A leading Yes campaigner is considering taking legal action against Peter Dutton for an Instagram post, as Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young lashed the No campaign for employing “Trumpian” tactics and “running an attack on democracy”.
Indigenous academic Marcia Langton has called out the Opposition Leader for posting an Instagram picture suggesting she had personally labelled No voters as “stupid” and “racist”.
Reports emerged that Professor Langton told a forum in WA on Sunday that every time the No camp raised their arguments, “if you start pulling it apart you get down to base racism – I’m sorry to say that’s where it lands – or sheer stupidity”. The comments led media outlets to air claims she had called No voters “stupid” and “racist”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Professor Langton said she had been lied about and called out Mr Dutton for jumping on the bandwagon.
“I’ve noticed that Peter Dutton still has a tile up on his Instagram with that headline and a photograph of me and a big arrow pointing to me,” she told ABC.
“Today, I will have to go to a lawyer to write to Peter Dutton requesting that he remove this post from his Instagram because it is absolutely not true.”
Professor Langton said the media storm was “deeply disappointing” and the majority of Australians, including herself, were not racist.
“When I talk to people, many of them say to me they are revolted by the racism that they’ve seen towards Indigenous people in the media and in other instances,” she said.
“We have to be vigilant and explain to people exactly what the referendum is proposing because people are confused and they now don’t know what they are voting on.”
Ms Langton’s strong comments come just one day after it was revealed volunteers were being told to not identify themselves as No campaigners while conducting phone calls, and raise false reports of compensation being paid to Indigenous Australians should a Yes vote get up.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday accused Mr Dutton and the No campaign of trying to instill fear in the hearts of voters.
Senator Hanson-Young went a step further on Wednesday, likening the No campaigns tactics to those of some Donald Trump supporters.
“And we know where that ended,” she said.
“We know where whipping up fear, feeding division, spreading lies leads in a democracy.
“And anyone in this country who wants to step forward as a politician, or as a political campaign and think that is the way you do things... You are running an attack on democracy.”
Earlier, Nationals senator Matt Canavan lashed out at Professor Langton and accused her of “petty name calling”, saying Australians “were sick and tired of being called racist”.
“It’s been happening quite a bit during this debate,” he told Nine.
“Whatever Marcia’s particular explanations here I don’t think we need to resort to this kind of language. Let’s just attack the arguments. I mean, I just haven’t seen Marcia come out and say, ‘exactly what are you talking about? What are the issues?’ rather than use labels to deny somebody.”
Assistant Indigenous Australians Minister Malarndirri McCarthy said Professor Langton was an outstanding Australian, and she had spoken at the National Press Club last week in detail about issues in the Voice campaign.
“I think it also points out just one of the things that she did raise at the Press Club was also the responsibility of journalism and we have seen certainly questionable articles, front pages, all those things,” Senator McCarthy said.
“Australians, I’m sure if they did listen to her, would have heard, put simply, the Voice to Parliament has always been about an advisory committee. Those grabs that are taken of her speeches, I think, are selective.”
“I would say to advocates, as I have said all along on both the No and Yes sides, there must always be respectful debate.”
The Opposition’s spokeswoman for Indigenous Australians Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, buoyed by recent polls that have the No vote on track for victory, said Australians were increasingly concerned about the “divisiveness” of the Voice.
“This is probably the most divisive referendum we’ve ever experienced in our nation’s history,” she told 2GB.
“The issue of race has never been so prominent in our daily discourse than it has at the moment.”
On October 14, the Australian public will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament.
It will mark the country's first referendum since 1999 and ask if Australians agree to a proposed law “to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”.