Yes campaign’s first TV ad champions constitutional recognition, steers clear of Voice debate

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The Yes campaign’s first video advertisement appeals to Australians to vote for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians at the upcoming referendum but makes only a passing reference to the Voice to parliament as the vehicle for achieving this.

The national ad, which will hit television screens from Friday, taps into the widespread support among Australians for recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the constitution – a principle that also has bipartisan support – but avoids delving into the political debate around the Voice model.

“Australia’s Constitution is 122 years old and still doesn’t recognise Indigenous Australians … this year Australians have a chance to fix that,” Gadigal elder Uncle Allen Madden says in the narration of the ad.

One of the faces of campaign, Arrernte elder Aunty Sabella Turner, tells the audience: “We’ve been here for 65,000 years.”

But the ad steers clear of championing the Voice to parliament – a permanent Indigenous advisory body that Australians will be asked to enshrine in the Constitution at the referendum – instead characterising the referendum as the chance “to give Indigenous Australians a real say in their future”. The only explicit reference to the Voice comes in the form of a hashtag at the end of the ad.

The ad will also roll out online, on radio, and on outdoor advertising spaces, such as bus stops.

Yes Campaign Alliance director Dean Parkin said the aim of the ad was to simplify the conversation for a broad audience after months of intense political commentary around the Voice.

“We’ve got to remember that there’s a lot of people who haven’t really heard much about this, who are coming to it pretty fresh. There’s probably been a lot of confusion,” he said.

“This campaign, right from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, has always said that this is about both – it’s about recognition, but it’s about that recognition having to be meaningful. That’s why Indigenous people have said it’s got to be through the Voice. So it’s about combining the two.”

He said the ad would be the first of several from the Yes campaign rolled out between now and the referendum and would run in every jurisdiction, rather than seeking to saturate particular states, saying: “We’re not at that stage of targeting, it’s a conversation for the whole nation.”

For months the political debate around the Voice has been mired in legal arguments about the proposed wording of the amendment to embed the body in the Constitution and the risk of High Court litigation, which has been a key focus of an ongoing joint parliamentary inquiry into the referendum that will hand down its findings next month.

Former High Court justices Robert French and Kenneth Hayne and Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue are among a slew of legal experts who have backed the amendment as legally sound, while Ian Callinan, also a former justice, has argued that concerns the Voice could delay and disrupt government and business activity “cannot be brushed aside”.

Every prime minister since John Howard has supported the principle of constitutional recognition, while polling and surveys conducted by multiple organisations in recent years, including the Australian Election Study surveys by the Australian National University in 2016 and 2019, have repeatedly placed public support for the concept above 60 per cent.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has repeatedly appealed to this baseline support, describing the Voice as a “modest change” that will deliver constitutional recognition and provide for Indigenous people to be consulted on laws that affect them. But the federal Opposition has sought to crystallise focus on the Voice itself as the wrong model for achieving recognition, which they claim to otherwise support.

The latest Resolve Political Monitor, conducted this month, shows that 58 per cent of voters back the Voice – down from 63 per cent in support in August – and 42 per cent oppose the change when people are asked a Yes or No question without the option of saying they are undecided.

Parkin said he was not concerned by the polling, which still points to majority support in all states, and said the Yes campaign had signed up 5000 people as volunteers in the past two months to drive a ground campaign across Australian neighbourhoods.

“The opportunity now for us is now that the legal and political discussions that have dominated the debate over the last few months are kind of coming to the end is making sure we take it out of Canberra and take it back to the communities,” Parkin said.

The Yes campaign enters the advertising race after the No campaign, trailing a video ad launched by right-wing lobby group Advance Australia last week and fronted by the Coalition’s newly appointed Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. It takes direct aim at the Voice, with Price describing it as a change that “will divide us”.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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