The No campaign against the Indigenous Voice to parliament is standing by prominent member Gary Johns following outrage over his comments calling for blood tests for Indigenous welfare recipients and a public holiday to mark “intermarriage”.
Dr Johns said he was “not at all” sorry about the comments in his 2022 book The Burden of Culture: How to Dismantle the Aboriginal Industry and Give Hope to its Victims when speaking on Sky News on Monday amid calls for him to resign from the campaign.
“If you want to have a race-based system whereby you get benefits because of your ancestry, then at some stage you have to measure,” he said, referring to blood and DNA tests.
“What’s happening at present is people are embarrassed, they don’t want to ask about the measurement.”
As for creating a new public holiday called “Intermarriage Day”, Dr Johns said: “Why don’t we celebrate the bringing together, the coming together of men and women getting married, partnering and bringing up wonderful children?”
Liberals for Yes co-convenor Kate Carnell has called on leaders of the No campaign to publicly condemn the comments and said that Dr Johns should possibly resign as a board member.
She said the comments were “deeply disturbing” and “racially discriminatory policies that have been discredited over years and years”.
“They’re in the dust bin of history, these sorts of comments, and they’re nothing to do with the referendum,” she told Sky News on Tuesday.
NSW Liberal shadow health minister Matt Kean was also among those condemning Dr Johns’ views. He said they were “extreme and offensive”.
“The good people running the No campaign should have the dignity and self respect to ask Mr Johns to step down,” he said.
But prominent Indigenous opponent of the Voice to parliament, Warren Mundine, is standing by Dr Johns despite disagreeing with his views.
“Gary Johns is like any other Australian. He’s entitled to his viewpoints and I’m a great believer in free speech. Now me and him, we will have discussions about that and we disagree on different angles of it but there’s no way I’m going to be calling for him to step down,” Mr Mundine told Sky News.
“Just because people complain about him and that, at least he’s honest about his approach to these things and I’m very pleased to have him on our committee and to have him as an adviser to us.”
Advance Australia, who are leading the No campaign, told news.com.au it had “nothing more to add to Dr Johns’ comprehensive response” on Monday.
Dr Johns is president of Recognise A Better Way, an organisation against the Voice.
He was the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission from 2017 until he resigned last year, and was also a federal Labor MP and minister until 1996.