Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will address the nation on Saturday night regardless of the outcome of the Voice to parliament referendum in a speech that will seek to knit the country back together after a bitterly fought and divisive referendum campaign.
Albanese is expected to make the address from Canberra on Saturday evening as Yes and No votes are counted rather than attending an event hosted by the Yes campaign.
Prime ministers do not necessarily speak on the night of a referendum.
John Howard held a press conference on the Sunday after the failed referendum for a republic and constitutional preamble in November 1999. More than a decade earlier in 1988, then-attorney-general Lionel Bowen spoke on behalf of the Hawke government after its four referendum questions were overwhelmingly defeated.
Unlike election night in May 2022, campaigners for and against the proposed constitutional amendment are not planning big public gatherings.
Voice supporters will hold a low-key event in Sydney’s inner west while the official No campaign will gather in Brisbane to watch the votes being counted.
The prime minister and his team have war-gamed all possible scenarios including a comprehensive No victory, a Yes victory and a close result in which postal votes play a key part. For example, if four states backed Yes but the national vote was close, or the national vote succeeded but the target of winning four states was still too close to call.
A source in the No campaign who was not authorised to speak publicly said their event would look nothing like the typical election night event that major parties hold. In Melbourne, the No side will not have an event, reflecting the reluctance of the Victorian Liberal division to campaign on the Voice.
“It will be very low-key. I think most MPs will be in their electorates, thanking their volunteers,” the source said.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will be in Brisbane but his office would not confirm if he would attend the official No campaign event.
The mood in the Yes camp has darkened in recent days and there are growing expectations among government MPs that defeat is the most likely outcome – but they have not yet given up all hope of a Yes victory.
Marion Scrymgour, the Labor MP for the electorate with the highest proportion of Indigenous voters, the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari, urged the political establishment to continue fighting for Indigenous advancement if the referendum failed.
“We can’t just accept the status quo after October 14. We can’t let people down – the very people we asked to vote for this. We’ve got to focus on jobs and education.
“Aboriginal people themselves, they are sick of the status quo but at the same time they’re also sick of people saying ‘vote for change’. They think we’ve been voting for change for a long time and not much has changed.
“We can’t allow our country to look at itself in a negative way – we’ve got to come together.”
Scrymgour said the campaign would have benefited from more easy-to-understand information to voters.
“We could have had more information. I think there was a reliance that others were picking up things like language translation and making sure Aboriginal people whose first language was not English knew what was going on,” she said.
Albanese, asked on Thursday where he would be on referendum day, said he would campaign across South Australia, Tasmania and NSW on Saturday.
The prime minister said he remained hopeful of a Yes result and said Australians would remember the anti-Voice arguments similarly to those made against same-sex marriage or the apology to the stolen generations.
“I hope Australians think with their heart, but also with their head,” Albanese said in Perth. “You only move a country forward with optimism and hope.”
Voice architect Noel Pearson made one of his final pitches of the campaign, saying “don’t slam the door on the children” because “we’re doing this for them”.
Leading No campaigner Jacinta Nampijinpa Price cast her vote at an early polling booth in her hometown of Alice Springs on Thursday, saying “there are other ways” of improving the lives of Indigenous Australians.
“Ultimately, if we want equality for Aboriginal people, we want to be self-reliant. We don’t want to rely on governments, or agencies or anybody else to be dependent on.”
Courtesy: WA Today