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‘Time is now’: Australia-wide campaign for referendum

‘Time is now’: Australia-wide campaign for referendum


By Natassia Chrysanthos

A new campaign will tell Australians that the time has come to decide if they want to recognise the nation’s first people in the Constitution as it calls on the country to support its first referendum since 1999.

The landmark call to action – backed by campaign veterans, philanthropists and corporates – will be heard and seen on screens across Australia for the next three weeks as an Indigenous-led campaign seeks to elevate the Voice to Parliament as a key election issue for the May 21 poll.

The ad will be launched this week and will make the case for the first referendum in 23 years, arguing that an Indigenous Voice would be most symbolic and powerful if it came with the support of the Australian public.

‘‘We could ask the government to legislate it, but we would rather the Australian people vote for it,’’ the ad, voiced by advertising legend Ted Horton and set to a plain black backdrop, says.

‘‘Just think how much more powerful it would be if the recognition hoped for by Indigenous Australians was achieved with the support of all Australians.’’

The Voice to Parliament would be a body enshrined in the Constitution that enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice on policies that affect their lives. The proposal emerged from the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Dean Parkin, director of the Heart campaign, said this was the first time the Indigenous community had taken matters into their own hands in such a way during an election campaign.

‘‘An Indigenous-led cause is putting out a very serious television commercial during an election campaign to elevate our issues to the national agenda. I can’t recall another example of that,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s a lot of noise at the moment in and around the election. What we want to do is focus people in on the message, cut through the clutter and simplify this.

‘‘We need to make sure our issue is one that Australians are taking very seriously when politicians all over the country are listening to what’s important.’’

With a starting budget of about $500,000, the ad will be rolled out across television and digital channels, including free-to-air TV, Foxtel, YouTube and news websites.

The 60-second clip is voiced and created by advertising veteran Horton, who worked on John Howard’s election campaigns.

Horton said the ad’s simplicity was an essential feature. ‘‘The recognition of Indigenous Australians is not a political question, it’s a moral question in my mind. I wanted to ensure that however we executed this message, that it was as apolitical as it could possibly be,’’ he told the Herald.

‘‘There are no symbols in there other than the typography; too often, in the attempt to create a more heightened emotional response, what might be a positive image to someone might be a negative image to someone else.

‘‘I didn’t want anything that could get in the way of the very simple and sole message of whether we do or don’t formally recognise Indigenous Australians [with a Voice in the Constitution].’’

Horton said the ‘‘it’s time’’ language, which evoked Gough Whitlam’s successful 1972 campaign, was a well-known advertising technique. Given Howard first promised constitutional recognition in 2007, and the Uluru Statement came in 2017, it’s a fitting phrase.

The campaign hopes to secure a bipartisan commitment to holding a referendum in 2023.

Parkin said it would ideally be held on May 27 next year: the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

Polling conducted by the CT Group in August 2021 found 57 per cent of Australians said they would vote yes to a proposal ‘‘to change the Constitution to set up a new body comprising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that gives advice to the federal government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues’’.

Sixteen per cent said they would vote no, and 28 per cent were undecided. The yes vote was higher among Indigenous Australians.

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