Australians have been warned against engaging in abusive, personal attacks in the final weeks before the Voice referendum after wild scenes erupted outside a No campaign event on Monday.
Loud protesters camped outside the Fair Australia rally in Adelaide – headlined by leading No campaigners senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Warren Mundine – chanting with a megaphone: “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”
In a video captured by South Australian senator Alex Antic, the protesters shout expletive-ridden phrases, calling out at the campaigners walking into the rally “f**k you you racist dog, racist pig” and “wankers”.
In response, Senator Antic thanked the Labor government for “the unity”.
Walking into the launch of the @FairAusADV NO to the Voice campaign in Adelaide this evening.
Is this the “unity” the Australian Labor Party promised us their referendum was going to bring? pic.twitter.com/3Iyi6yYXUo
— Senator Alex Antic (@SenatorAntic) September 18, 2023
Australians will head to the polls on October 14 to vote in the first referendum since 1999.
Simon Birmingham, a senior Liberal moderate, on Tuesday chastised the “abusive” protesters but extended it to both sides as he warned anyone championing a cause to be respectful in the final weeks.
“There’s no place for denigration of individuals or groups of people in this Voice campaign,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News.
“Anybody who’s engaged in these sorts of tactics needs to cease. And what we ought to be seeing over these next few weeks is as respectful a debate as possible.
“I wish we weren’t in this position … I would encourage anybody to make sure that if they’re out campaigning, they do so on the basis of facts and the arguments for your case – yes or no – and don’t engage in the type of divisive, personal attacks that we’ve seen emerge.”
In Adelaide on Monday night, more than 1000 people, many wearing No supporter T-shirts, packed into the Adelaide Convention Centre to hear Senator Nampijinpa Price, Mr Mundine, and South Australian senator Kerrynne Liddle rail against the Voice.
In an emotional speech, Senator Price broke down in tears when she spoke of her role as a “vessel” for Indigenous people whom she said had been ignored by mainstream politics and media.
“I was a vessel for the women sitting in that room, the cousin of a young girl murdered, hanging from a tree,” she said, referencing her address at the National Press Club last week.
“They are the voices the media ignores, they are the voices Labor ignore, they are the voices the Greens ignore, they are the voters the Teals ignore.
“And they are the voices this bloody Voice to Parliament will ignore.”
As her Voice rose in anger, the crowd rose to its feet and clapped and cheered furiously.
The outspoken Coalition spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs called the Voice referendum the “biggest gaslighting event our nation has ever experienced.”
“We are sick to death being told how racist we are, how horrible we are. Our own children are being taught not to be proud to call themselves Australians in this country,” she said.
Senator Nampijinpa Price argued a Voice would “constitutionally enshrine” a victimhood mentality in the country and degrade the future of Indigenous Australians.
Senator Nampijinpa Price also said racial politics from the US such as the Black Lives Matter movement had begun to filter into Australia.
“It doesn’t belong here,” she said.
Speaking before Senator Nampijinpa Price, Mr Mundine praised conservative ideals as the best way to help Indigenous Australians advance.
“Australia is not a racist country and our people are not racist,” he said.
“We wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars to help people if we were a bunch of racists.”
Mr Mundine said successive governments had spent hundreds of billions of dollars helping Indigenous Australians in the past 50 years and there needed to be better accountability for how money leads to “practical outcomes”.
Mr Mundine said the referendum was “dividing the nation” and the central argument for a Voice was a “lie” because Indigenous Australians already had voices in the government.
He also said Indigenous Australians had progressed in society since he was a boy, highlighting the growing number of Indigenous doctors, lawyers and other university graduates and the growing economic contribution of Indigenous businesses
Appearing at a press conference before her speech, Senator Nampijinpa Price criticised the protesters, saying there had been a growing ugliness in the campaign.
“This is the level of racism and division the prime minister has to take responsibility for,” she said.
She said Indigenous Australians such as herself and Mr Mundine had been subjected to “bullying, gaslighting and manipulation”.
South Australia is considered a key battleground in the referendum campaign, with thousands of Yes and No volunteers expected to fan out across the state to persuade voters to back the change, which would embed a permanent advisory body for Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.
Senator Nampijinpa Price said South Australia was a crucial state for the campaign and she criticised Premier Peter Malinauskas’ state-based Voice model.
She said it had gone “silent” and had not improved the lives of South Australia’s most marginalised people.
South Australia became the first Australian state to legislate a First Nations Voice to Parliament, but elections for the advisory board were put back to March 2024, as the state-based model was being “overshadowed” by the referendum and causing confusion among voters
In her own speech, Senator Liddle also criticised South Australia’s Voice, arguing it had been “parked” and the public had not been allowed to see how it would function.
South Australian Opposition Leader David Speirs was also seen at the packed-out event.
Senator Nampijinpa Price said Australians must vote No to “unify the nation”.
When pressed on her earlier controversial remark that British colonisation had not delivered a lasting negative impact on Indigenous Australians, Senator Nampijinpa Price said Indigenous Australians would “probably not” want to return to life as it was in pre-colonial Australia.