Why the ‘Yes’ campaign failed

Image: maunger, iStock

On 14 October this year, Australians had their say on Constitutional recognition and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘Voice to Parliament’. The majority of Australians voted ‘No’.

Not only did the ‘Yes’ campaign lose nationally, it lost in all States and the Northern Territory. Only the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) had a majority ‘Yes’ result.

Nationally, the referendum result was 61% ‘No’ to 39% ‘Yes’.

In contrast, the ‘Yes’ vote was in the majority at the start of the year.

Interestingly, this was almost exactly the opposite to the same – sex marriage postal vote in 2017. In that vote, 61.6% of participants said ‘Yes’ and 38.4% said ‘No’.

So, what happened?

All fluff, no substance

So, what was the Voice suppose to be? According to

The Voice will be an advisory body that gives First Nations Australians a say on matters that directly affect them

In the months leading up to the referendum, the statement was rarely expanded on. It just became a cliche.

I thought Burney’s speech in July was somewhat compelling, however it was never repeated. Or expanded on.

As I said at the time, I appreciated Burney’s answer on what the Voice would have (supposedly) covered. That included addressing housing, jobs, education and health.

Was it true? Was it a lie? Who knows? Most importantly, how were these supposed to be achieved? It was never explained.

The Uluru Statement

The basis of the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament was based on the Uluru Statement of the Heart.

It was a document created by different Aboriginal leaders. It was one… no twenty… no twenty – six… no a hundred pages. Journalists from Sky News Australia alone were throwing different figures around. (Some supported ‘The Voice’, especially Chris Kenny).

So people couldn’t agree on the length of the Uluru Statement?! If you look at the website, it’s hard to say. The site is set up like a presentation rather than a traditional webpage or PDF.

From what I could gather, most of the pages had historical background and what lead up to the Uluru Statement.

I could be wrong, but to me, offered little information of what it was meant to be.

Having said that, Linda Burney MP, Anthony Albanese and other campaigners should have been able to summarise it to the public.

The ‘No’ side was given all the ammunition

With all the vagueness and cliches, critics of the Voice had the upper hand.

Their slogan was simple:

If you don’t know, vote no.

And that’s what over 60% of voting Australians did.

Because of a lack information from the ‘Yes’ side, ‘No’ campaigners could say anything. To be honest, I think there was hyperbole and fearmongering.

For example, in a pamphlet, Liberal MP, Sussan Ley argued that:

It risks legal challenges, delays, and dysfunctional government.


Some Voice supporters say this would just be a first step to reparations and compensation and other radical changes. So, what will be next?

There were fears that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups would be given powers to demand farmland and financial compensation.

Personally, I think the latter points were hyperbolic. And the ‘what next’ is a slippery slope fallacy. However, it was never combatted.

Albanese’s arrogant refusal to give details saw the collapse of the ‘Yes’ vote

In July, Albanese spoke at the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

He said that giving details will repeat the defeat of Australia’s Republic Referendum in 1999.

Ironically, that arrogant statement may have cost a ‘Yes’ win. Albanese attempted back pedal by promising the details before the vote. But it was too little, too late.

Albanese’s arrogance remained in Australia’s mind. It scared people into thinking the risk was too great. And even after the ‘back pedal’, people were still confused.

Was education level a factor?

In the aftermath of the referendum, ABC’s Patricia Karvelas and The Project’s Waleed Aly suggested education level determined the vote.

Aly and Karvelas claimed that university educated voters were more likely to vote ‘Yes’ than those who hadn’t. While this caused controversy, apparently they weren’t wrong. Even Advance Australia’s Liz Storrer claimed that it was true on Sky News Australia.

That was a big mistake. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics only 36% of Australians have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

So, Labor alienated 64% of Australians. Great way to win a ‘historic’ referendum that would ‘bring the country together. Not.

Australia decided against the Voice and Labor’s reputation is in tatters. From now on, politicians need to listen. They need answer questions honestly. Because doing the opposite only backfires and helps no one.

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By Sara Harnetty

I'm a student. Interested in current events, music and various issues.

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