting for the most far-reaching constitutional alteration in our nation’s history, the PM unhelpfully explained, is simply evidence of one’s good manners. It isn’t easy to come up with a more derisible case for voting ‘Yes’, though Albanese would soon have his competitors.
Thomas Mayo, now best known as a drafter of the Uluru Statement and an encomiast of the Communist Party, has spent much of the campaign accidentally persuading voters to write ‘No’. Of course, when addressing gullible audiences at public events and in his Handbook, Mayo likes to call the Voice a generous gift for non-Indigenous Australians. Once he gets in a truth-telling mood behind closed doors, however, he admits that the responsibilities of the advisory body extend to punishing his political enemies, annexing land and sending out invoices for reparations and rental payments. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Thomas Mayo, fewer and fewer voters are likely to take up this opportunity to exchange gifts.
Among the unofficial spokespeople for the ‘No’ campaign, Professor Megan Davis is another favourite of mine. In that future book I have in mind, a whole chapter could be devoted to Davis’ seeming inability to count the number of pages in a document she helped write. Until recently, Davis had spent years on the lecture circuit reminding audiences that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is a multi-page document — the feel-good first page, Davis averred, is followed by some history, a list of grievances and quite a few mentions of how the Voice will lead to treaty and financial compensation.
When such information became a liability for persuadable voters, Davis revised her initial count and got very grouchy at anyone who quoted her own numbers back to her. She said all those extra pages — if I may paraphrase her loosely — consist of skimmable stuff and are hardly worth dipping into. Of course, Davis’ clean-up job hasn’t had its desired effect; instead, it has only served to bring more voters to an awareness of both the riskiness of the Voice and the mendacity of its proponents. So much for a get-out-the-yes-vote strategy.
When it comes to alienating the most voters with the fewest sentences, none can rival Professor Marcia Langton, who has undoubtedly been the most effective asset of the ‘No’ campaign. Langton is dominating the news today — and will stay there until voting day, one hopes — for the recorded comments she made at a recent event in Bunbury. With her customary eschewal of good manners, Langton huffed: “Every time the No case raises one of their arguments, if you start pulling it apart you get down to base racism — I’m sorry to say it but that’s where it lands — or just sheer stupidity.”
I’m not sure how this can be positively spun, but Langton’s media lackeys will learn their lines and make a go of it. There’s likely to be a good deal of distinction-without-a-difference making: you know, she didn’t mean to call ‘No’ voters stupid racists; she only suggested that they’ve been taken in by stupidly racist arguments. Anyway, we’ll hear, that charge of racism is only aimed at ‘No’ campaigners like — umm — Langton’s fellow Aboriginals, the aforementioned Price and Mundine. And while she never used the word deplorables, one can’t help but feel that it was strongly implied.
For what it’s worth, I’m also a little sceptical of one thrust of Langton’s remarks: I don’t think she’s “sorry to say it”, not at all. If you watch the video, or any of her speeches, for that matter, you can’t help but notice the giddy contempt Langton has for her opponents. What’s more, calling people ‘racist’ must be counted as one of her hobbies by now. To give just one recent example, in the debate earlier this year about including executive government among the Voice’s interlocutors, Langton flung the accusation of “subconscious racism” at anyone who worried about the potential for court-related mischief. To be fair, compared to her other outbursts, that may well have been one of her more polite moments.
Even with only four weeks to go, I doubt she can master the impulse to engage in a bit more name-calling. Which, by the way, is fine with me, as it’ll only add more names to the tally of the ‘No’ vote. When the Voice fails, ideally in every state on October 14, Professor Langton really should be at the top of our thank-you list. That may not be the demonstration of the good manners Anthony Albanese originally had in mind, but — and I’m not really sorry to say it, either — that was always an argument based on sheer stupidity.