Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has unleashed on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, describing it as a “power grab by activists”.
In a scathing critique of the Yes campaign, Mr Abbott told 2GB’s Ben Fordham this morning that he did not want to see Australia “divided by ancestry or race”.
“I don’t want to see Indigenous separatism reinforced in our constitution.”
He claimed if the Voice passed it would lead to “massive demands for compensation or reparations and even more restrictions on what people can do with their land”.
Mr Abbott also took aim at Mr Albanese for saying previously the Voice was “not about a treaty”, questioning his decision to wear a shirt with the slogan “Voice, Treaty, Truth”.
Mr Albanese was spotted wearing the shirt at a Midnight Oil concert late last year.
“This is what happens when you turn yourself into a billboard,” Mr Abbott said.
“I go back to that initial statement he made as Prime Minister – ‘The new government is committed to the Uluru statement from the Heart in full’ – in other words, voice, treaty, truth in full,” he said.
“It was a moment of amnesia for the Prime Minister to deny here in this chair last week that the Voice had anything to do with the treaty.
“It has everything to do with treaty. The whole point of having a Voice – if the activists are to be believed – is to start the treaty making process, and government ministers have said as much.”
The interview Mr Abbott was referring to was a heated clash between Mr Albanese and Mr Fordham last week.
During that interview, Mr Albanese was grilled about whether the Voice to Parliament was a step towards reparations and treaty.
“This is not about a treaty,” Mr Albanese repeated four times.
“I can’t say it any clearer, compensation has nothing to do with what people will vote on later this year.”
Mr Albanese has committed to executing the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, including a Makaratta Commission to oversee “treaty” and “truth-telling” with Indigenous Australians.
Yes campaigners push for referendum delay as support plummets
The interview comes as some Yes supporters urge for the referendum to be delayed or even called off as polls show support plummeting.
A poll by Resolve Political Monitor over the weekend shows a majority of NSW voters are now supporting the No campaign.
The No campaign, according to polls, also has a majority in Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
For a referendum to be successful, the Yes vote must receive a majority of voters across a majority of states.
Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, who is campaigning for a Yes vote, said not enough “middle ground” had been established and he feared that lack of consensus had doomed the referendum to failure.
Senator Bragg said it was time to “save the concept” before running a referendum in mid-2024.
Over the weekend businesswoman Lucy Turnbull asked Yes supporters how keen they were for the referendum to go ahead “if it is likely going to be lost, possibly by a big margin”.
“I am very troubled and torn about it,” she wrote on Twitter.
But constitutional law expert Professor George Williams told news.com.au holding the referendum this year was “mandatory” as legislation to set up the referendum had “passed by both houses”.
He said while referendums have been withdrawn in the past (1915, 1965, 1983, 2013) there was always the possibility of a high court challenge.
Prof Williams said the government could go the “awkward and unconstitutional” route of delaying the referendum which would mean it would have to go through parliament again as there was a six-month window on when a referendum had to be held once it had passed parliament.
He compared referendums to “freight trains, once they are going they are hard to stop, they build up momentum”.
“At the moment I think there is a lot of over-reaction, we just need to see how it plays out … there is no perfect time to hold a referendum,” he said.
Prof Williams said the key issue was what do Indigenous people want.
“They have made it clear they would see it as a breach of faith if it was pulled against their wishes.”